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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies


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Advanced Twitter Search Commands
March/April 2016 Issue

Most people—and not only information professionals—are familiar with Twitter. The social media platform, originally an outlet for individual expression, is becoming a breaking news and information-sharing platform. However, information professionals underutilize and undervalue Twitter as a research tool, although they may use it to follow what’s happening in real time at library conferences.

Twitter offers users a medium through which to send messages of no greater than 140 characters—at least as of now. It’s been widely reported, particularly by Re/code, that the company plans to expand from 140 characters to as many as 10,000 (re/ Although there are different versions of its origin story (, the basic facts are that Twitter launched in July 2006 and is currently a multibillion-dollar, publicly traded company. Most of Twitter is free, although Promoted tweets and Twitter Ads are paid options. can be accessed by anyone who registers for a free account, through both PCs and mobile devices, but 80% of its traffic comes from the latter.

There is a wealth of information on Twitter. However, information professionals may be put off by its velocity and volume—the information appears irretrievable due to the fast-moving nature of the posts and the overwhelming number of them. That perception is understandable, when you consider that, as of Sept. 30, 2015, Twitter announced it had 320 million monthly active users sending 500 million tweets per day in more than 35 different languages ( From product liability to insurance subrogation to comments that could affect stock shares, there is vast array of data information professionals can utilize to help give their employers or clients an edge.

Twitter’s extensive global reach can yield vast amounts of unique data that you can tap into—if you use the right search queries. The following examples are just some of the many special commands you can use to mine tweets for information.


The from: and to: commands reveal the origin and destination of tweets.

What results will this search yield?

Perhaps the simplest of searches, this is the easiest way to get a comprehensive list of all the tweets sent from or to a particular Twitter handle.

How is this information useful?

It can be used for merely seeing how often an account has tweeted or evaluating the content in those tweets. If the location settings have been turned on, a geographic placement can be correlated to a tweet in addition to the time stamp that automatically appears.

What does this search look like?

Typing from:Viacom into the search field shows you all the tweets sent from @Viacom.

Typing to:DIRECTV into the search field shows you all the tweets sent to @DIRECTV.

If you use them together, you can see theTwitter correspondence between these two companies.

Typing from:Viacom to:DIRECTV shows you tweets sent from Viacom to DIRECTV. Since companies sometimes spar publicly on social media, this search strategy reveals information relevant to business decisions and competitive intelligence. According to the Bloomberg Business article, “Battlefield Twitter: When Companies Take Their Fights Public” (, the exchanges between Viacom and DIRECTTV ranked No. 2 on its list of “highlights from the battlefield” list.


Keywords play a role in Twitter searches, particularly when combined with advanced search techniques.

What results will this search yield?

If used alone, a keyword or hashtag search will result in a list of the most popular and most recent tweets containing that search term. However, when combined with a Twitter handle, it will show you more specific information that connects an entity with specific search terms.

How is this information useful?

For competitive intelligence or market analysis purposes, seeing which terms or topics are trending can be useful information. It can also be applied to product liability research, if key terms such as “recall” or “defect” are used. Lastly, when applied to a Twitter account that tweets documents, this search string can help locate information more quickly.

What does this search look like?

You can add keywords to destination and origin searches. Typing to:Walmart defective displays any time someone tweeted at @Walmart using the word “defective.” In some instances, photos will accompany the tweet. Typing from:Ford recall will display any tweets sent directly by @Ford regarding a recall.

If you type a search term before the Twitter handle, you get tweets that mention the handle, even if it appears in the middle of the tweet and is not sent directly to the entity owning the handle. For instance, evacuation @noaa retrieves tweets that talk about evacuations mentioned on the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration) website. Similarly, earthquake @usgs leads to tweets that talk about earthquakes noticed by USGS (United States Geological Survey).

Many courts and federal agencies tweet out documents or orders as links or PDFs. In order to search for them, use their Twitter handles coupled with a qualifier keyword. Searching from:pacourts opinion retrieves opinions from Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System in Harrisburg.

A surname can help narrow your search results. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Twitter handle sends out litigation releases, trading suspensions, notices and orders concerning that institution, and/or settlement or proceedings. The strategy from:sec_enforcement jones restricts results to any that mentioned Jones.


Twitter pioneered the hashtag (#) as a clickable link to topics, a convention that was accepted by other social media extraordinarily quickly. Combine keywords and hashtags for creative advanced searching.

What will this search yield?

Searching by hashtag allows you to retrieve information based on certain key phrases. The general idea is that a Twitter user will indicate which words in her tweet are important to her message. Alternatively, many conferences and live events will have a designated hashtag people are asked to use in their tweets. The effect is often that of forming a virtual community having a shared experience through Twitter. Keep in mind, though, that these are not standardized. Thus, a hashtag may refer to different events, resulting in “hashtag collision.” For example, #sla might be the Special Libraries Association or Sports Licensing Agency.

How is this information useful?

It can be used to identify or monitor trends. Searching strictly by a hashtag will show you only tweets that include that denotation. It becomes an aggregator of that specific information.

What does this search look like?

You can search strictly the hashtag like this: #MalalaFund. You can also use it in conjunction with a specific Twitter handle to see if that account has ever tweeted using a specific hashtag: from:CocaCola #SuperBowl. Although it is still possible to search Twitter for keywords even if they don’t contain the symbol #, the designation of the hashtag is the metadata of what the user chooses to indicate in her message.

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Tracy Z. Maleeff is a former law firm librarian and founder of Sherpa Intelligence.


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