CoTweet vs. HootSuite: Battle of the business Twitter apps

I've been torn between these two apps for some time. I finally used them side-by-side to see which one would dominate.

Over the last few years, I've been trying to figure out the balance of managing multiple Twitter personalities. That's not quite as diabolical as it sounds, as my main challenge is finding the right way to manage different feeds for different types of entities. There's my own feed, my work feed, my podcast feed, and other miscellaneous feeds. This is not a new or unique problem to have, as many people who manage social network presences struggle with the same. Over the last year specifically I've danced between both CoTweet and HootSuite, two application that promise to help solve this problem for businesses as well as individuals with a lot of irons in multiple fires. In truth, I used to be a huge HootSuite fan and then switched to CoTweet after the former updated its interface about a year ago. But lately, I'd noticed some frustrations with CoTweet, too. I decided to use the apps side-by-side for a few weeks and see how they battled it out.

Note, that while CoTweet has an enterprise version at $1,500 per month and HootSuite has enterprise offerings that integrate with Salesforce.com, I took a look only at the basic free versions for my comparison.

Gallery: View images of CoTweet and HootSuite

Layout

HootSuite is extremely flexible to use with its customizable dashboard layout. I'm not only able to add multiple accounts, but multiple tabs for each one of them. Each tab gives me a column for my home feed, mentions, direct messages (DMs) and sent messages. There's a common dialogue box at the top that allows me to send updates to multiple Twitter feeds -- and even other social networks -- at once. CoTweet's interface leaves a bit to be desired. It doesn't do a good job of separating out DMs from other messages and the dashboard is not customizable. On the plus side, the left navigation menu with assignments, messages, history, and so on, is self-explanatory and easy to use.

Tweet Management

Both services offer the ability to schedule tweets, which comes in especially handy when planning a news announcement, promotion, or any other reason timed tweets are critical. Both provide pretty simple options for replying, retweeting, sending DMs and other features. CoTweet even has a handy dandy translation feature that really works. Both services allow for assignments, which admittedly is a rather new feature in HootSuite. Backing up a bit, to use this assignment feature an organization needs to have multiple people "invited" to use the service to manage a specific Twitter feed. Once those people sign up, the admin can "assign" tweets for a particular person to follow up on. CoTweet has a feature that allows for "co-tagging", which means that the user's initials will show up in a tweet to let readers know who is answering. More specifically, in the tweet history, CoTweet shows which users have sent which tweet to the admin, for much easier tracking and management.

Notifications

Currently, the best way to stay up to speed with both of these services is to log into the portals or associated applications and check for updates. However, CoTweet does provide the option to receive email notifications when one selects to be "on duty." Unfortunately, one cannot schedule when he or she is on or off duty and needs to set this manually, but the alerts do come in handy. HootSuite currently does not offer email alerts. One suggested improvement for CoTweet's alerts: while one can get email notifications for @ messages, search terms do not come through email alerts. This could be a quite helpful feature.

Twitter Search

CoTweet's search pad is vastly improved over where it was six months ago, and HootSuite's search column is effective enough. Both services allow you to retweet, reply to or DM a person that might mention your key word but not necessarily your @ Twitter name. Yet CoTweet has a leg up on HootSuite in this round in a very important way: CoTweet allows you to directly assign a tweet from the search pad. Hootsuite does not. This is critical, especially for those companies using Twitter to monitor for support issues. These customer service representatives find that many big issues to address come from mere mentions of a brand name, not necessarily an @ message. While HootSuite gives managers the options to email these tweets, once cannot assign them.

Analytics

This part is a hands-down win for HootSuite. CoTweet has an analytics sidebar that pops up to analyze the traction of shortened tweets but it's not very intuitive, and folks have to go outside of the application to Bit.ly to truly get data. HootSuite, however, has great analytic features on the site. It has graphs that show tractions of individual tweets or URL clicks, and it also shows larger trends such as regional activity, and so on.

Gallery: View images of CoTweet and HootSuite

Other Social Networks

HootSuite gets bonus points, of course, because it not only works with Twitter but with Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Wordpress and other social applications. If a social media manager is reviewing Twitter, chances are that he or she is also managing presences on these other networks and integrated tools are the way to go. The downside of using HootSuite for business and LinkedIn is that one can only access his or her own personal profile, and NOT any LinkedIn Groups or company profiles that might need managing.

Mobile Apps

HootSuite has a host of applications and plugins to complement its Web dashboard. It has tools for both the iPhone and Android phone, a desktop application, and it also has plugins for Chrome and Firefox. CoTweet only has its Web-based offering, which drastically limits the service's functionality considering that so much social media management is done on the go.

And The Winner Is...

Who wins this battle? It's really a tough call, as neither is a silver bullet in its current form. In the end, however, I need to recommend HootSuite as the free Twitter business application of choice. Its intuitive analytics, customizable dashboard, ability to integrate other social networks, and tweet management are overall superior to that of CoTweet. I will admit that I continue to use CoTweet as a secondary platform, mostly due to its email alerts and ability to show who has posted what in the sent box, but it will remain secondary unless it can out-feature HootSuite for the same price.