If there’s one thing that sets Twitter apart from other social media platforms, it’s its dynamic nature, and the sheer speed at which it changes, based on the ever-changing traction around different topics and conversations.
Whether it’s breaking news with global implications that’s on everyone’s mind, or personally tailored to the browsing habits of your individual account, trending topics on Twitter have a profound effect on the way people interact with content and brands on the platform. As a business, paying close attention to these trending topics and what they mean to your audience can create some powerful insights to inform your future strategy, ensuring your brand is better-positioned to leverage trends as they emerge.
In this guide, we’ll be examining how trending topics work on Twitter, the most effective methods for marketers to approach them, and some of the best ways that brands have gotten involved in trending topics on Twitter.
Trending Topics on Twitter: What They Are and How They Work
On Twitter, trending topics are topics distinguished by Twitter’s algorithm through hashtags and keywords, which have broken a certain threshold of engagement based on mentions, retweets, and other engagement metrics.
Different topics can be shown to individual users, based on the view settings they choose, or they can be determined by individual browsing habits which place the person within a distinct interest group.
If, for example, the majority of the accounts you follow on Twitter are firmly within the sports niche, then you’ll be more likely to see trends that are associated with sports. Twitter’s algorithm is also set up to prioritize new, fresh content that’s showing an uptick in engagement at any given time, rather than topics that are over the hill and fizzling out.
To get a better idea of how Twitter curates topics based on an account’s browsing habits, simply go to Twitter and check out the “For You” and “Trending” tabs of the “Explore” section, or the “What’s Happening” sidebar, which can be found on the Home view.
How Brands Can Leverage Twitter Trending Topics
Though anyone can see what’s trending on Twitter, taking a proactive approach to analyzing these trends and extracting new marketing opportunities will separate the companies that get real value from their Twitter presence from those that let great opportunities slip through the net.
London-based digital marketing agency, KAU Media Group explained that “The number of social media users worldwide has reached 3.484 billion, rising nearly 10% year-on-year. If current trends continue, the average person is projected to spend 6 years and 8 months of their life on social media. That speaks volumes for the global opportunity.”
Here’s some of the most effective methods and habits that modern marketers can use to start leveraging trending topics and ensure that their Twitter accounts are working for them.
Look For Twitter Hashtag Trends Localized to Your City or Region
It’s great to tap into trends that are being talked about the world over, but when these kinds of topics are saturated with some of the biggest names in any industry, you may need to limit your scope and focus on the conversations that are happening specifically where you are.
Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be focussing on news stories that begin and end in your local area, but more how trending topics are affecting local people, how they feel about it, and what they’re saying about it.
To drill down to localized conversations, go to Twitter’s advanced search feature and play around with the different fields to use words and phrases relevant to your business’ locality in order to find words, phrases, and accounts which show a connection to your geographic area.
To encourage local conversations to come up more naturally on your feed, it’s also a good idea to allow Twitter to access your location, and to make a point of interacting often with popular accounts with ties to your area.
Use Twitter Trends for Keyword Research
Aside from giving you a more detailed idea of the world’s biggest news stories and the kinds of conversations happening around them, researching trending topics on Twitter can also be a great way to find out the kinds of keywords and hashtags that are cropping up most often, and more specifically how they’re being used by your audience.
Understanding the words and phrases that are being used around trending topics, and just as importantly, the terms that people aren’t using, will go a long way towards helping you post content on social media that aligns tonally with the people you’re trying to reach.
Not only that, but these patterns could act as a good jumping-off point for wider keyword research in your SEO, paid social, and PPC campaigns.
Obviously, getting your social media posts in front of a large volume of people isn’t as easy as making sure you use a couple of popular terms, but making sure you check this box early on in your campaigns will provide one more supporting factor to increase the likelihood of going viral!
Keep an Eye Out for Twitter Trends in Decline
Getting your brand involved in trending topics while they’re on the up can have huge potential for your social media marketing. However, it’s just as important to know when topics are beginning to fizzle out, and to avoid wasting time and resources by latching onto these trends a little too late.
Due to the dynamic nature of the internet, no one can say for sure whether a certain topic will be trending next week or next month. Still, looking at topics that your brand might be a good fit for and analyzing their trajectory and momentum through the relevant Twitter tabs can make it easier to gauge whether you should be engaging with the trend at any given time.
Using the relevant filters and hashtags, try to isolate a topic you’re considering and try to gauge its “health” as a trend. Look at the emotion and urgency in the tone of people talking about the topic, and consider whether this is growing or declining. Are tweets around the topic getting more or less retweets over time? Is the news higher or lower in the list of trending topics?
Asking these questions won’t give you a foolproof, empirical way to see how something is trending on Twitter, but can still make it easier to understand whether leveraging a trending topic is a good idea or not.
