Image: Ryan McGuire, Gratisography


Cordelia Hebblethwaite
The Social Media Reporter


This section covers:

  • How to find out what’s trending — on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Google, and Reddit
  • What’s the best hashtag to use?
  • Who shared this story?

N.B. This symbol ✳️ means the tool is free!

The last couple of years have seen an explosion in tools and interest in covering trending stories, from BBC Trending — which I helped to launch in 2013 — to AJ+ and Global Voices (who have used social media as a source for stories for years) and many others.

Being better at “listening” to your audience is undoubtably a good thing. But two quick — and important — words of caution when covering trending stories:

  1. Do not assume that opinions expressed on social media are any kind of indicator of public opinion. As this important research by Pew back in 2012 found, this is far from the case.

2. Rumours and fakes often travel particularly fast on social media, so always check things out very carefully (see the Verification section of this guide for more).

✳️ Google Trends

Relaunched and massively improved, Google Trends — while not strictly social media — contains a wealth of interesting data on what people are searching for around the world.

It aims to be “the world’s biggest journalistic dataset”.

The homepage shows “stories trending now”. You can select the country to see the data from, and the category — these include health, science/tech etc.

But where it gets more interesting — and more detailed — are the options accessible via the “burger icon” on the top left. In the “explore” section, you get data on any search term, going back as far as 2004, and to within the hour. The graphs are embeddable, and the information is is further broken down by country, region and associated searches. You can also compare search terms.

The “trending searches” page (also accessible via the “burger” icon) is useful, and is organized by country.

The “top charts” is a more stand-back view of search data in a given year.

For specific news topics, Google Trends, will collate a special — and very detailed — selection of data.

As I write, there are on the UKs’ Brexit vote, the Fourth of July, and the attack at Istanbul Atatürk airport‬.

Just a couple of the datasets pulled together by Google Trends on the UK’s Brexit vote

They also run a good Twitter account.

Because, YouTube is owned by Google, there is also basic data on videos trending on YouTube.

For more on what’s trending on YouTube, head over to the YouTube Trends dashboard (though it sounds like this service may soon be closed).

Which hashtag should I use?

✳️ RiteTag is a useful free tool where you can search for the most popular hashtags on any subject. For each hashtag it gives a breakdown of basic data and graphs and shows other associated hashtags (click on “connections”)

✳️ does a similar analysis. You can create a free account by clicking on the person icon on the top right of the page

Keyhole is another hashtag analysis tool. It used to be free, but now only offers a three-day free trial

✳️ twXplorer is a great free tool created which shows top terms, hashtags and links on any given search term. Tame does this too, and has some extra features, but is a paid-for service, though you can subscribe for a free trial (and I would recommend you do as it’s a great tool. See the Organize section of this guide for more).

A really useful tool which sadly bit the dust in 2016 was Topsy. This used to allow you to quickly trace the origin of how a hashtag started, and the paid-for version had a host of great graphs and extra data. But it gradually began to wind down to the public after 2013, when it was bought by Apple. Spredfast (see below) largely fills in the gap, but is available only on a paid-for basis.

Who shared my/this story?

Buzzsumo is a particularly good tool for getting info on how many shares there are for a story, and where they came from — but is a paid-for service. More info on Buzzsumo below and there are free tools that give basic info, as follows:

CrowdTangle has a great ✳️ Chrome Extension which shows how many shares a story has had, and who/where the referrals have come from. It’s free to use on one link per day. Subscribers have unlimited access, and it’s also possible to upgrade to unlimited access to the Chrome extension for $25 per month (CrowdTangle itself is a fantastic tool for Facebook in particular — see more in the section below).

✳️ HowManyShares is a free tool that gives a quick breakdown of the number of shares of a link on different social media platforms

✳️ Muck Rack has a free “who shared” section, which shows total shares and any shares by journalists in its database

If you want to know who shared the story on Twitter and what they said, you can drop the link, you can drop the link into ✳️ Tweetdeck, and add the results as a column.

What’s Trending…? Facebook

✳️ CrowdTangle

Update: In January 2017, CrowdTangle became free to any journalist or publisher producing “original content”. To register for an account click here.

Loved by many social media managers (for the data it gives on your own posts and those of your competitors), CrowdTangle is also really useful for story discovery, thanks to a very simple concept — that of “overperforming” posts.

