For people who are serious about their Twitter account, Twitter clients are a welcome change from the Web-based Twitter.com. Third-party clients allow users to manage their conversations, easily view replies and direct messages, follow certain keywords or trends, administer lists, keep up with groups, and, in some cases, watch their Twitter analytics. But with multiple Twitter clients available, how do you know which one to choose? Here is a breakdown of a few of the most popular clients.

TweetDeck

TweetDeck is a desktop application that allows you to view your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Buzz, Foursquare, and MySpace accounts all from one client. Like other Twitter applications, it interfaces with the Twitter API to allow users to send and receive tweets and view profiles. According to August 2010 tracking from Twitstat, TweetDeck is the most popular Twitter application, falling second only to the original Web-based option.

The pros: TweetDeck has many features that make it extraordinarily popular. It’s easy to use and learn, so it can be appealing to casual Twitter users. Also, unlike other Twitter clients, TweetDeck automatically shortens your URLs as you type them in, so you don’t need to use URL-shortening services such as bit.ly, or even take the extra step of pasting the URL into an internal compressor. The response time with TweetDeck is often faster, too; while TweetDeck responds in real-time, other clients only refresh every few minutes.

The cons: TweetDeck also has some features that are not so user-friendly. First, it’s a downloadable application, so you have to install the client on your computer to use it. While this isn’t a big deal to most people, it might make you uneasy – especially since you’ll have to download a new version whenever the system requires upgrades. Another issue with the downloadable model is that, if you plan on doing your social networking from multiple computers, you’ll need to download TweetDeck onto every computer and recreate your settings on each one – they’re saved by computer rather than username. The application also takes up the entire screen, so unless you have two monitors or an additional computer, it’s impossible to view the entire layout. Finally, although you can schedule tweets using TweetDeck, you have to leave the TweetDeck client open for the tweet to send.

Download TweetDeck here.

HootSuite

The pros: A professional client for managing multiple social networking accounts, HootSuite is a Web-based platform, which means you don’t need to download it and your setup will be the same no matter which computer you use to log in. You can set up an account for your company and track team workflow across sites such as Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, and more. HootSuite has convenient custom URL shorteners and file uploaders, which allow you to view the analytics of the URL or file and see how many users clicked on it. The client also makes scheduling messages for future release and saving drafts of messages incredibly easy, so you can effectively manage your social media time. Additionally, HootSuite’s layout features both columns and tabs, offering a flexible organization that allows each user to structure their columns however they like.

The cons: The main disadvantage to HootSuite is that it’s not entirely a free client – if you need more than five social networks and one RSS feed, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid account. Another issue is that it’s difficult to include multiple names in an @reply on HootSuite – while the Twitter Web client and TweetDeck both allow you to add names to your reply by simply hitting the “reply” button as many times as you like, HootSuite will erase any existing text in the tweet box and replace it with the username of the person to which you’re replying. To reply to multiple people, you’ll need to manually type in their names, or copy and paste them into the message box. Finally, there’s no way to clear the columns, so tweets you’ve already seen can build up, with no way to remove them from the feed if you want to.

Download HootSuite here.

Twhirl

The pros: This downloadable client, which is owned by the video social video brand Seesmic, is convenient because it doesn’t take up your entire screen – instead, it’s about the size of an instant messaging window. In fact, it probably has the simplest user interface of the clients mentioned – there’s only one column and just a few buttons. It’s also natural at uploading videos, so if your business plans to get involved in a lot of video feeds, this might be an option for you. Convenient hover-over buttons allow you to easily reply, message, and RT items in your timeline, and tabs at the top allow you to quickly manage tweets directed toward you.

The cons: The main complaint about Twhirl seems to be that the client is on the slow side and is often buggy. There’s also no way to group users or filter your stream, and there are no keyboard shortcuts. But if you’re just looking for a simple client without a lot of bells and whistles, this one might be worth checking out.

Download Twirl here.

Twitterific

The pros: Twitterific is a popular client with a simple, easy-to-use interface. It’s flexible and customizable, and you can use the client with multiple accounts. Even though it’s a downloadable application, it doesn’t take up a lot of memory, so you won’t experience the same lag as other downloadable clients. The color-coded tweets, direct messages, and replies make viewing your stream simple, and make it possible to use the client at both full-screen and as a smaller window.

The cons: The biggest potential problem with Twitterific is that you have to have a Mac to use it, so if you have a PC, you’re out of luck. (Twitterific says they have no plans to develop a PC application in the future.) Also, unless you’re willing to fork over $14.95 for the paid version of the client, you’ll have to deal with ads that pop up in your feed once an hour. You can’t configure your notifications for replies and messages, so the client will tell you whenever there’s a new tweet – and if you’re following a lot of people, that could be once a minute. There’s also no built-in interface for pictures or URL shortening, so you need to use an external site for these features.

Download Twitterific here.

External clients can make tweeting a whole lot easier, and can help you better manage your social media time – but choosing the right one for you is simply a matter of personal preference. Do your research, and remember – since most clients have a free version, you can always switch to something else if the one you chose isn’t working for you.

Heather Trese is the associate editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at HTrese@AgentMedia.com or 800-933-9449 ext. 225.


Advance to Day 13 of the Social Media Boot Camp
Mastering LinkedIn’s Advanced Features
Catch up with past boot camp tutorials
Why Social Media for Insurance Agents — and Why Now?
Getting Started with LinkedIn
Getting Started with Twitter
Getting Started with Facebook
Choosing the Right Social Media Site for You
5 Ways for Agents to Build LinkedIn Connections
Using Twitter to Grow Your Business
How to Promote Your Insurance Practice on Facebook
Group Mentality: Finding Like-Minded People
Making Time for Social Media
Twitter External Sites: Part 1