3/28/09

Product Review: HootSuite & OW.LY - Do The Benefits Outweigh The Problems?

One of my favorite things to do is to test out new products.  And, last week, I gave a try at the Twitter tool "HootSuite".  At first glance, I thought this was one of the better Twitter tools out there because there were lots of value added resources available through the product.  But, once I jumped in and started testing it (on an unsuspecting group of followers), well, there were problems that were quickly pointed out to me.
First, a little background:
While having lunch with the other two geeks last week, Lisa mentioned that she was looking at HootSuite, and that she'd heard good things about it, and even folks like Guy Kawasaki were using it to help them Twitter throughout the day.  Although, I'm certainly no Guy Kawasaki, I too, like a good Twitter tool that will help me manage the moderate number of followers and friends I have.  So, I sat down Thursday night and gave it a go.
The Good:
HootSuite has a lot of nice features to help you manage one or more Twitter accounts.
  • Multiple Editors: If you're a Twitter Stud like Guy Kawasaki, you can add additional editors to your HootSuite Login, and still maintain privacy of your own Twitter password.  So, you can have people help feed to your Twitter followers, but still prevent they rouge editor from changing your password and hijacking your account.
  • Share a Business Twitter Account: With Multiple Editors, you can have a "business" Twitter account, and have your employees Tweet information as needed.  So, if your law firm has a Twitter account, you can share the responsibility of Tweeting and answering Tweets among the staff.  Perhaps having one person Tweeting your events and publications, while another answers any replies or Direct Messages you may receive.  Come to think of it, this would work really well for a Politician that has a Twitter account and needs to make sure he or she is on top of everything.
  • Manage Multiple Twitter Accounts: Got a personal and a business Twitter account?  HootSuite allows you to manage all of them in one place.  Switching back and forth, or posting to all of your Tweets via the HootSuite Dashboard.  This is a great convenience if you have ever had to go back and forth from one account to the other.  And, if you've ever accidentally posted a personal tweet on your business account by mistake, this could help save you that embarrassment in the future.
  • Schedule Tweets: I'm constantly finding a lot of good resources out there, but I don't want to necessarily Tweet all of them within a 10 minute period of time.  Or, I find them at 3:00 AM and I want to discuss them with my 10:00 AM Twitter friends (although, I still love all of my Aussie Twitter Mates.)  This also works if you are scheduling an event, and would like to send out periodic Tweets reminding people that the event is coming up.   There are lots of Twitter Elites out there that schedule their Tweets throughout the day.  HootSuite makes it pretty easy to set it up and send it out later.
  • Monitor Who Is Clicking on Your Tweet Links: NOTE:  I'll give the good on this one here, but be warned, there are a lot of folks out there that do not like this part. If you ever wonder if anyone ever really goes to the links you Tweet about, then HootSuite has a way to do that for you.  HootSuite uses "ow.ly" to shorten the URLs, but it also uses it as a monitor for click-thru's and feedback options.  On the surface, this sounds like a great tool.  It is nice being able to see that 83 people clicked on your link to the blog you mentioned.  In addition, people can vote their positive or negative reaction to the link in the OW.LY frame that surrounds the web page you Tweeted about.  So, in a way it is like a mini Google Analytics program for your Tweets.  You can even add your Google Adsense code to your HootSuite account, and generate revenue from your Tweet Links.
  • Save Keyword Searches: Got some key terms you like to search?  Well, HootSuite allows you to save some of those keyword searches and retrieve them at the click of a button.  This is pretty convenient to have included with all the other resources found on HootSuite.
  • Easy To Navigate Dashboard The HootSuite Dashboard is set up with tabs for you "Home", "@Replies", "DM's", etc.  Pretty easy to use, and similar looking to the Twitter.com homepage, so there's not a big learning curve involved.
The Bad:
  • Just Who Am I Tweeting To Anyway?? None of us like to be fooled, or made to believe we are communicating with one person, when in reality, it is someone else.  This goes for the fake Brittney Spears twit, as well as the big personalities on Twitter that use ghost writers to tweet for them.  So, if you are one of those folks that has the money to pay people to Tweet for you, just make sure that people understand that is how you set things up.  
  • The Whole "OW.LY" Thing.... Alright, this is the big one.   I barely got my first test Tweet out on HootSuite when someone called me out for "annoying" if not "illegal" framing of web content.  Now, I confess that I didn't realize what OW.LY was doing until after I had sent out the Tweet, so I was pretty ignorant of the drawbacks of using OW.LY as my URL shrinker.  At first glance, the frame is a little annoying, but also a little useful.  So, I had a nice little discussion with Doug Cornelius about the benefits.  Whereas I thought HootSuite's ability to gather statistics and feedback could be a benefit to the person Tweeting the link --  Doug thought it was something close to the incarnation of Satan himself (okay, I'm being a little over dramatic on Doug's response... but, not that far off!)   After looking at the positives and the negatives, I decided that framing of other people's content really isn't a great idea.  It is annoying for one, and it borders on the unethical for another.  I would ask the folks at HootSuite to give the users of their product an option to use a non-framing version of OW.LY that would still gather the metrics of who did the click-thru, without annoying the hell out of them!! As for the putting Google Adsense code on OW.LY to generate revenue from your Tweets, I'd have to say that would not be something that I would do, or recommend.  Some may argue that people would not have gone to these websites if it were not for your Tweets, but I'd have to say that there seems to be a certain sliminess about that type of revenue generating that I do not like.  
  • Good Lord!!  Are You Always on Twitter??? I mentioned to a friend of mine one day that it seems that people we knew are spending all of their time on Twitter.  He laughed and said, "No.  They only spend half of the day on Twitter.  The other half they are on LinkedIn trying to find more connections." Do I really need a scheduled tweet from you every 15 minutes?  Does the scheduling of Tweets take away from the "social" part of the social network platform?  Eh..  perhaps.  I'd say as long as you don't overdue it, use it.
HootSuite offers a lot of valuable Twitter resources for those of us that like to Tweet a lot or have multiple accounts.  The ability to get metrics out of our Tweets has value too, but we have to be cognizant of the problems that the frame method that OW.LY employs.  At this time, I don't think that framing is the way to go.  Again, if you can get some stats without the frames, that would be an excellent resource.
I still like the overall benefits that HootSuite gives you.  My suggestion would be to try it, but not use it in a way that would annoy or offend those that will see your tweets.
Got comments??  Put them below.  Or, you can follow me on Twitter at @glambert and let me know what you think about HootSuite or any other resource you'd like reviewed.

