Listen Up! Part 1: Search Basics

How to Search on Social Media

One of the most often misunderstood qualities of social media is that it should be a conversation tool. Too often individuals and organizations use social media to broadcast announcements and opinions without paying any attention to what their followers are saying. Not only does this mean they could be missing out on opportunities for meaningful engagement with fans and followers, but they also could be putting themselves at risk for receiving negative attention that goes unaddressed.

In order to most effectively use social media, you must listen. This means paying attention to what your fans and followers are saying, both to you and about you. You must make it a habit to check all your social media accounts for any messages from your audience on a regular basis – at least once a day. Most platforms make this easy with notification options via email or phone apps.

This also means listening to what individuals are saying about you or your organization, and your industry, even when they are not following your account(s). To do this, you need to use social search. Every social media platform offers search functionality, and there are also external search platforms that you can use.

Platform-Direct Searching

With platform searches, it is important to experiment and get to know how the platform search functionality works before you rely on the search results. Some platforms may not have the best search functionality, which others may be better in this department. Either way, do some reading on the platform to see what search operators the platform supports and play around with your search terms to find what works best for you.

Most platforms offer search options, but here are a few of the biggest platforms you might use when searching for information about your brand.


Facebook’s internal search functionality allows you to search within interactions with your Facebook friends. You can narrow down or expand results through the Facebook social graph search, which uses algorithms to identify items you may be interested in based on your Facebook friends and activity, such as movies you may be interested in. You can access the Facebook social graph search by clicking on the search bar at the top of the Facebook screen.

Facebook search is not optimized for page managers, so you’ll need to use an external search platform to learn what non-fans are saying about your brand.

Facebook Social Graph Search Menu
Facebook Social Graph Search Menu


Twitter is more public than Facebook, and searching for comments about your brand is easier on this platform. The website allows you to search Twitter for trending terms, hashtags, and keywords and phrases in real time (meaning as it happens).

Twitter Search Panel
Twitter Search Panel

Twitter also supports advanced search with Boolean operators. This is a great benefit, allowing you to cut through the clutter of search results and narrow them down to the information that truly matters to your brand.

Twitter Advanced Search Menu
Twitter Advanced Search Menu


YouTube is a Google-owned platform, and its search works just like the Google search you are familiar with. You can search YouTube directly from or, using the same search operators you would use on the Google platform.

YouTube Search Bar
YouTube Search Bar


Pinterest has recently improved their internal search functionality. The basic search starts with the box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Entering a keyword or phrase here opens us the search pane which allows you to tailor your results. You can filter your search results to pins, pinners (Pinterest users) or boards. You can also search all of Pinterest, or limit results to your own pins, which is useful if you’re trying to find a recipe or project idea that you know you pinned before.

Pinterest Search Box
Pinterest Search Box

External Search Platforms

There are many, many ways to search social media, and many companies offering products that claim to make this easier, more efficient, etc. Many of these products charge a service fee or require subscriptions, and some can cost thousands of dollars a month. Chances are your organization doesn’t have the budget to accommodate these fun and fancy tools. As nice as they may be, in the real world you often have to do more with less. Luckily, there are platforms that allow you to search social media entries for free or nearly free. A quick Google search will give you many options, but I’ve listed a couple of my favorites below. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t pay for something unless it gives you what you really need. Don’t be afraid to try different platforms – most offer free trials – and experiment with free options until you find what works for you.

TalkWalker Alerts

TalkWalker Alerts allows you to develop robust search strings of keywords which are then used to monitor different categories of media. TalkWalker specializes in monitoring news sites, blogs and discussions (a.k.a. forums). Sign up for a free account by creating your first search query at You can limit your results by type of platform, language, etc. and receive your results by email or RSS feed.

TalkWalker Alerts Create Tab
TalkWalker Alerts Create Tab

SocialMention works similar to TalkWalker in that it allows you to set up search queries using keywords, then receive results by email or RSS feed. Social Mention goes a step further by offering analysis on the sentiment of the messaging (positive vs. negative), strength, reach (size of the audience) and passion. The difference is that Social Mention focuses on various social media platforms – blogs, microblogs (Twitter), bookmarks (sites like Reddit), images (sites like Flickr), videos (sites like YouTube or Vimeo), and questions (sites like Quora). You can combine these results into one stream, or segment them by category.

Social Mention Search Bar
Social Mention Search Bar

Come back for the next post in the Listen Up! series to learn more about Boolean search and keyword techniques for monitoring your brand.

Microphone image by Flickr user visual_dichotomy.

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