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Twitter: Advanced search tools for journalists

Sometimes social media can seem overwhelming with tens of thousands of updates streamingStreaming1) technology that permits continuous audio and video delivered to a computer…

When that many tweets are flowing by, it’s very hard to make sense of it all. Fortunately, there are a number of ways a journalist can manage Twitter as well as advanced search techniques to help them find the updates, photos and videos that they want.

Twitter search: The basics

When you first search something on Twitter, it will show you tweets, updates, that relate to your search.

1. Twitter first shows you “Top” tweets, tweets from people or accounts with a larger number of followers or tweets that have been retweeted often. You can also filter your search to people you follow or see all tweets.

Twitter search basic options

2. If you look to the left of the updates that relate to your search, you will see accounts that relate to your search under the heading of people as well as images under the heading Top Photos and videos under the heading Top Videos.

When your search returns updates from prominent people, if you see a check mark in a blue rippled circle, this means that Twitter has verified the account. For instance, this is the official account of Malaysian member of parliament Anwar Ibrahim. That doesn’t mean that updates from prominent people without the check aren’t verified, but it does give you some confidence with well-known figures that you have an official account.

Twitter verified account blue check

Twitter search: Advanced options

Similar to Google and other search engines, there are a number of advanced search options and some options unique to Twitter. Clicking on the gear icon in the upper right hand reveals a drop-down menu with three options:

1. Save search

2. Advanced search

3. Embed this search

Before looking at the advanced options, we’ll look at the other two options. Saving searches can be helpful not only in keeping searches that you commonly do but also in applications that help you monitor Twitter and other social media services, such as Twitter’s Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. Saved searches allow you to have a column featuring the results of that search.

For instance in Tweetdeck, below, you can add columns allowing you to monitor your favourites, your searches, replies to you or hashtags all at the same time. On the Twitter website, you can access all of this information, but you cannot have multiple columns with this information. Tweetdeck and other social media dashboard applications are commonly used by journalists monitoring social media.

Adding saved searches to a column in Tweetdeck

To add a column to Tweetdeck:

1. ClickClickA click can denote several different things. It can be a metric that… 2. That will bring up a window with all of the options for columns you can add including columns of your saved searches, Twitter lists, direct messages or replies. You can also add a column with your Facebook news feed.

Tweetdeck and other tools are a very useful way for journalists to monitor social media, and we’ll cover these tools in future guides.

Now, looking back at the other search options in Twitter. You can embed the results of the search in another site using one of Twitter’s widgets. Note, the results of the search can be set to update as new results arrive. Search is only one widgetWidgetA small application designed to reside on a PC desktop (Mac OS X or Windows…

Twitter search widget

Finally, we return to the advanced search options. The options are broken down into three different sections: Words, people and places.

Twitter advanced search options

1. Words

This section will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used the advanced search options common to major search engines including Google or Yandex. You can search by any or all words or an exact phrase. If you add keywords to “None of these words”, it will exclude words from your search. If you are seeing results unrelated to what you are searching for and have a common search term, you can exclude that term to deliver more relevant results.

You can also search by a hashtag, a keywordKeywordSpecific word(s) entered into a search engine by the user that result(s) in a…

One very useful element for international journalists is the ability to search by language. While not comprehensive, the search by language option allows you to search by all of the languages most popular on Twitter including Russian, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesia, to name a few. One major language it does not include is Chinese.

2. People

You can also filter your search based on accounts, so you can filter you search from a certain account or accounts or that mention an account.

3. Places

The final option allows you to filter your search by a place. This can be especially useful if you want updates only from accounts near an event rather than people mentioning an event, such as during a disaster or bombing. Twitter uses information from where Twitter users say they are in their profiles or location added by phones with GPS or other location technology. Many Twitter users never change the location in their profile so the location would imprecise and possibly inaccurate. Try to contact the user to verify the location.

If you see a map pin, similar to the pins used on Google maps in a Twitter update, the location was added by a smartphone or added by an image that had location embedded in it. You can be more confident with the accuracy of the location of updates with these pins, and the location will be more precise.

Twitter map pin showing an embedded location

Twitter: More advanced options

There are even more options that are only available by adding text options to your search. These options can be very powerful, but they are only available on a special search page that is not easily found on Twitter’s site. Here is their search option guide, available from the “operators” link on the search pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…

Twitter advanced search operators

Many of these operators are simply text versions of the advanced search options. For instance, putting two or more keywords in quotes, e.g. “Zambia elections”, will look only for that exact phrase. This will return the same results as the exact phrase option in the advanced search. Adding a ‘-‘ in front of a word will exclude that word from the search, which is like the ‘None of these words’ option in the advanced search.

However, there are options that are only available using these text operators. For instance, if you use the options, since:2010-12-27 or until:2010-12-27, it will only show updates since 27 December 2010 or until 27 December 2010. There is no other way to filter by date using Twitter search except by using these operators.

Another option only available using these operators is the ability to filter by a more precise location. For instance, you can search for updates posted 5km from the centre of Jakarta with the following search, “near:Jakarta within:5km”.

You can also filter your search for specific types of media. You can filter updates that include links, photos or videos by adding the filter option. For instance, you can add filter:images to the previous search to find all updates with images 5km from the centre of Jakarta.

These search operators will have to be written in English, but you can use other languages as search terms.

With these search tools, you can quickly find the updates you want and that are relevant to the stories you are covering. You can tame the flood of updates and find what you want quickly and on deadline.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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