Twitter’s rich search functionality is one of its best features. Sadly, it is also one of its least understood and least used features. However, with a little practice and a few tricks, anyone can turn Twitter search into a powerful tool for finding the real-time thoughts of humanity.
A crash course in Twitter search.
Twitter search has many nuances, and most guides to Twitter’s search (even the ones provided internally by Twitter) do a terrible job demonstrating its potential.
First of all, it’s important to note that each Twitter search can be performed for Twitter profiles, Tweets, and Tweets from your followers. In addition, you can search only by “top Tweets”, which limits results to tweets that have generated a greater number of interactions, or “all Tweets”, which gives you everyone talking about the terms of your search.
Like Google, Twitter uses “Boolean search operators”, a fancy term that means “include these certain types of data, and exclude these other ones.” Like most things, Boolean search is a series of simple rules that can be combined to create very complex results.
Here are the basic functions of Twitter search and how they work:
Putting AND in all capital letters between two words will search for tweets containing your terms. (i.e Wine AND Cheese pulls only tweets that contain both words.)
Note: Twitter, like Google, automatically adds this search parameter in between each word you search in a phrase, (unless it is put in quotation marks as mentioned below). This is one of the main reasons that people get bad results with Twitter search: they don’t understand the difference between searching by words or phrases.
(2 “ ”
Putting a phrase inside quotation marks makes Twitter search for a phrase as a chunk. (“Wine for Cheese” will only pull Tweets containing that exact phrase.)
Using OR in all capital letters pulls back tweets that have either one of mentioned terms. (Wine OR Beer will pull back results that contain either Wine or Beer.) This is a great one for looking for Tweets about events or topics that can be described by more than one word.
The minus symbol will remove anything following it from the results. This one is really important if you want to search a spammy topic. (This goes great in combination with other terms, like “Wine for Cheese” AND -white, which would remove any mentions of white wine.)
The From: search function brings back Tweets from a named user. You don’t need to include the “@” symbol when performing this search.
The To: search function brings back tweets sent to a named user. like “from:user,” you don’t need to include the “@” symbol.
Searching by Twitter handle pulls back all Tweets that mention the named user. (This is basically the same as using any other search term.)
This search option is pretty unreliable, because Twitter does not allow access to Tweets after a certain date (this changes depending on the topic).
(10 Near:Location + Within:Milage
This is how Twitter tells you to search for location-based Tweets, but there is a much better way to do location-based searches.
This is the better way to search for location. If you plug in the right latitude and longitude (Use this tool to find the coordinates of a location).
This will find only tweets that are Retweets. This works best when combined with another search term (like searching for Tweets sent to a celebrity to see which ones were Retweeted).
Filtering by replies will return Tweets that are only replies. I love this one, since you can use it to locate conversations, as well as using it with the minus term to remove conversations from saturated searches.
(14 Filter:Links, Filter:Images, and Filter:Videos
These terms will search for Tweets that have links, pictures, or videos respectively. These are some of the most useful search terms on Twitter, and can really go a long way to helping you find the type of content you are seeking.
Now that you know all the search terms, here’s the secret to being a Twitter Search Ninja
Use search terms in combination
Separately, search functions don’t do much. When combined, however, they are incredibly powerful. Here are some examples of search combinations that I like to use:
Filter out active accounts “@” replies.
When I want to see the Tweets of someone who’s very active on Twitter, I use the search From:User AND -Filter:Replies combination to show me all their relevant Tweets. It turns even the most mention-ridden profile into an easy to read stream. If you want to get even more specific, you can add additional search terms to look for Tweets relating to a certain subject (Tweets about coffee, music ect) or even find only the Tweets containing links. (This last one is a particular favorite of mine. It does wonders to reveal the most useful Tweeps.)
Search for people near you who like what you like.
This is something I started using when I was working at my first digital marketing startup. One of our clients was a coffee shop located near a university. With a few simple search terms (anything coffee related combined with words like “need” and “tired”) with geo-coded targeting, it was easy finding dozens of potential customers on Twitter. Even if you aren’t trying to drive business to your store, you could use the same strategy to find local musicians, or to reach out to foodies for local restaurant suggestions. The possibilities are endless.
Use Filter:Links to find relevant news articles.
Trending topics are really good to get a grasp of breaking news, but the stream of content they generate is oftentimes filled with rumors and worthless noise. If you filter for links, however, you can quickly reach people sharing links to news periodicals more trustworthy than the crowd-sourced rumor mill that Twitter often devolves into. It’s also a great way to dig through your own Timeline to find interesting content. (Use the “people you follow” parameter on the Twitter website to do this.)
Have any other great suggested uses for Twitter search? Let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to leverage the beautiful blue bird’s full potential, and Twitter search is one of the ways I’ve gotten great utility from the platform.
Mr. David Benson is a social media analyst and coffeephile. He currently lives in New York City and works as an analyst for Mashwork, a social media analytics company.