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10 comments:

Doug Cornelius said...

Greg -

Incarnation of Satan may be a bit much, but definitely a spawn of Satan.

I am not a copyright expert, but it seems to me that framing is a copyright violation. (There was the TotalNews case, but it was settled before we could could get some law on this. Infer what you want from TotalNew stopping the framing as part of the undisclosed settlement.) I expect that this feature of Ow.ly won't last long, once the lawyers start sniffing around.

Even if it is not illegal, it robs websites of traffic. You, like me, put up blog posts because we feel like saying something. We don't sell ads, we don't have sponsors and nobody pays us to write. All I (and I assume you) want in return is some page hits and the occasional comment. We want to know that someone is listening and that we are not just talking to ourselves.

Ow.ly seems to rob us the page hits so I would not know that you viewed my page or where you came from. I don't ask for much, but it is nice to know that you stopped by and who sent you. Ow.ly takes that away.

Don't get me started on the adsense feature of ow.ly. If I wanted ads associated with my site, I would put them there. I don't want someone framing my content with a Viagra ad.

I appreciate some of the other features. I think bit.ly has some of these. Personally, I use tinyurl because it has a Firefox extension that created the shortened link with a right mouse click.

Greg Lambert said...

Doug,

I'm not a big fan of the frame either. Once I saw that ow.ly also lets you put your Adsense code in to get revenue from the frame, I decided it was too intrusive and will not use it.

However, should the person that has pointed people to your blog be able to know the number of "click-thrus" that he or she produced? How about the way people post things via "Friend Feed" which basically takes you to their Friend Feed page first, then makes you click a second time to go to the web page they Tweeted about? (Here's an example)

Seems there should be some type of reward other than personal gratification for someone that pushes traffic to another webpage via Twitter.

Doug Cornelius said...

Greg -

I have no issue with link tracking. There are ways to do that without framing. Bit.ly has a rich feature set. You should give it a try.

I am lazy and use Tinyurl because it adds a right click shorten URL link with a Firefox extension.

Lisa Salazar said...

As someone who is posting for two different entities and one that is definitely asking for metrics on this whole "Twitter" think, I will definitely continue to use it for measuring the activity on our links.

One thing that Greg doesn't mention is that Ow.ly link allows HootSuite to generate instant statistical analysis on the links, displaying how effective a tweet is and whether the tweet needs to be revised.

As a marketer, I love it. Great stats that allow for A/B testing.

As a lawyer, I love it. Great stats that tell me whether or not I am wasting my time on twitter.

As a user, makes posting to multiple social sites really easy and retweeting even easier.

As for adsense, not doing 'em or using 'em.

In mind, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs.

However, while reading some coverage on the TotalNews case I had to smile a little bit when I read one of TotalNews president's arguments that "'[he] believe[s] linking is a fundamental right on the Internet.'"

Is it? Now, that is an interesting debate.

http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023-200295.html

Doug Cornelius said...

Lisa -

I think all the other stuff that Ow.ly does in the HootSuite is great. I also think that linking is great.

I am vehemently opposed to framing other's content. That is the feature I hate about Ow.ly. Regardless of whether there is an ad in the frame or not.

If you use the framing as part of a company strategy, you are just as likely to get sued for copyright infringement as Ow.ly or adjix are.

Dirty LAWndry said...

Thanks for the product review. I was considering this tool, but after reading about the framing issues, I will move one to other twitter apps.

Lil' KJ said...

Toby -

It is so strange to call you "Toby". ;)

One of these days you're going to have to explain to me what in the heck Twitter is. Hehe.

Luv ya!

- PG

Jeff Bales said...

Thanks for the thorough review of Hootsuite and pointing out the framing.

Even though I had clicked on some links through ow.ly prior to reading your blog, I had not noticed the framing. Now I do....gee thanks :-)

I want to use Twitter to drive business and having the click-through metrics would be great, but I agree I don't think I want the framing either.

Greg Lambert said...

Jeff-
Apparently HootSuite is going to have a "pay service" that will allow you to still track your click-thrus without the frames. I didn't see a pricing model on that service yet.

Vernessa Taylor said...

I use HootSuite but I don't use their Ow.ly link shorting service. I was excited (at first) that they offered stats, but decidedly turned off when those stats didn't aggregate my bit.ly links. I was already using bit.ly and had settled upon it because it offered link tracking and real-time click-through info.

It was only today, before I came across your post, that I found out about HootSuites use of frames and adsense. That just reinforced my earlier decision not to use Ow.ly. I think the framing is overly intrusive and a big-turn off. Actually, I don't understand why they don't embrace a stats gathering model like bit.ly's. It already works (wonderfully, except for no export).

BTW, yes, someone is "listening" to you guys. :) Keep up the great postings.

 

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