As a social media professional, there are a few phrases more dreaded than “make it go viral.”
Many brands still focus on trying to create viral content — but the truth is that virality isn’t something that can be pre-manufactured. It can, however, be discovered and capitalized on. In fact, it’s often far more powerful to join a viral conversation that’s happening organically rather than try to shoehorn your audience into your own campaign.
How do you find time-sensitive, relevant trends that matter for your business? It’s helpful to first know the three kinds of time-based trends.
The benefit of categorizing trends is to help you know what to do with them — whether to deploy the user-generated content in your next marketing campaign, or hit the panic button. But before trends can be categorized, they have to be spotted. And before they can be spotted, you have to know what you’re looking for so you don’t get lost in the weeds.
First: a quick definition. A trend is a consistent use of either a social network or the content itself. The level of consistency can remain low for quite some time, then suddenly spike. Brands need to use their own discretion when determining the “tipping point” at which the quantity becomes high enough to validate it as a trend.
What almost all brands can apply across the board is the assumption that there are three main types of trends, and a common way to spot each of them:
Some social media teams have the capacity to respond on social media within minutes. These are the teams who should keep their finger on the pulse of real-time trends – uses of social media where the split seconds matter.
There are “in the moment” trends, such as Marriott’s example of sending flowers to a newly engaged couple or Arby’s example of complimenting Pharrel’s hat. The trends happening in real time are usually connected with a time-sensitive event. These types of opportunities are awesome because they present a chance to create user-generated endorsements of your brand.
A real-time trend won’t always alert you to something positive. Real-time trends can also help identify the need for immediate action, like a product recall. Take the example of Grain Craft’s flour recall this year where a cross-contamination caused some of its flour product to pick up traces of peanuts.
These types of social posts should be monitored continually as it’s important to establish a baseline of mentions in order to know what constitutes a true trend. After knowing the norm for mentions of “sickness” in combination with other keywords, you’ll have a better understanding when a spike fails to return to that baseline.
Always-on teams either use an alert system, with triggers that push messages to their smartphones, or they proactively look into the data on a daily basis. Enterprise social media teams usually have a shared, corporate-wide lexicon that details which keywords to monitor, such as “mold” and “sickness,” or “celebrate” and “congratulations.”
Events are another dominant source of real-time trends, but these types of trends can be difficult to predict. Teams might be looking out for social media posts occurring during a specific time frame, like the Golden Globes or Super Bowl. It helps when monitoring an event in real time if there are common hashtags being used and common influencers being watched by a dedicated person.
How do you know when something is actually a trend worth jumping on? Marketers who immerse themselves in their brand’s social world develop a sixth sense about these sort of things, but there are a few signs that something is an actionable trend. Pay attention to the rate at which a keyword spikes, and consider cashing in on trends that are humorous or speak truth into a situation.
A great example of reacting to real-time trends is McDonald’s ad hijacking campaign during the 2015 Super Bowl. They live-tweeted during other brand’s ad spots, tying their contest to other brand’s jokes and garnering thousands of clicks, likes, and retweets.
— McDonald's (@McDonalds) February 2, 2015
Bottom Line: Capture a real-time trend at the right time, act fast, and you can use it to gain traffic or mitigate risk.
Unlike the panic button keywords like “mold” and “sickness,” up-and-coming trends don’t always match your trackable keywords. An over-time trend is a trend that builds up gradually before taking over — like #onfleek.
About four years ago, a young woman posted a picture of her newly waxed eyebrows on social media using the keyword “on fleek” to describe them as neat and polished. Over the following weeks and months, fashion bloggers picked up on the term without citing the original use. By 2015, uses of #onfleek could be seen on Instagram and beyond to describe anything from a well-defined eyebrow to a well-pressed shirt. Over time, #onfleek has become not only a trend, but a vocabulary word for plenty of millennials.
Unique or unusual words or images — posts that make you go “hmm” — are great ways to find up-and-coming trends. Capture the use of the image or keyword and plug it back into your queries (a.k.a. searches) without a lot of qualifiers just to see what you get. Social media users are very creative and are constantly coming up with new ways of expressing themselves. Not every trend catches on, so keep track of the quantity of mentions once you add your new query.
If you’ve been tasked with finding a trend that’s already happening, think outside the box to find your angle on it. Plug in a query that combines two unlikely things that relate to your product or industry. Or, if you have a service, try reaching out into the lifestyle of your target audience to look for behavior keywords.
A couple of good examples of over-time trends are the use of the hashtag #paleo on posts about lifestyle, not just diet and recipes. There’s also an example we found by monitoring the word “vegan” and the word “mascara”. We found an overlap in conversations that we wouldn’t have found by simply monitoring one of these keywords alone. The value in over-time trends is the ability to analyze your audience and discover new opportunities. Finding a trend around vegan mascara opens up a new niche market for brands like Tarte and Urban Decay.
A social media action trend is when unassociated, individual users each take the same action on a single network.
An action trend that continues to repeat itself is when one social media network goes down, users take to another social network to voice frustrations about it. In June 2014, Facebook was inaccessible for UK users first thing in the morning. Brits took to Twitter to voice their complaints and dismay. More recently, Twitter experienced a mere 15-minute outage, resulting in extremely harsh words exchanged on Facebook.
— Matt Hamm (@MattyMedia) October 3, 2016
Spotting action trends is much trickier because they’re not tied to specific keywords or images. Tracking action trends often requires monitoring social media for personal use, not just for professional reasons. The social media marketers who are glued to their smartphones are most likely to spot this trend first. They know what to expect when they open these apps and scroll through their feeds. The moment something doesn’t go as expected, they’ll to reach out and ask friends if anyone else is experiencing the same situation.
Action trends help you engage your audience on the platform that will have the most impact — and they let you beat your competitor to the punch if you can react fast enough. In this example, Verizon or a competitor could jump on the unaffected network with a quick-witted, “Looking for more network reliability?”
While aesthetically pleasing, a word cloud won’t help you identify trends from the sheer amount of data in your dashboard. Spotting social media trends takes a proactive approach with consistent methodology and categorization to find something of value. You just need to:
Spotting a social media trend can be a bit of a jungle trek, but with these tips, you’ll be queen of the social media jungle in no time.
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