Though the world is full of companies whose interaction with trending topics align closely with their brand values, it’s just as common for brands to jump on the bandwagon and make superficial, insincere posts just to be part of the crowd.
It’s the public that decides whether or not they’re fatigued by these posts, but it’s still important for brands to try and ensure their involvement with trending topics comes from somewhere genuine, and doesn’t come off as an overly superficial or even cynical way to capitalize on a conversation.
With this in mind, sometimes the best way to find the right topics to get involved in is shutting down Twitter, and turning your attention to your staff or people in your professional network.
By encouraging conversations about current events, how this is affecting your core audience, and how your brand might be able to bring something new to the conversation, you may be able to provide more engaging tweets that will give your brand a uniquely powerful foothold in an emerging trend.
4 Ways Brands Got Involved in Trending Topics on Twitter
Placing your brand at the heart of the conversation when a hot trend is gaining traction can have some immense benefits. However, no brand’s product or services can be relevant to every emerging trend all the time, and getting involved in trending topics usually requires a degree of tact and creativity.
To help you get a better understanding of how brands can get involved in emerging trends and use them to promote your company, here’s 4 great examples of how brands have gotten involved in trending topics on Twitter.
Bud Light: Area 51
In 2019, the “Storm Area 51” meme was everywhere. Started by a bored student as a joke on Facebook, the event page quickly amassed more than 2 million people who responded as “going”, ranging from those who just wanted to laugh along to genuine UFO nuts who had been waiting for this invitation their whole life.
As traction grew to the point that Nevada law enforcement warned people not to break into the military base, many brands tried to get in on the traffic with varying degrees of success.
One of the better examples of brands getting involved came from Bud Light, whose designers created a mockup of alien-themed cans, which they called “Area 51 Special Edition.”
Though the beer itself was about as real as the aliens in the Roswell incident, the tweet still racked up tens of thousands of likes and retweets, and garnered some pretty positive responses from many people who engaged with it.
Oreo: 2013 Superbowl Power Outage
Oreo has long been known for the fun and carefree brand identity that it maintains across all its social media platforms.
Over the years, they’ve had some clever and timely tweets they’ve used to cash in on many different trends, such as creating Oreo-themed Game of Thrones prints in the run-up to the season finale, and publishing a series of graphics assigning different star signs to Oreo varieties.
In one particularly timely tweet, the brand posted a graphic reminding people that they can “still dunk in the dark”, shortly after a power outage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when it was hosting the 2013 Super Bowl.
Though Oreo has absolutely nothing to do with football or electricity, this tweet still garnered a ton of engagement, showing that simply being on-time when interacting with trending topics can be enough to enjoy a big payoff.
Ben & Jerry’s: The Migrant Crisis in Europe
Though many brands find success by getting involved in trending topics using a humorous and light-hearted tone, Ben & Jerry’s is one brand that has shown that you can gain just as much traction by being sincere, bold, and not shying away from the difficult conversations.
In recent years, the ice cream giant has been making waves on social media by adopting a very public socially progressive stance on a number of big issues on the world stage, most recently by subverting the upbeat news cycle around the 2023 Super Bowl with a sobering tweet about the disproportionate number of people of color affected by traumatic brain injuries.
Like any time an account deals with political and social issues, the responses to Ben & Jerry’s campaigning have been mixed. Still, their willingness to get serious on social media has garnered some huge traction at times, like in 2020 when the brand called out the British home secretary for her handling of the European refugee crisis.
The replies to this tweet, predictably, turned into a certified flame war, but the 30k+ retweets and more than 100,000 likes speak to how powerful involving your brand in contentious topics can be.
Dunkin’: The Dress Donuts
Finally, here’s a 2015 tweet by Dunkin’ that showed how a brand can divert users away from the buzz of a hot topic and gain exposure for an unrelated product or service.
As you may remember, “The Dress” was a viral image of epic proportions, which not only produced some surprisingly heated and hilarious debates over social media, but caught the attention of the scientific community with a number of papers on neuroscience and vision science.
While the fascinating phenomenon stirred conversations across the internet, racking up more than ten million mentions on Twitter alone, Dunkin’ posted an image of two donuts decorated to imitate the two different color schemes that people were seeing on the dress.
Though the post wasn’t particularly creative or funny, it came at just the right moment to rack up several thousand retweets and likes. This example shows how lighthearted takes on trends using easily-adaptable brand assets can bring in a decent amount of traffic, as long as it’s perfectly timed.
Effectively capitalizing on trending topics on Twitter can feel as tough as catching lightning in a bottle. However, by knowing where to look, and making sure your involvement in trends is both timely and smart, you can put your brand in the right place at the right time, and enjoy a serious payoff.
As you work to make your brand part of the conversation, we hope that this guide has cleared some of the confusion around trending topics, and helped you plan out a roadmap towards more relevant and popular content.