These are drawn from the tens of thousands of Facebook pages CrowdTangle monitors. This includes every virtually every news organization in the US — big or small — as well as hundreds of lists arranged by theme (international news, health, business etc). You can also create your own lists of accounts to follow your specific area of interest/s.

Based on the past history of a particular account, CrowdTangle highlights the posts that are doing substantially better than expected — and sends these direct as alerts by email.

A coupe of the most popular posts on Facebook as the results from the Australian election came in

CrowdTangle started in 2011 as a tool to help connect social and political activists around the world using Facebook. It still has Facebook at its core, but also covers Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.

CrowdTangle has added lots of extras, including integration with Slack, a Facebook video search, a map view (with an adjustable time-scale, and which can be filtered to see just images, Facebook live etc), and in March 2017, CrowdTangle Intelligence. This allows you to track and compare the performance (number of followers, interaction rate, number of interactions and number of posts) of your own account with that of other major ones. It is accessible via the main dashboard (on the left of the screen).

✳️ Facebook Signal

Facebook Signal is a free service, designed by Facebook specifically for journalists. With CrowdTangle becoming free in January 2017 (see above), it will probably start becoming less useful (as CrowdTangle is a much more powerful took) but here’s the info on how it works in case.

You need to request access — and this can take a few weeks — but once you’re in, it gives you access to a much richer source of information on stories trending on Facebook, as well as other useful enhanced search facilities (see the Search section of this guide for more).

Facebook has teamed up with both CrowdTangle and Storyful (more on both of those below) to provide a simple dashboard of stories both trending now and emerging. From a journalism point of view, this is more useful that the trends that appear on the right-hand side of your own own personal Facebook page (which are tailored to you based on who you follow, your location etc.)

You can also filter the results by the following categories: news, politics, sports, influencers and entertainment.

A screengrab of the trending section of Facebook Signal on 11 June 2016

There is also a Public Figures section, which compares the share of the conversation on Facebook of leading politicians, sports figures etc within the last 24 hours. You can also go back in time on a day-by-day basis.

Hillary Clinton had the lion’s share of conversation on Facebook on 11 June 2016….
… the week before it was a different picture

There is an Events section too, which as I write is covering the UK’s EU referendum, the Euro 2016 football, Copa America 2016 and the crisis in Brazil.

Some of the top trending posts on Facebook on the UK’s EU referendum on 11 June 2016

Newswhip Spike

NewsWhip is another very powerful a tool to monitor and discover trending stories and video — across the web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and YouTube. It’s subscription only, but you can sign up for a free 14-day trial in just a few clicks.

The Dublin-based company has been going since 2011. In 2015 it got an extra injection of cash from investors and keeps adding new features.

It now includes dedicated sections for more than 200 countries around the world. For many — like the US, the UK and Germany — you can drill down much further by location, to specific states, regions and cities.

Subject-wise, you can either search by keyword, or by any of the pre-set subject categories.

You can adjust the timeframe to between the last hour, or the last month, and filter the results based on “velocity” (speed the story is picking up pace), number of Facebook shares, comments etc.

This shows the Facebook posts with the most comments on Facebook in the UK over the month leading up to 2 July

All in all, it’s incredibly user-friendly and intuitive to use.

Newswhip also have a really great blog (and weekly newsletter) where they pull together and analyze their data. Recent articles include advice for publishers on video for Facebook, how the public responded to the Brexit vote on social, and how to use Instagram effectively.

Buzzsumo Trending

Buzzsumo’s trending section shows links that are trending on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+, and is a feature Buzzsumo added in 2015.

As with the rest of Buzzsumo, you can access the core functions in the ✳️ free version, with the extra features included in the paid subscription only.

You can filter by category — including news, sport, tech, health science, video, etc.

You can also create your own search by clicking on the + sign and adding keywords, hashtags or specific domains.

Location-wise, it’s possible to filter results just from the US, the UK, France or Australia.

The “trending now” section is based on the speed of shares at the time of your search. You can also toggle the results to show “most shared”. The free version gives a timeframe of the last 24 hours. In the paid version, you can adjust the timeframe to anytime up the last two hours.

If you want results from any period less than 24 hours, you need to pay for a subscription

You can create an RSS feed of the search, allowing you to and feed the results into Feedly, Flipboard, IFTTT and elsewhere.

Buzzsumo also includes a great Facebook Analyzer tool which allows you to monitor the performance of your account and compare it with others.

For more on Buzzsumo, please see the Research section of this guide.

