Powerful Social Media Searches 101

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So you want to find out how people are talking about your widget, but when you do a search on “Widget”, you are overwhelmed by the junky, voluminous, useless results on the screen!  I’ve been fortunate at Visible Technologies to gain a great deal of knowledge in the task of building awesome social media search queries (and I actually have fun putting together a great search string).

This article should help to demystify the process of building effective online searches and hopefully instill a bit of adventure in you.  I promise that finding relevant social media content does not have to feel like diving headfirst into a haystack made of nothing but needles (ouch!) just to find the one needle you need.

For Starters

As an exercise, take a few minutes to jot down what content you are specifically interested in tracking.  Knowing what kind of content you want to see is essential to creating a great search.  For example of content you might want:

  • A general, broad search on occurrences of your brand name to determine its share of mentions in the social media space but without containing certain types of data (like press releases or ads)
  • Indications of customer likes and dislikes around a particular product
  • Trends in the use of particular terms within your industry
  • The outcome of a product launch or marketing campaign, from the perspectives of those talking in the social media space
  • Content written by or for a particular audience

Now that you’ve taken time to define what it is you’re looking for and why (you have done that, right?), it’s time to know where to search, how to generate your search strings, and what to do with them once you’ve got results.

Where to Search

Quick TipSearches should always respect acceptable use policies and guidelines outlined by any site

When you’ve got a great tool at your fingertips, like Visible’s new Visible Intelligence platform, then you simply need to organize your saved searches – the tool will ensure that the keyword searches are performed across millions of blogs, forums, message boards, and open micro-blogging or social networking sites (by ‘open’ I mean that no username or password is required to view content on the site).

However, if you’re in charge of watching the content each day and don’t have a tool that aggregates all the data for you, I recommend you start with these main search engines, in addition to any particular bloggers you want to follow:

Google Blog Search

Twitter Search

Board Reader (forum searches)

YouTube (after your initial search, click on ‘search options’ to do more advanced searches

If your division or company is in the B2B (business to business) space you will also want to be a part of some LinkedIn groups {see the Quick Tip}.

Constructing Online Social Media Searches

In the examples below, keywords to use in your searches are italicized and separated by commas.  Multiple words between commas represent an exact phrase.  While each search tool operates a little differently, and some like Visible Intelligence have some extra bells and whistles such as Near and Wildcards, these recommendations should help you navigate through the majority of the sites listed previously.

  1. Start broad {“dog food” NOT cat}
  2. Weed out junk with exclude words and phrases {-announced, -announces, -released, -press release}
  3. Play with variations on your optional terms
    1. first person phrases {how to, how do I, with them, my kids}
    2. audience-specific terms—if your audience is highly technical or share interests, use keywords that will be unique to them, their experiences, their lingo
    3. experience or emotion-based words {hate, love, I usually, I recommend, prefer}

Using Boolean Logic

Boo-what, you say?  All you really need to know is that there are some basic rules to performing a search online and a few tricks to optimizing those searches.  One little kink in this is that some of the video search engines and twitter search may not accept all Boolean operators and have other restrictions (like the 140 character limit on Twitter).  Otherwise, the basics are always helpful to apply and you can learn a lot by checking out the ‘Advanced’ search options for any search engine.

Between any single word or exact phrase you can use these Boolean operators (there are more, but these are the basics to be aware of):

  • AND:  Indicates to the search engine that all of the words must show up in the post (dog AND cat)
  • OR:  Indicates to the search engine that at least one of the words must show up in the post (dog OR cat)
  • NOT (you can also use the minus or exclamation symbol (- or !) before the term):  This will exclude any post containing these words or phrases even if it has some of your include words (dog -cat)
  • “Quotes around words”:  The search engine will look for posts containing the exact phrase (“dog food”)

You can also create a compound search to look for multiple combinations of terms.  For example, dog (leash OR harness OR muzzle) will bring back posts that have any combination of dog AND leash, dog AND harness as well as dog AND muzzle.  The space between dog and the opening parenthesis is read as an ‘AND’.  This can be a great way to combine multiple search terms into a single search string.

Now What?

You’ve built a fancy-pants search string and the results look pretty darn good, if you don’t say so yourself.  But now what the heck do you do with it?  Again, if you’ve got a great SAAS business tool at your fingertips like Visible Intelligence, then content across various social medial sources is going to show up as soon as you enter your searches.  But let’s say you’re a sole proprietor or small business and you haven’t yet invested in such tools.  Not to worry.  It will require a bit more effort to track, but you can still track the data most important to you.

Once you’ve got the right content:

1.Find this icon (in your browser toolbar or Twitter side bar ).

2.  Then just click the icon and subscribe to the feed so you have easy access through your email program or a folder in your browser to view new content that relates to your search.

Rock Your Searches!

For those of you fairly new to creating your own searches, I hope this quick tutorial has helped remove some of the mystery and set you on a path to creating great social media searches.


Vicki Blair, A social media yogi in the making

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