Searching for company names/references/tweets on Twitter

I was recently interested in searching for references to the name ‘Ernst & Young‘ (the accounting firm) on Twitter (ie, within tweets). Obvious? Just type ‘Ernst & Young’ into the box on Twitter Search?  Yes, of course. … But that’s not the end of the story.

Getting the right search results on Twitter can be a little more tricky than that, but as I show below, not entirely impossible. I have set out a few hints and tips as to how to ensure you can increase your chances of finding references to any company name in Twitter.

Twitter only allows 140 characters per Tweet, so many users will reduce ‘Ernst & Young’ to acronyms that are commonly used in the media – ‘EY’, ‘E&Y’, etc.

Until a few years ago Ernst & Young sometimes referred to itself as ‘E&Y’. Nowadays employees are encouraged to use the full name ‘Ernst & Young’, or in certain instances ‘EY’, as in the tweet shown above (the ‘EY’, as opposed to ‘E&Y’, is consistent with the firm’s world wide web presence www.ey.com, which does not use the ‘&’ symbol).

Ernst & Young’s primary Twitter username is @ernst_and_young – searching for this in Twitter search will help you find all their tweets (and retweets thereof), or alternatively, you can just ‘follow’ @ernst_and_young in Twitter. But what if one is interested in searching for references made by other Twitter users to Ernst & Young?

Searching for Ernst & Young on Twitter

Having found Ernst & Young’s twitter username and searched for the obvious “Ernst & Young” it’s now time to try some alternatives.

Typing ‘Ernst and Young’ captures all references tweeted in this manner. In fact, running a Twitter Search ‘Advanced Search‘ for ALL WORDS: “Ernst Young” will return references to ‘Ernst & Young’, ‘Ernst and Young’, as well as ‘Ernst Young’, which it turns out some people use.

Typing EY into Twitter Search is less successful, since it often results in all manner of Tweets being shown, many of which have nothing to do with Ernst & Young, in particular numerous references where tweets end sentences with “…, ey” (which it appears were alternative spelling variations of the more common rhetorical catchphrase/interjection “…, eh?”, or foreign equivalents thereof. Occassionally within the search results you might find something relating to ‘Ernst & Young’ (‘EY’). Apart from Ernst & Young people however, most people refer to Ernst & Young using the ‘and’ in some form or other.

Typing E&Y or E+Y into Twitter Search results in a similar outcome – Twitter does not recognise the ‘&’, rather considering it to be a space or other punctuation (and so effectively considers the search to be ‘E Y’ or ‘e y’), and returns results including “I  l o v e  y o u”, “b-r-i-t-n-e-y”, “m$o$n$e$y” or “K.E.Y.” It is quite surprising how many people tweet like this. Occassionally within the search results you might find something relating to ‘Ernst & Young’ (‘E&Y’ or ‘E+Y’), but this is usually overwhelmed by the other search results. This is unfortunate since ‘E&Y’ seems to be a common way for people to Ernst & Young.

Finally, during my tests to find the differenent references to Ernst & Young I also found out that there are several references that will only be found by searching for ‘Ernst n Young’! (these would also be picked up by the Advanced Search that I mentioned above).

So there you have it. Twitter Search struggles to find, or more to the point, differentiate some Tweets (eg, ‘E&Y’). Well, it’s not over quite yet.

I raised this question on Twitter’s ‘Submit a request‘ page, and, after several rounds of brief email discussion/clarification with Twitter Support (who I found to be very helpful and responsive), I was informed that there is indeed another step one can take … but it’s not obvious.

Bing and Google

I don’t use Bing much, but it turns out that Bing can help you find ‘E&Y‘ where Twitter can’t. By using Twitter’s application programming interface (the ‘Twitter API’) Bing can include tweets in its search results:

http://www.bing.com/twitter/search?q=E%26Y&go=&form=DTPTWI

When I first tried the link given to me by Twitter Support (and possibly the same for anyone outside the US clicking the above link), I received an error message in Bing due to Bing automatically detecting that I was accessing the internet from Germany and therefore showing me the German Bing page, which it turns out doesn’t yet allow Twitter search.

Following the instruction given to switch to the US version (‘locale’) solved the problem, allowing me to search within Tweets from within Bing:

Sorry!

Bing Twitter Search is not available in this locale.

If you wish to access Bing Twitter Search, change your locale to United States.

Note: Changing your locale will affect all Bing pages. To change your locale in the future, click the United States link at the top right corner of any Bing page.

Looking at the link to the Bing ‘E&Y’ search gives one final clue to how Bing can find ‘E&Y’ – it uses the term ‘E%26Y’ instead of ‘E&Y’. I thought I’d try and be clever and try using that term back in Twitter Search, but alas to no avail.

Google also allows one to search for E&Y in Twitter – enter ‘E&Y’ into the normal Google.com search box, and then click on the button ‘Show options …‘, and finally choose ‘Latest‘ from the menu options on the left to get the tweets including your search word.

Google, however, (get this!) is not as good as Bing’s search (Google also picks up all the ‘ey’ references in tweets, which, as stated above, include many that do not relate to Ernst & Young).

Unfortunately these searches (in Bing or Google) can’t be saved as a ‘Twitter search’ (eg, on twitter.com or in Tweetdeck), and so the only way to watch ‘E&Y’ trends on Twitter is to repeatedly search on Bing.  Also, as with other search engines, Bing only holds one or two weeks of tweets (due to the sheer volume of tweets) and so it would be necessary to repeat the Bing search regularly if you wanted to monitor the traffic referring to a key name.

Disappointingly, while I thought Bing had it all covered, I found that it was not able to find ‘E+Y’ or ‘Ernst + Young’ (due to the ‘+’ being a search operator also, and therefore confusing the search engine) – given this outcome, I don’t really understand why Bing was successful with “E&Y”, which I would have imagined would have caused it similar problems.

The ‘Pandia Goalgetter‘, a search engine tutorial, includes two pages on the use of Boolean operators and “simplified search syntax, pseudo-Boolean searching, implied Boolean or (according to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land) ‘search engine math'”: “4. Boolean searching — the operators AND, AND NOT, OR” and “10. Search engine math — the easier way“.

Other companies

While I have used Ernst & Young as an example here, other companies require similar consideration:

  • use of punctuation in the name (Marks & Spencer / M&S),
  • where many people know the company by a nickname (Marks & Sparks for Marks & Spencer),
  • abbreviations (G.E., G E, or GE for General Electric), or
  • where the name can be confused with other words (‘Boots‘, the “UK’s leading pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer” and a member of ‘Alliance Boots‘, is commonly referred to in the UK as simply ‘Boots’ – indeed it’s website is www.boots.com).

This last case is perhaps the most tricky of all, and one that I haven’t yet found a solution to extract the relevant tweets for the company versus tweets about the footwear.

Tracking references to a company name on Twitter means monitoring all of the different names that people might use, and even then this won’t pick up spelling errors, typos, or deliberate puns on the Ernst & Young name, or cope with common words or Boolean operators and “search engine math”.

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One Response

  1. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/what_the_heck_are_we_doing_on.html

    A great HBR article on corporate use of Twitter. First item on their list is “listening”, consistent with the points that I made in the post above.

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