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How to Effectively Monitor Social Media for Trending Topics

Social Media Listening

How to Effectively Monitor Social Media for Trending Topics

Social media marketers like you need to be monitoring social media for what’s hot and what’s next for your brand, your category, and your industry. But with billions of messages flying back and forth every day, how do you separate the news from the noise?

Social media trend-spotting relies on your ability to aggregate large amounts of social media data, and any “big data” research project runs more smoothly when a consistent methodology is in place.
Download this free report to learn how CPG brands use social data to capitalize on rising trends.
Here’s how to consistently track non-branded chatter using a social media listening tool in five simple steps:

1. Find Your Focus

Believe it or not, you know your industry and audience way better than you think you do. You read the blogs, you attend the conferences, you follow the influencers. So this is where you start. What buzz have you heard about lately? What issues are coming up in conversations repeatedly lately?

You can also ask such questions about society in general. Or, use the “trending topics” offered up by Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram, remembering that you’ll want to collect more than one topic to start.

If you’re looking for marketing ideas for men’s hygiene products for example, don’t set up a query for men’s showering routines unless you want to know what is already trending. Focus on an idea or lifestyle topic instead. Use the keywords that are common in both general trend searches and social media.

2. Build Quality Queries

Feed the machine, so to speak, by inputting what you want the software to collect for analysis. This can mean building a query for a Boolean search or scanning a logo for recognition. Know that if you start with a broad term such as #TBT (for Throw Back Thursday), you’ll get a lot back that you have to read through.

If you are just looking for a popular trend for content reasons, a large volume of posts might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for product or campaign ideas, however, you’ll want to get more specific with your searches.

Here are some commonly used Boolean qualifiers that will help you narrow your scope:

  • AND: message must contain all search terms
    Example Query: (strawberry AND raspberry)
  • OR: message must contain at least one search term
    Example Query: (strawberry OR raspberry)
  • NOT or : message must exclude search term(s)
    Example Query 1: (strawberry OR raspberry) AND NOT(apple OR blackberry)
    Example Query 2: (strawberry OR raspberry) AND -(apple OR blackberry)
  • [ ] : search term must match contents of the brackets exactly
    Example Query: [apple pie] — returns apple pie only
  • ” ” : search term may include stemmed versions of the quoted text or other variations (e.g., pre-fix/suffix/@replies/hashtags)
    Example Query: “apple pie” — returns apple pie, apple pies, apples pie, apples pies, etc.
  • ~# : two search terms need to be next to each other or within the number of words specified (#). The order of the words is not taken into account.
    Example Query: [apple pie]~3 — returns apple pie or any instance of apple within 3 words of pie (e.g., “He loves pie, his favorite is apple”)

3. Refine Your Scope

At this point, you probably have enough data coming in to confidently decide if there is enough volume around your topic to say it deserves a deeper look. Again, there is no textbook right answer in terms of quantity here, but it should be relative to the type of trend you are researching.

When researching social media mentions around eating habits, for instance, we pulled a list of trends, reviewed the numbers. By picking one trend with a high volume, one with a low volume and one in the middle, we were able to provide our client with relative context around the trend they were interested in.

By sorting and grouping topics of interest, the data can be parsed so that it is helpful and not overwhelming. Try categorizing the types of trends you’re researching. Are you finding a trend that is indicative of a young, conservative audience? Mostly male? Are you noticing that most of the social activity is taking place on Twitter?

When throwing out a topic that doesn’t pass muster, make sure to document it for later use. Sorting the data is a lot like “keep or toss” when cleaning out your closet. You might throw out a topic now, but regret it later, so make sure to note demographic information about your results.

4. Look for the Unexpected

When monitoring social media for trending topics, look for the unexpected. That's where the insights lie!Click To Tweet

Start your trend analysis by reading through the most popular posts with an eye out for anomalies. Look through the images people are posting around the terms you entered into your search. Are you seeing what you expected to see? See something unexpected? Great – grab that and go straight to the next step.

In the example of our diet trends, we found the unexpected hashtag of #darkact, which seemed too sinister to belong to a trendy conversation around paleo diets and gluten-free cheesecake. Because we had read through a good portion of social content at this point, we knew we had discovered a blip on the radar that could turn into something more.

Asking a sophisticated social media listening tool what the #darkact has to do with popular eating habits will get you the answers you need to present decision-makers. Why? Because while knowing that paleo diets are trending is cute, knowing that fans of this lifestyle have formed an advocacy group that plans to fight legislation for more transparent food packaging at the state level is promotion-worthy.

5. Provide Context Around Trends

Before running into your coworker’s office and declaring that you’ve cracked the code, it’s best to read more about the topics you’ve discovered on forums, blogs and news sites (if it’s there yet). Providing context and background is a must for reporting on social media trends. Answering the “why” a topic is trending is what human intelligence can bring to the table.

Wrap up your research with some supportive metrics around how many people are having these conversations, how long they’ve been having them, and how often. If you do a report on your findings, don’t forget to include an appendix documenting your research parameters, such as date range and location by country.

Best Practices for Monitoring Social Media

Closely monitoring social media, aka social media listening, is a great way to spot new trends as they emerge. Be sure to choose a methodology and stick to it when setting up queries to keep your results consistent. With these guidelines in place, you too can mine your social data for marketing ideas, product insights, branding opportunities, and more.

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