This is the second post in a series on monitoring and listening techniques for social media. Read more in Listen Up! Part 1: Search Basics.

How to Search on Social Media with Advanced Techniques

In order to be strategic (and efficient) with your social media monitoring, I recommend developing a master keyword list that can be used to set up your searches across various platforms. Using this list, customized with some Boolean search operations, can provide you with the makings of a robust monitoring system for your brand.

Search Engine Screenshot

5 Simple Steps to Making a Keyword List

  1. Identify existing keywords.

    Start with your website. What search terms are bringing customers to your website? You can find this out using your website analytics platform (like Google Analytics) if you have one installed.

  2. Identify potential positive keywords.

    Brainstorm a list of words that you think people may associate with your brand (or words you would like them to associate with your brand) that might not have appeared in your analytics list. This list can be generated from your own ideas, or you may get assistance from tools like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner (login with a free account and click on “Tools and Analysis”) or Entering your website into these tools will generate a list of potential keywords and will show you how competitive the words are (meaning how hard it will be for your site to get attention using that keyword).

    Also add words related to products you offer (i.e. programs, majors, degrees, items for sale) and people in your organization. You can create keyword “categories” to sort these into groups. Related words can be used to create a single search query, and each category can have its own query. This will allow you to focus on particular aspects of your brands when reviewing your search results, and assign responsibility for monitoring to different individuals on your team (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

  3. Identify potential negative keywords.

    Brainstorm a list of words that you don’t want included in your search results. For example, when searching for results for Michigan State University, I often ask for results that include “MSU” but do not include “Minnesota,” “Montana,” or “police” (because of our proximity to the Michigan State Police post). I also eliminate results containing “basketball” and “football” as well as some other sports because they are not pertinent to my work.

    As you monitor you may find words that crop up again and again that are not relevant to your monitoring needs. You can add these to your negative keywords list over time.

  4. Create your master keyword list.

    Create a document containing all the keywords you’ve brainstormed above. This should be a living document that is periodically updated. Once your listening platform is complete you’ll most likely come across additional words to add to your keyword lists, weeding out irrelevant news topics and adding in new relevant themes. When you come across these terms, add them to your master keyword list and update your searches to reflect the new keywords. Maintaining a master keyword list also protects you in case the listening platform you’re using shuts down, as Google Alerts did in 2013.

  5. Create a competitor keyword list.

    Repeat steps 1-4 above for your major competitors. This will allow you to set up a listening platform pertaining to their brands as well, which may allow you to see opportunities as they present themselves. You may also keep an eye on your competitors’ social media accounts and website to see if there are any ideas they’re using that you can adapt for your own needs.

Boolean Search Operators

Boolean search operators, named for 19th century English mathematician George Boole, allow users to combine search parameters in order to create more specific searches in databases and on the internet. The basic Boolean operators include “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT.” The capabilities of Boolean search operators have expanded with the Internet, and many platforms have their own take on how to use these techniques. For example, TalkWalker offers a page defining which search query forms will work on their site. Do a web search for the platform you’re using to monitor and the phrase “search terms” or something similar and check if there are restrictions on how search works on that platform.

Twitter offers a simple explanation of their version of Boolean search in this table:

Twitter Search Parameters

Twitter’s advanced search includes a form to help ease the process of creating Boolean searches by breaking the terms up across various fields.

Twitter Advanced Search Menu

Twitter Advanced Search Menu


By combining the terms from your positive and negative keyword lists using these Boolean search operators, you can create a customized search query that is very specific to your brand interests. It is not an exact science, and requires some experimentation. But if you aren’t doing any monitoring now, I can guarantee that you’re missing something.

Come back for the next post in the Listen Up! series to learn how you can combine these techniques to create a customized monitoring dashboard for your brand.


Google photo: Flickr user MoneyBlogNewz