Using Twitter searches for risk management – how to get started

Recently, I’ve been reading comments on LinkedIn and elsewhere that suggest insurance companies, while beginning to talk about social media, are not outwardly using it as much as they should be.  Maybe that’s true; maybe it isn’t.

What did occur to me after reading these comments is that sometimes those of us who have been around social media a bit longer than others may take some things for granted.  And certain things that seem basic and fundamental to us may not even be known to others that are newer to the game.

[Photo by Vicki’s Nature via Flicker]

This is by no means limited to the insurance industry. Not long ago, I attended a social media event, the attendees of which were picking their jaws up off the floor after the keynote speaker, a member of the US House of Representatives, indicated that neither he or his staff were using Twitter to monitor what his constituents were saying.

In a previous post, I talked about a few Twitter basics like Follow Friday and hashtags.  Today, I’m going to talk about a really easy way to use Twitter to monitor online chatter about various things.  In my mind, the first step toward using Twitter as a risk management tool is to listen to what’s being said about your company or brand.

While not everyone is broadcasting on Twitter, everyone should be listening. In this post, I’ll show you how.

How to search on Twitter

The simplest way to search Twitter is to use the search field embedded right on your Twitter home page. On the right side, you should see the following search field:

You can type anything into this search field, hit enter, and see instant real-time results.  I decided to do a search for social media risk:

Save the search

After doing the search, I saw a full page of tweets, two of which are shown above.  Now, notice the “Save this search” link at the top-right.  If you click this, Twitter will remember these exact search criteria and give you access to the same search anytime you want. You can find your saved searches on the right side of your home page just under the search field:

Many Twitter clients (i.e. third-party programs/apps) also display your saved Twitter searches for easy access. Once you set up a saved search, you’re always just a click away from being able to see a snapshot of what the Twittersphere is saying about your brand—or anything that you’re interested in monitoring for business or personal use.

But wait! There’s more. . .

Grab an RSS feed for the saved search

Anytime you’re viewing your saved search at twitter.com, you will have another useful link at the bottom-right of the page:

If you’re familiar with RSS, you know exactly what you can do with this link.  A few posts back, I wrote about how RSS can be used to keep up with all sorts of things online and dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to monitor Web 2.0 content. If you spend a lot of time in your RSS reader, you may want to track your saved Twitter searches there too.  You can also use more advanced RSS tools to filter and do other creative things with the information that flows in.

More advanced searching on Twitter

The simple search I illustrated above (social media risk) tells Twitter to look for tweets containing all of the words social, media, and risk.  If a tweet only contains “social” and “media,” but not “risk,” it is excluded.  This type of search is probably the most common, but you can actually get a lot more specific using search operators—much like advanced Google searching if you’re familiar with that.

Fortunately, you don’t have to remember the syntax for all the various searches you can perform. You can “cheat” by going to http://search.twitter.com and clicking on “Advanced Search.”

You’ll be taken to a page with fields of all kinds that let you craft a really specific search. Expanding on my previous example, I decided to do the same search as before but made sure that Twitter would treat “social media” as an exact phrase and also exclude any tweets that contain the word “marketing.”

The screen shot above shows only a few of the advanced search fields.  There are a variety of others to explore.

After clicking the search button, I got the following results, which were very similar to the previous results (since neither of the two most recent tweets contained the word “marketing.”  But more importantly, I got the search field syntax for the advanced search (displayed in the search box below).

And just like when I did my search from the Twitter home page, I also have the option of saving the RSS feed for this search:

The only problem is that I can’t save the advanced search in this view.  But that’s easily solved by

  1. copying the contents of the search field box,
  2. pasting into the simple search field on my Twitter home page, and
  3. saving the search like I illustrated above.

This process provides a straightforward way to save searches of all kinds. I encourage you to explore the various advanced Twitter search options. You’ll probably find that you can zero in on some fairly specific conversations taking place on Twitter. By saving and monitoring searches, you can effectively tune out a lot of noise and begin to unlock Twitter’s value for you or organization without even making a peep.

There are also a number of third-party services that provide email alerts when various things are said on Twitter:

If you have your own techniques for monitoring information on Twitter, please share them in the comments.

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