From the fun and silly (#FiveWordsToRuinADate, anyone?) to hard-hitting international news headlines, trending topics on social media have the power to keep us both aware and entertained.

Marketers have long recognized the potential of these highly-trafficked, highly-searched (at least for a short while) terms as a way to get in front of a big and often new audience.

It can be a risky gamble to go big on these fleeting opportunities, but the rewards of the right post at the right time can be equally enticing.

Focusing on trending topics has never been much of a strategy for us at Buffer. But recently, we were lucky enough to be able to dive headfirst into a topic dear to us that happened to be having a moment on Twitter. As a result, we reaped the benefits of lots of extra shares, clicks and conversations. I’d love to share all the details with you!

trending tweets

The story of #talkpay

On May 1, 2015, Twitter began to be inundated with posts like this one:

The #talkpay movement, started by the programmer Lauren Voswinkel on the diversity-in-tech focused site Model View Culture, urged Twitter users to open up and share their salaries with the world. In her passionate call to action, Voswinkel wrote:

“To truly begin to eradicate pay inequality, we need a radical discussion. So let’s talk about pay.”

And Twitter did. The hashtag would go on to get nearly 12,000 mentions, according to Fortune; and about 1,300 people published their salaries, Buzzfeed determined. This was a movement we could get behind at Buffer. Our team tries our best to live up to our value of “default to transparency,” making public everything from revenue to our pricing—and this includes all our salaries, in a spreadsheet anyone can access anytime. open salaries (You can see a full overview of everything we’ve made transparent at Buffer at our transparency dashboard.)

How we hopped on a trending topic

So at Buffer’s virtual office, we quickly realized this could be a great moment for us to share our reflections, our process and—of course—all our numbers. The topic had just begun trending when Adam got wind of it via a customer: Hipchat talk on talkpay I dashed off a tweet about our open salaries (I didn’t even add a photo, ack!), thinking how much fun it was to be able to follow along with such an amazing conversation.

I followed the hashtag for a while and saw the steady stream of tweets begin to grow into a flood. I scheduled a few more posts featuring #talkpay resources for later in the day, then went back to working on some other project, happy that Buffer had been able to contribute a bit to the conversation.

I had no idea that our #talkpay posts would be at the top of the trending conversation not just Friday but throughout the entire weekend. 

Our #talkpay tweets ended up as two of our best-performing tweets of all time, earning somewhere in the ballpark of 11,000+ clicks and more than 3x our normal engagement rate.

The stats from the top tweets

We shared a link to our transparent salaries twice during #talkpay—once early in the day, without a photo; and another later in the day, with a photo of our salaries spreadsheet. They both shot to the top of Twitter’s view for the hashtag:

buffer top tweets

Here’s a look at the resulting spike in Twitter click-throughs on May 1. Yup, it’s that crazy red spike!

Buffer analytics

Taking a look at Twitter analytics, we can dive even deeper into how these posts did. Not only did we see a giant spike on May 1, the day of #talkpay, we saw an extended increase in both engagement and clicks that lasted throughout the weekend and into Monday as the topic continued to get interest.

twitter engagement

Although it’s  early yet in May, I have a feeling our Top Tweet of the month could be tough to dethrone.

trending topic top tweet

Just for comparison’s sake, our top post from March, on the launch of our social media images tool Pablo, earned about half the impressions and a small fraction of the engagement of the #talkpay tweet:

top post March

How you can leverage a trending hashtag

5 strategies for making the most of trending topics

I think it might be pretty rare for a trending topic to be as well aligned to a brand’s strong suit as #talkpay happened to be to Buffer’s sweet spot, but plenty of brands have done a great job of being involved with and piggybacking on trending topics.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, here are some tips that might help.

1. Plan ahead

Sometimes there’s no telling what social media will be abuzz about. But some things we can know in advance with some confidence. To jump on a trend with your best foot forward, consider thinking ahead with an eye toward specific future events that make sense for your brand—holidays, sporting events, anniversaries, etc.

There are also plenty of trending topics you can pick up on that are popular nearly every week–things like Throwback Thursday. On Twitter’s list below from Monday, both #Monday Motivation and #MusicMonday seem to come up a lot.

Twitter trending topics example

2. Add relevance, value or fun

You could jump into every hashtag to randomly share a link to your product or blog post, but you probably wouldn’t have much fun—or get much positive response.

Trending topic posts tend to get the most engagement when they’re relevant and add value (for a more newsy, serious topic) or add humor or fun (for a more irreverent or silly topic).

