Tweet smarter (Part 1)

Not too long ago we ran an article on microblogging options beyond Twitter. But it turns out you don’t have to leave the social media behemoth in order to fancify your microblogging — you can spice things up with some in-house options.

While there are a myriad of platforms you can tweet from, ranging from the Twitter site itself to mobile phone apps to desktop apps, this article focuses on browser-based options. In many cases, you’ll have the choice of either using the program directly through the site or by installing an extension or app in your browser, but we’re going to look at using the programs directly through the site.

It should also be noted that while this article only deals with using Twitter through these programs, most of them are full-fledged social media management systems, meaning you can update Facebook and other sites through the same account used to manage Twitter.

TweetDeck is a great choice when it comes to Twitter clients.  Screenshot by Brian Hollingsworth.

Perhaps the most widely-popularized service is TweetDeck, which grew so popular it was purchased by Twitter. The signup process is simple (and sets the template for the signup processes used by the other programs we’re going to cover) — just go to the site, look for a “sign in” option in the “on the web” section, and click sign in. There will appear an option to either sign in with an existing account or an option to create an account. Click “create account” and follow the steps from there.

Once your TweetDeck account is set up, you should notice it offers all the services Twitter’s main site has, and more. More importantly, it offers all these services in an easy-to-use dashboard, with columns for things like your tweets, your direct messages, and your interactions with other people. You can also set up columns for specific people, lists, or searches.

TweetDeck also makes retweeting a breeze. Twitter users now have two different ways to retweet things they like — the old method of using “RT @username,” and the official “retweet” button that copies the exact message to your followers, showing the original sender’s name and “retweeted by yourusername.”

If you just want to retweet verbatum, the official method is hands down the better option. It’s quick, it’s exact and it shows your followers who originally tweeted the share-worthy material. But sometimes, you might want to preface a retweet with a comment of your own. In cases like these, the RT method is still alive and well. The problem, of course, is that you have to either copy and paste the original text or type it all out yourself.

TweetDeck takes care of this problem by giving you a retweet button that functions like the official method, with one caveat. When you click it, it gives you the option of directly retweeting or editing and then retweeting. If you go with the former, your retweet will look exactly like it was done by the official method. If you choose to edit, it will show up in the classic RT format.

HootSuite is another great choice. Screenshot by Brian Hollingsworth.

A viable competitor to TweetDeck is HootSuite. Like TweetDeck, HootSuite operates from a dashboard and allows you to create different panels (called “streams” here) based on criteria you choose. I did find some of HootSuite’s categories somewhat less intuitive than TweetDeck’s, but nothing too difficult to manage. This program stands out from the others by allowing you to create multiple tabs — each of which can contain multiple streams — as well as by using an unobtrusive “compose tweet” box at the top (this comes in extremely handy for Twitter chats, which we’ll deal with soon). HootSuite also differs in that it provides a refresh button on every stream. With Twitter’s main site, tweets just pile up until you click a button to reveal them, and TweetDeck continually streams updates (although there is a trick to get around that).

If these two interfaces aren’t enough to keep you busy, stay tuned for Tweet Smarter (Part 2).