Updated March 21, 2018 (previous updates: Feb 14, 2018; Jun 20, 2017; Jul 13, 2016; Feb 21, 2018). This recent update was rather substantial--I've added more tools with direct publishing and have included even more features in this review. – Stephanie
I've been using and observing six different tools for Instagram content management so that I could adequately compare them. Instagram is a great way for Apiarity to connect with others, so finding the right tools is important to me. I looked at features related to content scheduling, engagement, and analytics. I also tried some tools that have only analytics features (e.g., Iconosquare), but I won't address them in this post. I'm focusing on tools you can use to schedule Instagram content and other features they provide.
Scheduling and publishing posts
All six tools let you schedule posts. They send an alert to your phone. Follow the steps to load the image and caption into Instagram and from there you can schedule a post.
All the tools except Crowdfire have a weekly and monthly calendar view so you can see what content you have coming up over a period of time. That's nice! Later is the only tool out of all six options that seems to understand that Instagram is a visual tool: its monthly and weekly calendars show the post thumbnails (Agorapulse will show the thumbnail if you mouse over). This is critical for planning an Instagram feed at a bird's eye view.
+1 for Later
+0.5 for Agorapulse
-1 for Crowdfire
Planoly and Later both show a preview of what your stream is going to look like when you publish your posts. Instagram is such a visual platform that it's helpful to preview your stream to make sure it's balanced and visually appealing. Planoly is a little more advanced than Later because you can drag and drop thumbnails in preview mode, which is super nice. Buffer only shows a preview for posts that are coming, not past posts--which makes no sense, really, if you're trying to plan posts that look good next to published posts. The other tools don't even offer preview mode, so minus points there given that Instagram is a visual platform.
+1.5 for Planoly
+1 for Later
-1 for Agorapulse, Crowdfire, Hootsuite, and Statusbrew
Instagram recently started allowing third-party tools to publish directly to Instagram for users with business profiles. This is a huge change and the tools that can do this are Agorapulse, Buffer, Hootsuite, Later, and Planoly. As far as I can tell, Agorapulse was one of the first tools to launch direct publishing. It's nice to be using a tool that has a hard-working development team, because it means they are likely to be first on future features.
+1.5 for Agorapulse
+1 for Buffer, Hootsuite, Later, Planoly
What if you scheduled your Instagram post for Tuesday, but you want to move it to Friday? You can reschedule a post with any of these tools. All the tools except Crowdfire let you adjust your posts in calendar view with drag-and-drop functionality (sweet!).
-1 for Crowdfire
What if you scheduled your post, but changed your mind and want it to go out right now? Buffer is the only tool that makes it easy to do that.
+1 for Buffer
A great feature provided by Later and Planoly is a media library, where you can keep unscheduled media that you can turn into posts when you are ready. Having your media ready in the tool is helpful, especially if you work across multiple devices and don't always have access to all your images. Later adds a nice touch by allowing you to tag your content with keywords so you can search for specific types of posts.
+1 for Later, Planoly
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When using an Instagram posting app, I'm often using an image I have on my desktop. When I open a draft post, Buffer and Statusbrew allow me to drag my image straight onto the tool. Later has the drag-and-drop feature, but it requires two drops--I have to drop the image into Later to upload it, then drag it to the calendar to compose the post. Agorapulse makes me click once to select that I want to include an image, and then I have to click again and go find the image in my folders. Huge disadvantage there. I don't know yet if Hootsuite, Planoly, and Crowdfire have drag-and-drop.
+1 Buffer, Statusbrew
There are two forms of reposting content. Featuring your previously posted content again and featuring other people's content. Here's what the tools can do.
Repost past content
Do you have a post that people loved? Do you want to give it an encore? There are two tools that can do this without much trouble: Buffer and Later. Later lets you search through your posted media (by tag, even!) to post again. Buffer does this with its other social networks, so the functionality is extended to Instagram, and it's a little better than Later in that it will show you what posts are doing well so you can make an educated repost. Agorapulse will let you duplicate a post and put it back in the queue, but without the bells and whistles of the other apps.
+1 for Buffer, Later
+0.5 for Agorapulse
Repost user-generated content
Perhaps your fans are dying to be featured on your Instagram stream. In the past, you may have used a repost app on your phone. Some of these Instagram tools make it easier: Hootsuite and Later let you search by hashtag to find content and repost.
