More than a third of all tweets are sent by people visiting Twitter’s default Web client. Which is too bad, because Twitter, as a website, is by far the least effective way to use Twitter as a network.
But even though just about any third-party client will provide you with a better way to use Twitter, picking the client that’s right for you can be daunting. Should you install a client or use one that runs in your browser? Which features are really necessary? Should you pay for any of these services?
I typically prefer browser-based clients because I think its easier to move between browser windows than separate programs, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at an installed client with a really great feature set just for that. The best client for you is the one that fits your workflow — if you really need to be able to schedule tweets to be effective and a client doesn’t give you that option, then it’s the wrong service for you, even if everyone else loves it.
As far as paying for these services, I say hold onto your money for now. Paid clients are really only necessary if you need to manage a large number of accounts or users, or if you want integrated analytics. Most people are going to be able to get by just fine with free software. If, after a few months, you find yourself aching for a feature that no free program offers, then you may want to revisit the issue — but not until you’re absolutely sure it’s necessary.
Clients are constantly updating their features, so today’s hot clients could easily be replaced by competitors. It’s worth trying out a new client (or giving an old one a second shot) every so often, just to see what’s out there. Switching between free clients is easy, since all your lists, tweets and direct messages are backed up by Twitter, not by these third-party services.
To get you started, here’s a rundown of some of the more poplar clients out there. I’ve purposely left out mobile clients, Mac-only clients and paid versions of clients — those will each require their own posts down the line.
- Hootsuite, a browser-based client, comes in both free and paid versions and allows you to post to several popular networks, not just Twitter. It’s functionality isn’t especially deep, but it’s fairly intuitive. You can set up a variety of columns listing your timeline, your posts, mentions, etc. It’s easy to monitor several aspects of your social presence this way. Users can schedule posts, attach images and use a built-in link shortener.
- TweetDeck can either be installed or run through Google’s Chrome browser. TweetDeck’s interface can be a little daunting at first, but with a little practice it can be an exceptionally powerful tool. It uses a multi-column format and boasts a number of really swanky features, including the ability to to automatically shorten any link you paste into its update window. Multimedia is a focus, as posting photo and video to your Facebook accounts is just as easy as posting a link to Twitter using this service. The client also has a translation feature, but I’d be cautious about entrusting my tweets to a machine’s ability to transliterate idioms.
- Seesmic comes in both browser-based and installed flavors. Its features are plug-in based, so it can be easily customized. The default version can seem a little basic — especially since it lacks the ability to schedule updates. The user-interface is very clean, however, and makes a great stepping stone from the default Twitter client to some of the more advanced fare.
- CoTweet is trying to carve out a niche as the platform of choice for accounts that are managed by several people. It lets users assign tasks to each other, so that no work gets duplicated or left behind. And the ability to forward a tweet via e-mail could be useful for situations in which you want a boss’s feedback before responding to a contentious tweet or direct message.
- Echofon is great if you want a lightweight client and you use Firefox. Echofon runs right in the browser as a plugin, rather than a separate window. It lacks some of the bells and whistles that many of the other services on this list provide, but it’s simple, clean and it stays out of your way.
- Twhirl is probably your best best for a lightweight client if you prefer installed clients or if you’re not a Firefox user. Again, the functionality isn’t too deep, but it’s crisp and clean and easy to use.
- Slipstream is still in beta, but the site’s focus on helping make Twitter more manageable is laudable. Better query technology is something every client should be investing in.
- BirdHerd takes a different approach to managing multiple accounts by allowing you to use direct messages from one account to control several others. While it’s not as intuitive as some other systems, it could prove more efficient if you’re working with a large number of accounts all day long.
- Brizzly is the Twitter client for people who miss Google Wave. Users can create “picnics” — private conversations between multiple users that can integrate multimedia and be split off into side chats. Sound familiar?
Of course, that list is far from exhaustive. Did I leave your favorite client off the list? Is there anything else I should have pointed out about the the services I did mention?
What’s your favorite Twitter client? Why?
Image Credit: -Antonio-, via iStock Photo