Twitter has a sidebar of trending hashtags and topics. A surprisingly large number of people browse and use those hashtags, both to keep up to date with world news and to participate in conversations about those topics. This means there’s a tremendous potential audience if you can only get your own tags trending.
Trends are kind of odd in the first place. Some trends will only show up in your feed if someone you follow is tweeting about them. Some of them show up because they’re relevant to interests you’ve tweeted about before. Some of them show up because they’re promoted, and some show up because they’re actual global trends. Users can change whether they want tailored trends, trends based on specific locations, or global trends. Most people get tailored trends, because that’s the default on Twitter and few people bother to try to change it.
This means in general that if you want to get a hashtag trending, you need to really work to get a lot of people around the world to tweet about it. The more people in distinct geographic areas you can get talking about your tag, the better off you’ll be. That, or you can narrow your focus. If you’re a local business or venue with a small show, or some other narrow-region influencer, you don’t need people from across the country talking about you. All you need is to trend in your local area.
The tips I’ve compiled below will help you attempt to reach trending status with your hashtag. However, keep in mind that nothing is certain. There’s only so much space for trending tags at any given time, so competition can be fierce, and if you don’t strike the right chord right away, you’ll need to try again another time.
1. Remember the Trend Rules
Twitter actually has rules about what you can and can’t do when trending.
You need to follow them when trying to use existing trends for your own benefit, or even when just chatting away in a trending tag.
- You’re not allowed to add topics to trending tags when they’re unrelated. If #WorldSeries is trending about baseball, you can’t add in something about your new clothing line unless it’s baseball related.
- You’re not allowed to tweet the same topic or tag over and over without new information, new discussion, or new perspective. Repeated spam of the tag is seen as an attempt to artificially create a trend and can get you suspended.
- You’re not allowed to use a trending hashtag for marketing when it’s not your hashtag. You can’t go into #WorldSeries and start spamming a link to your SaaS offering.
- You’re not allowed to try to divert trend followers to a misleading website. For example, if you make a www.example.com/WorldSeries/ landing page for the #WorldSeries trend, but that landing page takes users to your storefront with nothing baseball related, it’s misleading advertising.
Violating these rules can lead to your trend being dropped from the display, your account being sanctioned, or a complete account suspension.
2. Don’t Try to be Too Specific
One of the roadblocks I often see when people try to get a hashtag trending is trying to be too specific with it. I often talk about the difference between branded and generic hashtags, and they tend to use branded hashtags. It rarely works out.
This applies to overly-specific generic tags as well. It’s a good idea to try to be relatable, but the last thing you want to do is look like that parent trying to talk to their kid about the latest video games when they haven’t seen a video game since Pong.
3. Use Generic Tags
Fallon is one of the best hashtag trenders out there, in his role on the Tonight Show. Buzzfeed has a good article about it, though you do have to ignore the fact that it’s written by Fallon’s brand and of course is going to overestimate his influence.
Of course, he has a ready-made audience of millions to automatically crank up the trend on any tag he wants to promote. If you look, though, they’re all generic, relatable tags. They call out to a wide range of people to share their experiences around a common theme. That’s the kind of tag you want to spearhead.
4. Start Your Trend at the Right Time
Picking the right time to tweet is important, but it’s even more so for a trend. You can see the ideal times to tweet via Buffer here, but I like to start a trend much earlier. Start earlier in the day and post a few times to hype up the coming trend, then post your main engagement drivers during optimal hours, including any media and your most compelling questions.
5. Encourage Responses with Questions
The way trends work, they go off unique posts using the hashtag. That means the more back-and-forth questions and answers, as well as discussion, you have in the tag, the better. All of your main leading hashtag uses should be questions that encourage users to use the tag. That way, when they respond, you can respond to them using the tag, and keep the conversation going. It’s a lot of work, and you might need a team to handle it if there’s sufficient volume, but it amps up the volume of unique uses of the tag to make it more likely to trend.
6. Respond to Replies with Value
Remember when you’re responding to the answers people leave, to respond with value of your own. Actually take the time to talk to them, rather than just thanking them for participating.
Tweets that just thank a user for their contribution, or use a single emoji reply, or something similar, are just going to be filtered for being low content or basically blank. You probably won’t be punished for them, but it won’t do your trend any good and is a waste of an opportunity.
