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Free Twitter schedulers tell you the best times to tweet

The HootSuite and Buffer schedulers for Twitter suggest the times your followers are most likely to view, retweet, and otherwise respond to your tweets, while TweetDeck lets you schedule tweets manually, among other features.

Last June, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told a tech-conference audience that the microblog's 140 million users tweet 400 million times a day, as CNET's Dan Farber reported.

Some days it seems nearly all 400 million of those tweets appear on my home feed.

To ensure your tweets don't get lost in the crowd, you need to post your tweets at the times your followers are most likely to read them. Twitter-analysis services offer businesses and individuals tips and tools for ensuring tweets receive maximum exposure. Twitter itself provides Advertiser Analytics in various price ranges.

Determining the best time to post your tweets doesn't have to be rocket science. On the KISSmetrics blog, Kristi Hines explains the Science of Twitter Timing, which comes down to knowing when your followers are reading their tweet stream, and when they are most likely to respond by following a link or retweeting.

Dave Larson recommends on his TweetSmarter blog that you avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to Twitter timing. Larson suggests that you use a combination of tools to find the best tweet times for your unique combination of followers.

Twitter is designed to start conversations among any number of people, anywhere in the world. The information Twitter-analysis services provide to businesses, organizations, and individuals can help them attract followers, encourage interaction, and increase mentions and retweets.

I have tried several free Twitter analyzers, including Tweriod and TweetWhen, but none has ever provided much insight into the timing of my tweets. This may be due to the nature of my Twitter account, which could be categorized (liberally) as experimental.

Tweriod tweet-analysis report
Free Twitter-analysis tools such as Tweriod may not provide much insight into your tweeting effectiveness unless you upgrade to their paid versions. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

If you would rather not bother with tweet-analysis reports, you can rely instead on the auto-schedule features of two free Twitter extensions: HootSuite and Buffer. While the tweet times suggested by the tools are somewhat generic, they serve as a starting point. Adjust them over time to determine what works best for your unique set of followers.

I compared HootSuite and Buffer to TweetDeck, which allows you to schedule tweets manually but lacks an automatic scheduler. (TweetDeck was acquired by Twitter last year.) Of the three, HootSuite gets the nod for its automatic scheduling and first-rate iPad app. Buffer's auto-scheduler is easy to configure, but the service's iPhone app runs shakily on iPads. TweetDeck lacks analytics or auto-scheduling.

All three services are available as Chrome extensions. They work with Facebook as well as Twitter; Buffer and HootSuite also support LinkedIn, and HootSuite links to Google+, foursquare, and other social networks.

HootSuite's auto-scheduler lets you tweet and forget
After you sign up for HootSuite and grant the service permission to access your Twitter account, it displays your Twitter activity in separate columns for your Home Feed, Direct Messages, Mentions, and Sent Tweets. The streams are set to auto-refresh every five minutes, which you can change via a drop-down menu in the top-left corner to intervals from two to 30 minutes, or select manual refreshes.

Use the text box at the top of the window to compose a tweet. Click one of the icons to the right to attach a file or image, add a location, or schedule the tweet. When you choose the scheduler, a calendar appears below the tweet box for selecting the time and date for the post. Above the calendar is the option to use HootSuite's AutoSchedule feature.

HootSuite tweet scheduler
The HootSuite tweet scheduler has an AutoSchedule feature that promises to post when your tweet will have the most impact. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

HootSuite features a report generator and contact manager; if you are part of an organization, it lets you assign tweets. The service's bulk scheduler is available only in the paid version. Also offered are an app directory, online help, and an affiliate program. I quickly became a fan of HootSuite's iPad app, which closely approximates the browser version's appearance and functions.

Buffer provides a snapshot of your Twitter activity
You won't see your Twitter streams in the Buffer window, but the service does provide a solid overview of your tweets' effectiveness. The main Buffer window shows the tweets pending in your pipeline. Click the Analytics tab to view a list of your recent tweets along with the number of mentions, retweets, and favorites each tweet received.

Buffer's scheduler preselects optimal post times through the day: for example, if you tweet four times a day, the first posts at 8:11 a.m. and the last at 8:05 p.m. You can delete one or more of the scheduled times or add auto-scheduled tweet times. The presets apply to every day by default, or you can set schedules by the day of the week.

Compose your tweet in the text box at the top of the Buffer window and then click either Share Now or Buffer. Your buffered tweets are added to the bottom of your queue and assigned the next preset time automatically. To edit the tweet, hover over it and click Edit. To reschedule a buffered tweet, click the Schedule tab, select the day of the week the tweet is scheduled for, and use the drop-down menus to change the time.

Buffer tweet scheduler
Change the schedule of your buffered tweets via Buffer's automatic scheduler, which lets you change post times by the day of the week. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Buffer provides a wealth of tweet-scheduling options and basic Twitter analytics, but the lack of an iPad version reduces the service's usefulness for mobile tweeters. I also prefer HootSuite's ability to view my Twitter streams in addition to scheduling future tweets.

TweetDeck may be suffering from a lack of support
Of the three Twitter extensions I tried, TweetDeck has the cleanest interface. Like HootSuite, TweetDeck places your Twitter activities in columns labeled Timeline, Interactions, Messages, Activity, and Scheduled. You can add columns for Mentions, Lists, Trends, Tweets, Favorites, and other categories.

To schedule a tweet in TweetDeck, click the compose icon in the top-right corner and then choose the clock icon below the text box. Select a time and date in the pop-up calendar, and click Tweet to add the tweet to your schedule.

TweetDeck tweet scheduler
Schedule your tweets in TweetDeck by selecting the clock icon, choosing a time and date, and clicking Tweet to add it to your schedule. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

TweetDeck lacks an auto-scheduler or any kind of trend analysis. The TweetDeck app for iPhone and iPad hasn't been updated since 2011, which indicates it has been abandoned (the Android version likewise appears to be orphaned). Twitter's TweetDeck page makes no mention of any mobile versions.

Tweeting and mobility are a match made in heaven. Since the official Twitter mobile apps don't offer a way to schedule your tweets, I have to think the company is discouraging scheduled tweets, or it has something else in mind. Until that something else arrives, HootSuite is the best way to make the most of your tweeting time at the office, at home, or on the road.