+1 for Hootsuite, Later
Engagement: replying to comments
My biggest struggle with the Instagram app is that comments and likes are jumbled together in one stream. If you get even a few likes per post, you have to scroll through them to find the comments so you can reply and engage with your audience. You deserve better! It turns out that Agorapulse, Later, and Planoly are tools that separate comments from likes for you so you can keep track of conversations, because, after all, social media should be social.
+1 for Agorapulse, Later, Planoly
Although I'm not reviewing Instagram analytics tools in this post, it is important to note which of these six Instagram management tools have some analytics features. Maybe it's enough to tip the scales if you're indecisive about a few so far.
If you want to see which of your posted media are getting the most engagement in the form of likes and comments, I believe Agorapulse, Buffer, and Planoly can do the trick. Agorapulse and Planoly will show you what your top posts were within different time periods (last few days, last month, last year, etc.). Buffer will only show a list of recent top posts, and you'll have to upgrade to Buffer business ($99+ per month) to see other time periods.
+1 for Agorapulse, Planoly
+0.5 for Buffer
Most engaged users
People should be central to your strategy, so it's important to pay attention to who is engaging with your content. Who are your influencers and fans? There's one tool that cares about your audience to a level higher than the other tools: Agorapulse. You can see your most engaged users by likes, comments, or both.
+1 for Agorapulse
Shorten links for click-through analytics
All the tools mentioned are analytics-minded. One analytics feature provided is shortening links to track how many clicks the links in your posts are getting. One tool, Agorapulse, falls short on this feature, though: Agorapulse does not shorten links for posts with images. This oversight is so appalling I'm giving the tool -2 points until they fix it.
-2 for Agorapulse
Unfollowers and non-followers
There will be times when people unfollow you or never follow back. Perhaps you want to know who they are so you can mend the relationship or just unfollow as well. Crowdfire and Statusbrew used to be some of the only tools that helped you see this type of engagement. Instagram no longer provides API access to this type of action. There are still third-party tools that show unfollowing counts, unfollow/follow automatically, or post content automatically, but our research shows that these tools are often not trustworthy. Never give your password and full access to third-party tools. To learn more, read this Agorapulse article on Instagram and third-party tools.
All tools show some form of basic analytics and the data can go back as far as even a year as long as you've been using the tool that long. For example, Statusbrew provides insights for the past 7 days, 30 days, and 1 year.
Manage with other social media platforms
Some people are focused only on Instagram, but most businesses engage on other social media platforms as well. Using a tool that could possibly manage publishing on other networks like Twitter and Facebook might be important to you. Agorapulse, Buffer, and Hootsuite allow you to manage several other platforms. Crowdfire and Statusbrew support one other platform: Twitter.
+1 for Agorapulse, Buffer, Hootsuite
+0.5 for Crowdfire, Statusbrew
The final tally
Buffer and Later have high positive points and no negative drawbacks, although they don't win on every feature. Agorapulse has the most strengths but also the most drawbacks of the list.
The tools with the most features are Agorapulse, Buffer, Later, and Planoly. They will give you a well-rounded Instagram management experience. If you only have one or two accounts, Buffer and Later and are less expensive. They're all in the same price range if you're managing three or more Instagram accounts.
Hootsuite is more powerful for the older networks like Twitter and Facebook, and their Instagram features should be considered more like "add-ons."
Statusbrew lacks most features that the others have. However, it has an analytics dashboard and easy-to-use mobile app. The mobile app's simplicity is nice compared to Hootsuite's and Agorapulse's mobile apps, which still seem complicated.
Crowdfire's scheduling capabilities are way below average compared to the other tools. Its real strength used to be in its attention to your audience and following patterns, but that is no longer available. Crowdfire doesn't seem to be worth the money when you compare features.
Which tool should you use? (The final tally, weighted)
It depends on how important each feature is to you. Although I've given the final tally above, that is assuming that all features are of the same importance to you. However, you may value some features more than others. For example, if you highly value being able to take a post out of its scheduled time and publish right now, Buffer is the only tool that provides that capability. In that case, you would prefer Buffer over other tools for Instagram management. If being able to feature user-generated content easily is important, you will love Later. What matters to you?
What tools do you use and love for managing your Instagram account? Help others and share your insights in the comments.
Need help developing your social media strategy? These workbooks will make all the difference.
Disclosure: I write blog posts about social media marketing for Agorapulse, but I do not receive any compensation for promoting their tool or for any referrals I make to their tool. I use and pay for several tools in this post. I give a fair and honest assessment of all the tools mentioned in this post.