A version of this post originally appeared on Help Me Investigate Welfare.
Every so often on Help Me Investigate we compile a list* of people on Twitter to follow on particular issues. Here’s how we do it:
1. Search Twitter biographies only
The quickest way to kick off your Twitter list is to search Twitter biographies for users who mention the areas you’re interested in.
Twitter tool FollowerWonk has a facility for searching biographies on the site – make sure you select “search Twitter bios only” from the drop-down menu.
Try a range of terms: ‘welfare’ is normally used by those in official positions (or ‘social security’ in the US); ‘housing’ is a more specific term, as is ‘homeless’ or ‘homelessness’, ‘poverty’ and even ‘social’ (as in ‘social inclusion’).
You might want to look for users who mention an interest in specific issues like ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘workfare’, too, or organisations like Atos, A4e, and DWP.
For search methods and similar tools read this post on Search Engine People.
2. Browse Twitter directories
There are a number of directories for Twitter users. WeFollow works well with a general search for welfare but adding location seems to exclude a lot of relevant results.
Twellow allows you to narrow down to the United Kingdom, and particular cities, which helps exclude US results, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to use keywords and location together.
There are categories but these are very US-centric – so, no welfare or benefits, and the categories for ‘low cost housing’ and ‘affordable housing‘ bring up too many irrelevant results.
A different approach is to search for networks of users around hashtags: Bluenod is one site which will do just that – and even allows you to create a Twitter list based on the results.
If you find a more effective directory please let me know.
3. Find related lists
It’s likely that someone else has already created a Twitter list covering the same or a related area. One way to find these is to look at the users you’ve already found and see what lists they’ve been added to.
You can find these by going to the Twitter user’s profile page and clicking on Lists to the left and then selecting Member of in the middle. The resulting URL should look like this:
…but with the username instead of USERNAME. Shiv Malik‘s list memberships, for example can be found at https://twitter.com/shivmalik1/memberships
You can also try to search for Twitter lists themselves. One way to do this is to put your search query at the end of the following URL (thanks Dave Harte):
For example a search for lists with ‘welfare reform’ in the title would look like this:
Alternatively, you can try some clever use of Google like this:
Or try broadening the search to something like this (replacing the phrase with your own):
site:twitter.com/*/lists/ "bedroom tax"
This will bring back any list pages where one of the tweets mentions that term. Obviously this depends on what people are tweeting about at that moment in time.
4. Search discussions and hashtags
As you start to follow people in your field, you’ll come across some terms and hashtags repeatedly. In welfare for example people will be talking about the bedroom tax, welfare reform, universal credit, housing, benefits, and other issues.
You can search for these on Twitter itself, or use Google with the phrase site:twitter.com (note no space after the colon) which limits results to Twitter.
Make sure you use quotes to get exact phrases only – e.g. “bedroom tax” will ensure you don’t get results that mention both words in separate places.
You can also try prefixing general terms with ‘uk’ – #ukhousing, for example, is often used by those within the UK housing industry to distinguish their discussions from those elsewhere.
After your initial search it’s worth trying again occasionally – you can set up regular updates for a search using Twitter tools like Tweetdeck.
You can also use a tool like Hashtagify.me to find hashtags related to ones you already know.
A similar service, SonarSolo, identifies related terms but goes beyond hashtags and also includes ‘mentioned people’.
5. Following followers
Finally, look at the people you’ve already found and who they’re following and listing.
When you’re logged in to the Twitter website it normally shows a box on each profile page showing ‘similar accounts’, but clicking on ‘Following’ and ‘Followers’ will give you more suggestions – or you can just add those words to the Twitter account URL: a list of accounts that Patrick Butler is following can be found at https://twitter.com/patrickjbutler/following, for example
Do you have any other tips on finding relevant Twitter accounts to follow?
*(If you need to know how to create a Twitter list, see Twitter’s guide)