Storyful Trends

Storyful added a trending section to its subscription-based Newswire service, in 2014, which identifies emerging trends, and now also powers many of the trends displayed within Facebook and Facebook Signal (see above). They also handle the verification and licensing of videos.

What’s Trending…? Reddit

Update: CrowdTangle (see above) became free for journalists and publishers in January 2017, and also covers Reddit.

✳️ Reddit Edit (created by journalist and developer Benji Lanyado) brings together the top three trending stories in the world news, politics and technology, science, front page and pics subreddits of Reddit. The idea was create a site for non-Reddit users that looks less intimidating, and it works!

Here are four other tools for tracking trends on Reddit (thanks to this useful pull together by Ann Smarty):

✳️ Reddit Metrics

✳️ Trending Reddits

✳️ Snoop Snoo

✳️ RedditList

What’s Trending…? Twitter

Unfortunately (but predictably) most of the best tools in this area are paid-for. They are listed lower down, and many include a free trial too. But, first, a few tools that are helpful and free:

✳️ Trendsmap

Want to know what’s trending on Twitter around the world? Or in a specific country or city? Trendsmap shows this at a glance, and it’s free to do a basic search.

A Trendsmap view of part of Europe on 9 June 2016, ahead of the EU referendum in the UK and Euro 2016

You can search using the map, or by typing the city or search term/hashtag into the search box on the right.

E.g. This shows where in the world people are using the term #Brexit:

Screenshot taken on 9 June 2016… (before the big vote)

✳️ Twittstorm

This is a very handy little tool that shows what’s trending on Twitter in Tweets per Minute.

Within a search you can then further drill down to see the most shared links are, hashtags associated with that term, and “spin doctors” — or people/accounts getting that term to trend.

Unlike the trends displayed by Twitter — they are unfiltered, which makes it especially useful for spotting dodgy trends/suspicious activity.

Screengrab taken on 9 June 2016 of a search for “Brexit”

More free tools for Twitter trends

✳️ is selection of popular tech-type links being shared on Twitter.

✳️ WhoTalking is a quick way of finding the top tweets on any give on search term (HT to Tory Starr for above two tools)

✳️ Scanvine is a handy way of quickly seeing what’s trending across Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn

✳️ Oublio is good for images. It shows at a glance the most shared images on Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Imgur and Pinterest

✳️ Twitter does some analysis of trends itself which it displays at Twitter Data and Interactive Twitter. (They also used to run MagicRecs which would send you a direct message on Twitter whenever a significant number of people in your network follow a new account, but that seems to have gone defunct sometime in January 2016)

✳️ For the more tecchy-minded, TAGS is a useful way of creating graphs and spreadsheets out of Twitter data

Paid tools for analysing Twitter trends


Spredfast is a great tool for analysing how a story is being discussed on social media — where the spikes in conversation are, the best hashtags, what the top posts, images, and links are, and the most influential accounts related to any given term/search.

It works particularly well for Twitter, and also covers Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

A summary view of a search for “Trump” on Twitter in week leading up to 2 July 2016…
Top hashtags related to Trump over the 90 days leading up to 2 July 2016

There are lots of options for drilling down, and tailoring the search — by location, time-frame, type of post etc.

This shows the top tweets about Hillary Clinton in the 90 days leading up to 2 July 2016

There is also an option for finding the first use of a particular hashtag (the search goes back 13 months).


Dataminr is a breaking news alert system based on Twitter, specifically designed for journalists.

Their algorithm detects tweets which are gathering momentum fast — at a very early stage. This gives you an early tip-off on stories.

Dataminr worked with news organizations around the world to refine the service, and there are many examples of their alerts “beating” standard news agencies.

Some journalists rave about Dataminr. Others complain the number of false positives, and the quantity of alerts, mean you risk missing the gems when they come in.

It’s important to be aware that none of the information is pre-verified.


Socialbakers is the place to go if you want to find the biggest and/or fastest growing social media accounts in a given country, or a given sector. Some of the basic results are ✳️ free, but for in-depth analysis you need a subscription.

The top Facebook accounts in Brazil, for example

It covers Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+

✳️ More from the Social Media Reporter ✳️

This guide is a starting point. I’d love others to contribute to expand and improve it. Please feel free to leave a note here, or get in touch at or @cordeliaheb



Cordelia Hebblethwaite
The Social Media Reporter

Commissioning editor for @bbcideas — short films for curious minds. Via @BBCNewsnight, @JSKStanford, @BBCTrending and more. Wrote