This series focuses on methods of improving the relevancy of your results of social media searches, while not being logged into the services themselves. Again, social media searching is clearly trending upward in the law librarianship profession, as attorneys are increasingly making these requests while conducting informal discovery. In Part 1 of “Searching Social Media” we examined how to use Google’s advanced search features to retrieve relevant Facebook results. In Part 2, we will examine methods of conducting higher-relevance Twitter searches.

Twitter is currently the 8th most popular website on planet earth, according to Alexa. And, luckily for our purposes, Twitter provides an advanced search screen that does not require the user to log in! This is accessible here:

And it looks like this:


Name Search

Typically, our requestors are trying to locate an individual’s Twitter account. The first and easiest search presumes the user has a portion of their name in their Twitter handle (a Twitter handle is a Twitter user’s username, and that username’s accompanying URL, as per Twitter’s Help Center). The easiest method of conducting this search is by using the Advanced Search’s People search, and merely inputting the requested name:


The results from this search list the users who have “Obama” in their Twitter handle:

SM_twitter_nameResultsSearchAs an aside, this exact search can be done in any of Twitter’s search boxes by using these terms:


SM_twitter_fromConstructionThis, again, is a basic, easy search that can lead you to an individual’s Twitter handle, but it is limited: success requires the user to have a unique real name, and to use their unique real name as part of their Twitter handle. As we all know, we’re usually not this lucky.

Name and Location Search

More often than not, you will be tasked with finding somebody with a more common name and a location. These searches can be accomplished by, again, using Twitter’s advanced search page, and by inputting the data you have under “People” and “Places.” Let’s say we are tasked with finding a person with the name of “Gates”, in the city of Seattle, WA. Merely input “Gates” into the “People” field, and “Seattle” into the “Places” field:

SM_twitter_nameAndLocation_SearchBoxAs an aside, this search can also be conducted by manually inputting the following terms into Twitter’s search box:

from:Gates near:”Seattle” within:15mi

(one of the benefits of using the manual terms search function is your ability to increase the value in “within:15mi”, in case your initial searches are fruitless)


And, from conducting this search, we retrieve the following results, the top 3 being Melinda Gates, Bill Gates, and Gates Education:


The issue with the above person and location search regards Twitter’s search relevancy algorithm. Clearly, users who have their name in their Twitter handle will be listed higher–and have higher relevancy–when results are retrieved. Drilling down into the results is sometimes required, and what about those cases when the user has a common name or does not have either their first and/or last name in their Twitter handle?

Phrase and Location Search

When a user has a common name or does not have their first and/or last name in their Twitter handle, the next best option is to do a phrase search for the user’s name. Using this search method will retrieve instances where the user’s full name has been tweeted–it may not necessarily be tweeted by the user you are trying to find, but it may just be the information you need to get one step closer to finding out what your user’s Twitter handle is. Also, doing this search can retrieve instances where a Twitter handle has been tweeted that, behind the scenes, is linked to the user’s real name, as we will see in our example. Let’s say, we are trying to find tweets mentioning “LeBron James”, to locate LeBron James’s Twitter handle. To improve the relevancy, we were also given the additional information that the location of “LeBron James” may be “Akron, OH”, so we can add that to the search as well. We would enter “LeBron James” into the “All of these words” portion of the advanced search field:SM_twitter_lebron_search3And we would enter “Akron” in the “Places” section of the advanced search:

SM_twitter_lebron_search2After conducting our search, the following results are retrieved. From this result list, we find tweets referring to an @KingJames:SM_twitter_LeBron_ResultsAnd, from clicking into @KingJames’s Twitter profile, we find this handle is owned by a person named LeBron James, from Akron, OH–so again, this is an instance where searching for the user’s full name actually led us to the user, even though their Twitter handle did not contain their full name, and actually included a last name that is quite common (James):


Lastly, Twitter’s Help Center contains a legend of all the advanced terms and connectors searches you can perform in Twitter, available here.

Happy hunting!