The Art of Trend Jacking - Chief Media

The Art of Trend Jacking

If you haven’t done it, catching any kind of wave can be daunting, and jumping onto trending topics is no exception. There can be a significant learning curve, but at the end of the day, it’s a fairly intuitive process. 

Trends: To Use, or Not to Use?

It starts with simply understanding what conversations in social media you can credibly, or creatively, participate in. However, that judgement call can only be made if you know who you are, so if you haven’t established a strong brand persona, you’ll need to back up one step before you can proceed confidently. 

What makes a person appealing and memorable? For example, conviction in a set of principles always sets a strong tone for those who share those convictions. What does your brand value or believe in? When you can align with these same ideas in your target audience, you’re on your way to a deeper connection. Consumers have a ton of choice, so sometimes it will just get down to not only them “getting” you, but also liking you. What are your goals and aspirations? How are you a good friend? How do you deal with conflict or criticism? Are you funny? Generous? Stylish? Empathetic? Human beings are incredibly complex, so don’t expect to knock out the brand persona exercise overnight. 

Opinions Happen, So Shape Them

Beware of procrastinating because your persona comes into being whether you invest in it or not. Consumers exposed to your media will definitely gain their own sense of what your brand is all about and form opinions.  You can hope that they “get you” or you can make sure that they do. When you do it right, your brand can begin to create greater visibility by connecting to the trends that everyone’s talking about.

LinkedIn post from Netflix showing a tweet about LinkedIn employees dressing up as Dwayne Johnson and his reply.

Be Authentic & Know Your Trends

Paid and organic social media are now a foundational part of performance marketing, and are the arenas where being relatable, aligned, and essentially human are critical to successfully connecting with your audience. There’s a lot of discussion around the concept of authenticity because it’s something people tend to judge quickly in new social interactions. Since most people are pretty good at spotting a fake, this is an area that must be nailed by marketers! Piggybacking on topics that don’t resonate with your products or persona is a no-no and open the door to blowback. Just because a topic is popular doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to contribute to the conversation. For example, the baking company Warburton’s attempted to use a trending hashtag #CrumpetCreations to show off crumpet recipes. They did not realize, however, that the hashtag was associated with the Furry Community, fans who dress up in animal costumes, so users were confused to find something very different as they searched.

When you expect baking recipes and instead find a different horse altogether.

Tread Carefully into Controversy

Brands, however, are becoming less risk averse and find taking controversial stands as opportunities for attention. For example, Gillette rolled out their gender-sensitive side with an ad redefining the brand for the #MeToo era. It garnered a lot stories written about it and impressions and comments on social media. Some consumers criticized the ad, citing the various ways in which they didn’t “buy it.” Others, however, voiced appreciation for Gillette taking a stand and inspiring the next generation of men to be their best selves. Recent data shows that this campaign helped to increase Gillette’s positive sentiment with women.

In the beginning of 2019, Gillette released an ad responding to the #MeToo movement that became controversial.

Taking a principled stance may open up brands to criticism and losing some customers, but it does have the potential to also effectively reach new audiences as well. The most important thing is to do your research before jumping into the conversation.

Timing is Everything

Sometimes it’s the wrong message and sometimes it’s the wrong time.  Minutes after the stage for the Radiohead concert in Toronto collapsed killing a drum technician, concert promoter Live Nation Toronto sent out tweets encouraging fans to upload photos. The twitter response was fast and furious. It’s an extreme example of how even carefully planned scheduled tweets can damage brand perception.

Live Nation Ontario got into some hot water with their pre-scheduled tweets when an accident occurred.

Think About What You Say

These are the messages that will never be right at any time. While there is no question that when Adidas sent out an email to select customers in 2017 with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” they meant to offer a round of applause for the athletic achievement of their customers. Unfortunately, the insensitivity in the language was enough to spark an outcry that played out on Twitter, the kind of medium where conversations heat up instantaneously. Brands should tear a page from Adidas’ fast, unreserved apology on Twitter where they were highly visible and able to show a level of responsiveness that demonstrated humility and responsibility – traits that help people forgive mistakes. Maintaining consistency in brand principles and identity across all social touchpoints must be instinctive for trend-tracking tactics and engagement to work. 

Boston Marathon 2015 contestants and spectators pose with a banner declaring “Boston Strong” commemorating the 2013 bombings at the same race. / Photo by Olga Khvan.

Live Your Best Marketing Life

Twitter is home to some of the most distinctive brand identities online.  Netflix, Wendy’s, and Patagonia have all invested in creating a sense of real-time conversations with follower netizens. Netflix leverages the voice of the cinephile, defending its programming out on the armchair critic’s playground. Wendy’s witty, slightly-snarky comebacks are legendary. When challenged on its sustainability promises, Patagonia’s polite, put-you-in-your-place replies are effective, like when you ask your professor a rhetorical question. The voice could be condescending but manages to steer away from preaching and instead translates as intelligent and grounded. When it works, it can convert well-timed, well-placed copy into brand currency that pays out into increased market share. 

One of many examples of Wendy’s brand voice on Twitter that captured the attention of millions.

When your persona is distinctive and relatable, brand authenticity develops naturally and can be a huge asset. You’re ready to be part of topical discussions because you have confidence in your appearance, principles and values. You can engage in trend-tracking on any social media platform, but Twitter is an obvious place you can start. 

How to Get Onboard

It’s relatively easy to look at weekly recurring hashtags to see what’s trending. You can also simply search for “most searched stories” anywhere online. You then ask yourself if your brand can bring genuine depth to this discussion? Maybe it can, maybe not, or maybe you don’t know. Do some research. It’s important to read comments and review the contributions to the conversation first so you understand both the trend and context. This spot sampling can save you from the undesired lost-in-translation moments. 

Once engaged, keep to your established brand persona and stick to the point. Know what you want from the visibility and stay focused on the desired outcome. Details matter so don’t forget the pictures. Visually striking content is still a must. Trends are all about what captures people in their flow, so prepare and then be brave, because you may have to just dive in and swim. Once you uncover a trend that allows for true interrelatedness with your brand, you can let it carry you along to new prominence on social media.

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