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When Should Businesses Join in With Social Media Trends?

White wall with a red notification text bubble painted on it with a white heart and number 1 in its center. Below the text bubble, an arm is holding a

There are social media trends starting and gaining popularity every day. However, not all trends are created equal and not all trends are ones you should or need to jump on. Furthermore, not everything that is trending is trending for a positive reason. Sometimes something is trending because of sad or tragic news, something that is causing anger and outrage, or it’s the latest video of a racist tirade by someone in a supermarket or violent confrontation.

Businesses need to be listening and keep an eye on what is trending, be sure to understand the underlying cause of the trend and reflect on it to determine whether it is aligned with their brand or not. There is a running joke that says someone is “it” on Twitter each day, and not necessarily for positive reasons. You must make sure “it” isn’t you.

As I write this, “She’s a 10” has been trending all week on Twitter. For those unfamiliar with this trend, it typically manifests itself in the form of saying something like “She’s a 10 but has poor time management skills”. This trend was also popular on TikTok but it was “He’s a 10” and typically was presented on video with two women chatting back and forth with one saying “he’s a 10 but still refers to his mother as Mommy” and the other responding by decreasing his score because of that revelation.

As popular as this trend might have been, especially over the past week or so surrounding the writing of this article, it is not aligned with every brand. There is always a risk of backlash if audiences receive the message differently than the way it was intended. That is often the reason why brands go viral for all the wrong reasons. They were trying to be current, cool, and hip but they tried too hard and paid the price.

You need to find a point of access for your brand so that your audience and stakeholders can accept the connection between your brand and the trend without reacting negatively. There are stories happening all the time where brands make a misstep jumping on a trend.

If you are worried about making a mistake, then perhaps avoid trying to jump on a trend. The window of opportunity is typically small so you must move with speed and agility and that can increase your chances of making a mistake. However, if you have all the necessary resources in place to generate the creative, test the idea, and get all the necessary approvals, then you may have a good chance of catching lightning in a bottle.

When the power went out at the stadium during the Super Bowl, the brand management, their agency, the legal department etc. were all in place to conceive of, develop, approve, and execute the now famous “You can still dunk in the dark” image for Oreo. Since then, many brands have been seeking their “Oreo moment”. Those moments are not necessarily trends but moments of serendipity. They can’t be predicted or planned for but can be leveraged if you are prepared.

If you are going to attempt to leverage something that is trending, err on the side of caution and pick a trend that is positive from the outset and think about how your brand is adding to the conversation. You do not want to come across as barging into a conversation only to be seen as unwelcome.

Think more about supporting the trend first rather than supporting your brand. Your brand will benefit from the halo effect without you having to be overt about your agenda. A TikToker went viral based on his video of him skateboarding while drinking Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice. Ocean Spray reached out and gifted him a new truck filled with bottles of Ocean Spray.

That is a fantastic example of the brand responding appropriately to a trend. They did not try to take over the moment. They simply thanked him with a gesture aligned with the brand and appropriate for the moment. The brand was already getting indirect recognition from the original viral video, but their response provided even more brand awareness.

People will often say “We want to go viral”. I typically respond by asking, “Do you want to be famous or infamous?” The former is better than the latter. Being infamous is usually a bad thing. You likely found yourself to be “it” on Twitter for at least a day and it wasn’t something you planned or wanted to happen.

Going viral should not be the goal. You can ride a trend and still have it work in your favour without going viral. You can get some brand awareness lift just through proper execution of an idea and properly linking your brand to a trend. If you truly want to go viral then try to incorporate puppies whenever and wherever possible. People love puppies. I know that is a silly suggestion but just pause to think about how much content you have seen from brands where they included puppies. I am not saying they are right. Perhaps they are just trying too hard.

Keep an eye out for trends and moments of serendipity. Trying running scenarios in relation to some trends just to conceive of ideas that could be executed but you are simply testing them out without going through with it. Use the process to prepare you and your team, internal and external, to jump on a trend when it feels right, you can find that point of access, and everyone is properly prepared to execute.

The risks to your brand will not go away but considering potential outcomes, both good and bad, scenario planning, and being prepared should set you apart from other brands trying too hard or jumping on trends without thoroughly considering the potential downside for their brand.

Opportunities present themselves daily but that does not mean you have to jump on every one of them. Be patient and jump on the right one at the right time for you. Your brand will thank you for it.