October 4, 2017

Depending on whom you ask, Twitter is either a cavernous vault of useful information or a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The truth is, it’s both. But those who assume the latter could find Twitter to be a more useful tool by employing filters to surface the good stuff.

By combining features from Twitter Advanced Search and Tweetdeck, journalists can quickly comb through hundreds of billions of tweets from people all over the globe to find the best tweets. 

Twitter’s native search functionality is a modified version of boolean logic, which generally allows for use of the words “and,” “or,” and “not” to run more specific searches. On Twitter, you don’t need an “and” operator, the “or” operator works as normal and the “and not” operator is instead a minus sign.

If I wanted to search for all tweets mentioning Poynter or the @Poynter account but exclude English musician Dougie Poynter (who is always annoyingly wrapped up in our tweets), I would enter this into the search box: poynter OR @poynter –dougie

Or, if I was looking for people tweeting about winning a Pulitzer Prize on the same day that Lilly Pulitzer released a clothing line at Target (a real thing that happened a few years ago), I could search for “Pulitzer -Lilly” to omit paisley maxi dresses from my results. 

Other helpful operators are “from:” (tweets sent from a specific account), “to:” (tweets sent to a specific account), quotations (put them around several words to search for whole phrases) or parentheses (to nest terms inside of other terms). 

But with Twitter Advanced Search, you don’t have to remember any of these operators. Twitter doesn’t make finding it easy. Jennifer Grygiel, a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, joked that the “best practice” for finding Twitter Advanced Search is to Google it. 

Once there, use the available fields to winnow your search. When you’re done, Twitter automatically translates your search into boolean logic terms and displays it on the top left side of the results. 

Grygiel said that journalists can plug this search terminology into a column on Tweetdeck, a Twitter-owned tool that allows users to view multiple real-time timelines at once, to create “listening stacks” that run in the background at all times.

To do this, log into Tweetdeck and click the plus button on the left to start a new column. Select “search” and paste the boolean terms into the bar that shows up. This will open a new column in Tweetdeck with more specific search parameters than most people use.

And Tweetdeck offers different filter options that allow for even deeper searching, Grygiel said. A button on the top right corner of each column allows for further filtering by location, users mentioned, verification status or, most interestingly, by an engagement threshold. Users can search for a minimum number of replies, likes or retweets. 

Grygiel suggested that by starting low and moving the numbers up, journalists could easily find the most popular (and often, most useful) tweets before they’re surfaced somewhere like the Twitter-curated Moments.

“Twitter Moments are usually looking at ‘important’ people saying things. [Journalists could] find the unverified user who had the remark of the day, who had a real ringer. Feature them, too,” Grygiel said. “It’s a great way to find user-generated content and user-generated thoughts and ideas.”

Journalists can use these combined features to sort through the muck to find only the most relevant information around real-time issues, Grygiel said. It’s an important skill to have when those with power like President Donald Trump regularly make news by commenting on the social network.

“Twitter is its own little space now and we need to report on some of the big statements,” Grygiel said. “You kinda don’t want to miss those.”

Learn more about journalism tools with Try This! — Tools for Journalism. Try This! is powered by Google News Lab. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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