Finding Researchers on Twitter: Searching By Profile (Bio)


I’ll be giving a presentation on Twitter (and researchers on social media in general) to a bunch of computer security researchers, this week. One of the things I’ll be discussing is how to find people (profiles) on Twitter.

And not just any people, people who are either:

  • Tweeting about areas you’re researching
  • Researching in areas you’re also researching

I break this down as:

  • Finding By Content: e.g. the content they are sharing
  • Finding By Profile: e.g. the information in their Twitter Bio

This post is on Finding By Profile, so using tools available to search peoples bios and profiles to identify “prospects”: people you might want to follow, who might be sharing content you are interested in.

This method is based on the preposition that the people you’re connecting with: want to identify themselves as interested in specific areas in their 160 character Twitter Bio.

Which may, or may not, be explicit in ways that easily help us to find them:


Screen Shot: Twitter Profile @CraigValli (Taken 22 March 2015)

And may (or may not) contain the keywords we’ll use to find them:


Screen Shot: Twitter Profile @Davus27 (Take 22 March 2015)

And may contain other information, not relevant to our interests…and may contain “required” statements:


Screen Shot: Twitter Profile @natachasuttor (Take 22 March 2015)

There are some old articles about how to search people on Twitter, some sites suggested are now defunct so I’ve summarised the ones still active and provided links as well as observations:

  • Josh Catone (2009) 10 ways to find people on Twitter on Mashable:
    • Tweepz: searches particular fields (including bio) can refine to year the account was created, amount of followers, amount following
    • Twellow: search a directory of other people who have signed up as well as categorising Twitter users into interest areas.
    • We Follow: search a directory of Twitter users categorised into interest areas (simple search terms with no spacing, i.e.: computersecurity)
  • Ann Smarty (2011) How to search people by Twitter Bio on Search Engine Land:
    • Twitter Advanced Search: while you can filter results to people and the search allows operators (string searching, boolean), you are not specifically searching bios
    • Google Site Search of Twitter: [ bio:*keyword -inurl:status], as good as Google’s indexing, allows for operators but won’t show you any statistics about the Twitter Profiles retrieved
    • Twiangulate: Allows you to find followers by looking at who is following/being followed by specific accounts (so you have to know key Twitter Profiles that would be of the people you’re trying to find). Also allows you to search for a keyword in relation to the followers of a specific account (so you can weed out all my Oscar Fashion loving followers…

My preference is to use a combination of:

  • Aussie Twitter Search: searches Twitter Bios only, recognises “string searches”, results appear to be limited to Twitter Profiles tweeting from an Australian location (good if you want to know who’s out there on the national front), because it’s looking at the Tweet location it will include visitors to Australia whose Bio location may be outside of AU. Shows followers, location and bio (so you can weed out who might not be as relevant)
  • Followerwonk: can search either Twitter Profiles or Twitter Bios, will search for variants (so Education Researcher will return the same as Education Research), can limit by location (by the location of their profile), as well as other refining techniques, recognises “string searches” and search operators (+,-). Shows followers, following, count of tweets as well as bio (so you can weed out who might not be as relevant)



Screen shot: Followerwonk search for Security Research, all bios (Taken 22 March 2015)


Screen shot: Followerwonk search for Security Research, all bios, limited to Australia (Taken 22 March 2015)


Screen shot: Followerwonk search for “Security Research” string, limited to Australia (Taken 22 March 2015)

Aussie Twitter Search


Screen shot: Aussie Twitter search for Security Research (Taken 22 March 2015)

It’s interesting to see the different counts returned by both of these services, as well as the different results based on how they treat search terms.

Results from 22 March 2015
Terms Aussie Twitter Search (Australia) Followerwonk (Australia) Followerwonk (International)
Research 1,530 5,190 277,321
Researcher 866 5,190 277,321
Artist 4,310 11,107 1,082,940
arts research 15 117 5,191
“arts research” 4 5 286
Artist Research 7 74 3,228
“Artist research” 0 17 394
Artist Researcher 21 74 3,228
“Artist Researcher” 8 17 394
Health Research 109 476 12,932
“health research” 11 71 2,032
Health Researcher 59 476 12,932
“Health Researcher” 16 71 2,032
Engineering Researcher 6 101 8,127
“Engineering Researcher” 1 17 1,121
Business Researcher 21 153 7,991
“Business Researcher” 2 153 593
Management Researcher 13 281 12,300
“Management Researcher” 1 8 836
Workplace Researcher 0 6 231
“Workplace Researcher” 0 1 16
Environment Research 13 54 1,940
“Environment Research” 1 4 119
Environment Researcher 7 54 1,940
“Environment Researcher” 0 4 119
Biology Research 7 39 2,192
“Biology Research” 0 4 281
Conservation Researcher 10 43 1,185
“Conservation Researcher” 2 4 130
Music Researcher 37 105 6,189
“Music Researcher” 2 4 280
Nurse Researcher 7 46 1,613
“Nurse Researcher” 0 8 267
Nursing Researcher 3 46 1,613
“Nursing Researcher” 0 8 267
Security Researcher 4 52 4,836
“Security Researcher” 1 15 2,245
computer security researcher 0 3 349
“computer security researcher” 0 0 66
cyber security researcher 0 5 247
“cyber security researcher” 0 0 72
information security researcher 1 6 395
“information security researcher” 0 1 115
Digital Security Researcher 0 1 64
“Digital Security Researcher” 0 0 2
Computer Researcher 8 71 4,587
“Computer Researcher” 0 0 200
>Psychology Researcher 7 79 3,407
“psychology Researcher 2 12 583
Education Researcher 29 437 16,633
“Education Researcher” 5 89 3,313

So you found people in search results, what do you do next?

The information you glean from the search results for Aussie Twitter Search and Followerwonk should give you some hints to the relevance of the profile to your intent. There’s a lot of initial information you can glean at first glance:

  • Is their bio actually relevant? Does it interest you enough to click on it to find out more?
  • How many followers do they have?
  • How many people do they follow?

Plus if you go to their profile, there’s more information that will help you decide whether to follow them:

  • Are they only retweeting others?
  • Are only they retweeting links to other peoples content? So there’s nothing original..?
  • Do they have interactions and discussions with other tweeters (more likely to be a ‘real’ person)?
  • How often do they tweet?
  • Is the content they tweet, in terms of their stream of tweets, completely relevant?

This applies to both the profiles you find to follow, but also the profiles who find you to follow: do you really want to follow that spambot retweeting other users tweets about coffee because they followed you?

Photo used in header image
© Jon Helgason | Dreamstime Stock Photos


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