Twitter has some pretty cool features for media organisations, among them Twitter lists. One of the best things that news organisations can do with Twitter lists is to “curate” lists of journalists, industry experts or sector commentators (the Guardian’s Climate Change Top 50 is a good example). Readers can then follow a “best-of” list of Twitter accounts without needing to follow each Twitter account individually. Also, using tools like Tweetdeck, readers can filter these lists into separate columns for easy reading.

The only problem with Twitter lists is that managing them manually through the Twitter website is a royal pain. Which got me thinking: how would you set up (and manage) a Twitter list using an already existing list of Twitter accounts? Say, for example, I had a list of delegates at a conference, a list of journalists covering an event or a group or a spreadsheet of members in a club? How would you turn that into a useful and easy to manage Twitter list?

Turns out it’s possible using a Google Docs spreadsheet. It takes a little time to set up, and is a little geeky, but once done it works pretty well. All you need is a spreadsheet that includes Twitter usernames. You then need to create a Twitter app using these instructions which authorises your spreadsheet with Twitter. Once that is done you need to use this guide to add your spreadsheet details to your already created Twitter list. It looks complicated but it’s not actually that hard. (I’m not going to go into exact details of how to do it because those links are pretty comprehensive).

An example: My Tour de France Twitter list

To verify that this method worked I started with a list of the teams and riders taking part in this year’s Tour de France. I had the list in a Google Docs spreadsheet with listed names and Twitter accounts. My basic spreadsheet looked like this:

I then walked through the two processes mentioned above and tested that the Twitter authorisation was working. I then created a new empty list in my Twitter account called Le-Tour, went back to my Google spreadsheet and added all the collected usernames to the Twitter list. It took me about an hour to set up properly but now that it is I have started adding other lists to my spreadsheet for my other Twitter lists and each time I add new usernames it’s a quick click to update my list.


So, why would I bother to do this? Partly to see if could be done (that’s the “hacker” part of me). But also because it opens up interesting options for news organisations (anyone in fact) to better manage Twitter lists. In my Tour de France example I had 220+ possible accounts to find. Having the data in a spreadsheet made it much easier to work through the list and fill in the gaps. And when I have added a few more accounts to the list I can simply add then to my Twitter list.

The Tour de France is just one example. The same could be done with a list of delegates at a conference or reporters covering a particular event. This guide in fact uses the spreadsheet to search for specific hashtags and then build a Twitter list from that. The possibilities for managing complex Twitter lists is endless. For news organisations it’s potentially one way to quickly build Twitter lists around specific events which can then be be used by readers to keep on top of events.

Disclaimer: I’m not sure that this is the only way to achieve the given result, or in fact whether it is the best way to do it, but in the spirit of hacking it is certainly one way to do it.