This means you’ll want to be very aware of the context of the trending topic and then find some thread between it and your brand. The Crazy Egg blog has a great example of some clever ways you might do this, using the trending topic “Stephen Colbert:”

how to work in a trending topic

3. Jump in early

If it’s a newsy topic you’re hoping to jump in on, it seems to work well to get in on the conversation as early as possible. I have a feeling our #talkpay tweet benefited from coming quite early in the day, giving it plenty of time to pick up steam and get discovered by more interested parties. In our case, our community in the UK first clued us in to the conversation because many members know how important transparency is to us.

4. Enlist your team

One of the ways I think we might have been helped in making a dent on this trending topic is that the #talkpay by its nature invited single individuals to share their transparent journeys in terms of work and salaries. Although we’re all open about one another’s current salaries now, each member of the Buffer team has a different story to tell of their past work experiences and salaries, and many of them chose to share with the hashtag.

Sunil talkpay Eric talkpay

Leo even had a giant tweet hit of his own when he shared his salary journey:

Leo's top tweet

This seems to indicate that it might be helpful to explore how your teammates can help support your message in their own way, particularly if you have some folks who are thought of as a “public face” of your organization or might have a large social media following.

5. Mine for content ideas

Even if diving into a trending topic on social media doesn’t seem like a good fit for your brand, you can still benefit from them. They’re a super valuable insight tool for anyone creating content.

Trending topics tell us what people care about in the news and in pop culture, what they joke around about and what gets them fired up. You can get great clues on things like language, sharing preferences, seasonal trends and lots more.

Check trending topics out with an eye towards future content you might create. Ann Smarty has some great tips on how to mine trending topics for content ideas either in the moment or later on.

How social networks handle trending topics

If you’re thinking about making a focus on trending topics part of you strategy, it might be helpful to understand a bit more about how each network defines and displays them.Here are the highlights:

Twitter trending topics

Trends on Twitter are tailored for you, by default, based on who you follow and your location. You can choose to see Trends by a specific geographic location instead by selecting a specific Trends location.

Once you’ve clicked into a topic, Twitter sends you to the “top” posts on that topic by default. You can toggle over to see all the posts on that topic.

top/all twitter trends

Or your account might give you even further options as to what you’d like to see on the topic, like photos, video and more.

new trending topics

Facebook trends

On Facebook, trending topics are personalized based on factors like Pages you’ve liked, your location and what’s trending across Facebook.

Facebook trending topics

Clicking a topic under Trending shows you up to 5 categories of content:

  • Articles: how news organizations are covering the story
  • In the Story: posts from people who are part of the story
  • Friends and Groups: what people in your network are saying
  • Near the Scene: posts from people near where the story is unfolding
  • Live Feed: a real-time stream of reactions from people around the world (seen below)

FB trending feed

Pro tip: You can customize your trending topics by hiding topics you don’t want to see:

  1. Hover over any topic under Trending on the right side of your News Feed
  2. Click the x to the right of the topic
  3. Select the reason you’re hiding that topic

Google+ trending

Google+ doesn’t seem to use a sorting algorithm for its trending topics, but users do have the ability to search within just their own posts, their circles or the entire Google+ network.Google+ trending

Clicking on any trending topic takes you to a more detailed subsection of that topic, like #smallbiz:

G+ trending deeper

Each social media networks has its own rhythm, language and etiquette. Feel free to focus on the one that makes the most sense to you and your brand.

3 free trend-finding tools

Want to dive deeper into what’s trending at any moment? These tools can help!

1. Trendsmap

The free tool Trendsmap lets you check out the top trending hashtags on Twitter for any location in the world. Paid versions provide even more detailed information, such as top videos and more detailed geographic information. Go for a broad view:

trendsmap

Or drill down to a specific city or region:

trendsmap detail

2. Google Trends

Research with Google Trends to find out what the world is looking for at any given moment. Often these trends look a lot different than those on social media.

google trends

3. Tagboard

Get more context on trending topics across social media platforms with Tagboard, a one-stop spot to know what’s being said everywhere on a topic.

tagboard

This is also a great tool to vet and research a potential future hashtag you might be considering for a social media campaign. Similar: Hshtags, a social media search engine dedicated to hashtags.

Over to you

What have your experiences been like with trending topics? Have you leveraged them for marketing purposes? Participated in them as a social media fan? Whatever the experience, I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.