Trending Now: When to Use Trending Topics in Your Messaging.

Every day, trending topics capture the gaze of millions of people.

As I write this, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Overwatch” have each garnered 500,000+ searches, while “Freddie Gray” and “Ginger Zee” are both clocking in at over 100,000 searches.

While these topics undoubtedly generate a massive amount of views, you shouldn’t just think about how you can use them in your marketing messaging. You should consider what effect they will have on your brand image. Some marketers call this strategy “trendjacking,” which can be very beneficial if used in the correct manner and detrimental if used to gain exposure at someone else’s expense.

Take for instance the case of Freddie Gray, which has recently made its way back into the news due to the recent verdict announcement of the police officer standing trial. If you are a brand, commenting on this trending topic, could garner a lot of attention, but it would also come off as insensitive, an even offensive in come cases.

When analyzing a news story and deciding whether to engage in the conversation about it, ask you yourself, “What will the consequences be? Will this action drive brand loyalty and sales for the company?” If the answer is no, you should refrain from speaking on the subject matter.

On the other hand, “Beauty and the Beast” will be a huge cinematic phenomenon in 2017. It evokes childhood memories and is, of course, a Disney production. If your brand is a kids clothing line, then yes, trend-jack the heck out of it! Share the trailer and tell your followers how excited XYZ clothing is for the film’s release. You may even be able to incorporate a “Beauty and the Beast” theme into your merchandise, which will only generate more interest and potential buyers as Disney continues to promote the movie. By pushing your enthusiasm out, you will create your own positive brand awareness and expand your audience base.

Trendjacking has been around for a long while, but the real meaning did not fully begin carrying weight until that infamous 2013 Super Bowl incident. During the black out at Super Bowl XLVII, Oreo tweeted this:

The tweet had over 15,000 retweets and 5,000 favorites. Oreo’s social media team saw an amazing opportunity and capitalized on it. The timing was golden! Remember, this was not a message put into the cue for posting, but rather, an impromptu idea that created a trend and subsequently promoted the Oreo brand organically.

Some brands, however, have chosen the wrong event to capitalize on and have received an incredible amount of backlash. One case that particularly comes to mind is that of the Cheerios’ “Rest in Peace” Prince tribute tweet following his passing in April of this year. The company was ultimately (only hours later) forced to remove the post from their page due to the public’s outraged reaction. See below for the original tweet:

Comments concerning the posts included things like:

“Can’t believe that Cheerios Prince ad. Incredibly poor taste to use his death for self promotion. smh.” — @veebex

“Hey guys, Prince died. BUT PLEASE DON’T FORGET ABOUT CHEERIOS!” — @AndrewNiclaASU

“Cheerios Prince tribute. This is why most humans hate brands.” –JamesHadouken

Just by reading the three responses above you can get a pretty good idea of what the overall sentiment was. Now, the opinions of a few individuals on Twitter may not seem like a big deal at first, but between these three profiles, there is an accumulated audience of over 100,000 potential or existing customers. The power of social media is great, but it can turn against you just as quick as build you up.

To sum it all up, it is never good to trendjack or capitalize on people’s tragedies or fears. And unless you want your brand to come off as insensitive, it’s a good idea to avoid speaking to controversial topics that are unrelated to your industry and company mission. Instead, look for positive opportunities that the general public is keenly aware of or excited about. Show them your support and that you have something valuable to offer that can satisfy that interest.

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