7. Directly Ask People to Use the Tag
This is another thing Fallon does very well; he directly asks people to use the tag. Rather, he asks a question, and asks people to respond using the tag, with the potential incentive that their response could be read aloud on his show. The format of “Have you had X experience? Let us know using #HashtagTrend” is an excellent blueprint for the start of your trend.
8. Entice Influencers to Use the Same Tag
If you can produce some kind of blog or infographic content for your hashtag, it’s a good start. If you can then somehow tie in another high profile user or two into it, like citing their data or referencing a quote from them in the post, it’s even better. This is the basics of infographic marketing, but you can leverage it into a boost for your trend. Post the content on Twitter with the hashtag and @ the influencer. Get them to share it or retweet it with their own use of the tag.
If you have any industry partners, you can do the same thing there. Get those partners to help you trend, and promise to help them if they have a similar outreach effort later.
9. Incentivize Using the Tag
Again going back to Fallon, he has a wonderful incentive going, which is that the best tweets that come across his team’s desks can be read on his show when he next records. It’s also generally time-limited, because he’s recording that day or the next, so there’s not a lot of time to get your story out and circulating. It encourages fast, abrupt spikes in traffic for a trend without letting it fade away.
You probably don’t run a TV show watched by millions, so you don’t have quite the same incentive power, but there’s always something. This post talks about how a conference picks certain tweets and rewards the poster with a goodie bag or door prize of some kind, which is more achievable for most people.
10. Don’t Try to Hijack a Tag
One of the rules Twitter puts forward is that you’re not supposed to try to hijack a trending topic to get your own mileage out of it. Adding a hashtag to a trending topic and then trying to force that tag to trend as well is going to get your tag filtered in the Twitter search results.
The problem with this is two-fold. First, Twitter wants trends to be generally organic. Artificial trends just compromise the integrity of discourse on the platform. Secondly, people generally don’t want to be derailed in their conversation. Trends trend because there’s significant interest in the topic. When you try to derail it, people get mad for distracting from their core concern, which hurts your brand more than it helps your trend.
11. Know Your Audience and Know Their Interests
Remember that before your tag trends, most of the people seeing it are people who follow you. This means in order to get a trend off the ground, you need it to be about a topic that your audience cares about. Even if it’s something the broader world cares about, if your audience doesn’t, they won’t engage with it, and it won’t take off to reach that larger audience.
There’s a lot more to knowing your audience than I can possibly cover right here. Suffice it to say that you need a good grasp of who you’re marketing to and who you’re reaching if you want to be successful with any sort of social marketing.
12. Don’t Be Afraid to Abandon a Tag
One thing that people discovered during the height of the Occupy protests was that if a trend goes on too long, it ceases to be a trend. Twitter prefers trends to last for a day or two at a maximum, and trends that go on for too long are no longer spikes in traffic, they’re a new baseline. There are hashtags that trend with 5,000 tweets in a day, while other tags are getting 50,000 per day every day and don’t trend.
If your tag hasn’t trended within the first day of using it, it’s probably not going to reach that spike without some exceptional circumstances. It’s better to abandon it and try to get something else trending than it is to try to get an old tag to trend again later.
13. Provide Engaging Seed Content
It’s incredibly important to get that traffic spike if you want your trend to actually trend, which means your content needs to be very engaging. I feel like I’ve covered this point twice in the post already, but even so, it’s worth mentioning again. Make your tweets the best they can be, to get as much activity and engagement on them as quickly as possible.
14. Pay for Promoted Tweets
One potential seed you can do to help get a trending topic off the ground is pay to promote a few of your tweets. Make more than one and promote them to different audiences, to reach the maximum number of people you can in as short a time as possible. These “ad campaigns” will run for a few hours or a day at the most, so they won’t cost too much, and since you’re looking for broad targeting, you don’t have to pay a ton for them. It’s one case where you go against much of the usual PPC narrative just to get exposure, and it works.
15. Pay for Trends
At the end of the day, if you really, absolutely must have a trending hashtag, you can simply pay for the exposure. Twitter has created the promoted trends option in their ads system, so you can just buy your way to visibility. Of course, without the strong foundation you build by following the above, your trend just peters out and costs a lot while doing so. It’s up to you to capitalize on the trend you pay to create.