Twitter Lists and Searches: Saving You From A Social Media Black Hole

Organizations and people who are just getting started on Twitter or working on a social media strategy are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume and speed of information taking place in real time. A common concern is that social media is (or will become) a black hole, where time and productivity cease to have meaning. How do you prevent yourself or your organization from getting pulled in by Twittersphere gravity, but still maintain an active social media presence? Use lists and searches!

How to Use Twitter Lists

I’ve written before about using lists and searches for research on Twitter. But they really do help you manage your time, find relevant content, and allow you to be part of conversations with people who you aren’t following or aren’t following you. Let’s start with Twitter lists. If you already understand what Twitter lists are, skip to the next paragraph. Twitter lists are people/organizations/accounts that you want to categorize. Lists help you see tweets from a specific group without having to follow those accounts or scan your timeline. You can have a maximum of 1,000 lists, with 5,000 Twitter accounts per list (this was increased in the spring of 2013). You set up Twitter lists in your Twitter account by going to your profile, clicking on “Lists” and the button “Create list.” You can have a list for anything you want: friends, technology, competitors, media contacts, etc. For example, as an energy wonk some of my lists are “Technology & Engineering,” “Sustainability” and “Electric Providers.” You name your list, give it a description (if you want) and then choose to make it public or private. My friends list is private, which means other people can’t view who is on the list, but all my other lists are public. I make my lists public because other people may find them useful and subscribe to one of my lists. You can also create lists through a Twitter app like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, which is a must-have to keep organized (more on that in a minute…).

You can add people to your lists even if you don’t follow them. Using a Twitter interface like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, you can search on keywords to find people and organizations to add to your list. Having a Twitter app like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck is essential to following your lists. Twitter interfaces that allow you to have columns reflecting each list helps you organize and keep up with the content feed. I hardly ever look at my home feed, as there are just too many tweets coming too fast to keep up with. But I can scroll through a column for one of my Twitter lists and see several hours or an entire days’ worth of content in only a few minutes. And, if I am extremely time pressured one day and don’t have time for a particular subject (let’s say my “Cool Science Tweeters” list), then I don’t have to even look through it. One word of caution, though: accounts that you add to a list may get a notification that you have added them (depending on how their notifications are set up), so it is probably unwise to have a “Total Jerks” or other derogatory title for a list.

Social Media Monitoring: The Power of Searches

You can do the same thing with searches, keeping them as a column within Hootsuite or other app, without even having to create an list. You can set up a list based on a keyword, hashtag, or – and here’s the beauty of it for companies – your brand! That way you see the conversation happening about your company or industry, which means you can spot potential problems, respond to negativity like a person (not a prerecorded sound bite), and above all else, provide INFORMATION. Many companies and industries feel that they will have to invest a tremendous amount of time to monitor social media. But search columns allow you to keep your pulse on what is being discussed without having to follow an unwieldy number of accounts and spend hours looking through the Twitter feed. Best of all, no one else can see your search columns, so you can make it as specific as you want. Let’s say you know of a negative hashtag for your brand or industry – you can set up a search column to look for mentions of that hashtag. That allows you to develop metrics for who is using the hashtag, how often it is being used, and the relative sentiment about your company or brand. The success of your social media strategy and resource investments can then be evaluated against improvements in those metrics.

As an engineer, I’m all about metrics so I started keeping track of my time spent on social media before and after fully utilizing lists and searches. I have reduced the amount of time spent on social media by 64 percent, just by being organized with list and search columns. And in case you are wondering…I usually am tweeting 6 days per week averaging 12 tweets per day (Twitter scheduling apps are your friend). Part of your social media strategy should identify what you monitor for, so do some searches to figure out which hashtags, accounts, and keywords to use for your list and search columns.