October 17, 2021

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Twitter trending topics: How they work and how to use them

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Twitter is known for its always-changing trending topics. These topics can be as broadly popular as the gossip or current events, or personally tailored to an individual level that reflects your own account’s interests, industry, and brand.

Over the last few years, Twitter has continued to refine how trending topics work by adding different layers of context to the way they display on desktop and mobile.

Understanding how Twitter trending topics work can give you deeper insight into what your audience is paying attention to, and help you shape your brand’s Twitter strategy.  Let’s explore how trending topics work, how to personalize them, and ways you can leverage them as part of your social media marketing campaigns.

How Twitter trending topics work

Trending topics on Twitter are determined by the platform’s algorithm. They can be tailored to the people you interact with, your interests, and your location. Depending on the view you select, you can see either what’s popular on a broader scale, or what’s trending within your specific interest groups.

For example, if most of the people you follow are in the social media niche you’re more likely to see personalized trends associated with social media. The algorithm also prioritizes fresh content. So you’ll see topics that people are talking about right now, in the moment, rather than older trends.

When using Twitter’s mobile app, you’ll find these topics listed in the “For You” and “Trending” section of the Explore tab. If you’re using Twitter on desktop, you’ll see your trends in a few different places, including the “What’s Happening” sidebar, which can be expanded to an explore page with a wider range of tabs and subtopics.

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How to find trending topics on Twitter

To get the most out of Twitter trends, you need to make sure that the trends you see are catered specifically to your brand. Luckily there are a few different ways to let Twitter know what you’re most interested in seeing.

Personalize your trend page

For the best Twitter experience, you need to personalize your trend preferences. Twitter now lets you personalize the trending topics you see based on a few factors. You can set geographic preferences so that you only see location-based trends depending on your current location. Within this setting, you can also choose a specific region whose trends you want to see.

To make these personalizations, navigate to your Trends page by clicking “show more” on the right-hand side of your Twitter desktop site. On Twitter’s mobile app, navigate to your Explore page and click the gear icon at the top, next to the search bar. From these pages, you can tailor your preferences to reflect the kind of trends you want to see on your feed.

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For Twitter to accurately show you trends you are interested in, you also need to give it data to work with. This means following accounts, interacting with with posts about your niche, industry or interest, and being active enough on the platform that it begins to recognize more of your interests.

Search for keywords or hashtags in your industry

While the Trends page will show you popular Twitter hashtags and topics according to your interests, it might not always predict what you want to see. If you want to drill down into a less widely discussed topic or hashtag, you’ll want to figure out key terms to search for around those conversations.

Twitter’s native search feature lets you search for hashtags, trending topics or just general terms. You can use this feature to search for your brand’s name to see if people are talking about it, or for hashtags such as industry chats or campaign hashtags to find out what people are saying and how they’re incorporating them into their posts.

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If you’re using Sprout Social, you can streamline the process by creating filters to track keywords in your Smart Inbox, or even set up alerts when specific terms show up.

Sprout Social also lets you set up more complex queries that can help you track trending topics on Twitter. By including and excluding variations of the keywords you’re looking for, Sprout’s Twitter listening feature helps you cut through the noise and find highly relevant conversations, especially those that you can’t uncover with a simple hashtag search or @ mention of your brand.

Using Twitter trending topics as a starting point, social listening can help you hone in on the most important news, conversations and influential accounts that are active at a given moment. This helps you stay on top of emerging trends that your audience is already buzzing about and maintain a competitive advantage.

Subscribe to Twitter Topics

Just like you can follow specific people on Twitter, you can now follow overall topics so you can view a wide range of posts on a certain subject. This is a great way of expanding your base of followed accounts meaningfully and finding out who is influential in specific topic areas.

To access the list of topics you can follow, go to your Twitter feed and navigate to the button that says “More” on the left side of your feed. From this menu bar, click “Topics.” This will take you to a page of Twitter-recommended topics that you can follow.

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In addition to the list of suggested topics to follow, you can click “More Topics” and search or browse for topics based on industry or interests.

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Once you follow a topic, you’ll see Tweets about that topic in your newsfeed, even if you don’t follow the person who Tweeted it. Some of these Tweets will prompt you to “see more about this Topic.” If you get this call to action, you can click it and see a full list of Tweets on that topic.

How can marketers strategically leverage Twitter trends?

Utilizing Twitter trends is not as simple as knowing what’s trending. You need to know how to use this information to market your brand, build better campaigns and connect with your audience.

Understand audience sentiment around major topics

Twitter trends can help you understand the sentiment around trending topics and how people are responding to them. What makes Twitter trends so helpful is that you can see in real-time not only that people are talking about something, but exactly what they’re saying.

If your brand launches a new product, you want to know more than just the volume of posts discussing it–you also need to know if those mentions are positive (which can in turn inspire future campaigns and user generated content) or if they’re negative so you can uncover an addressable issue. A quick browse through the Tweets can reveal how your audience generally feels about the product.

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Use hashtags to join the conversation (when relevant)

In the early days of Twitter, it wasn’t uncommon to see brands jumping on every trending hashtag as an attempt to gain exposure. While this might have made sense as a viral marketing strategy early on, Twitter users have become more sophisticated about how the platform works, and no longer like seeing companies participating in unrelated trends just to stay visible.

It’s important to stay true to your values and voice by only using hashtags that are on-brand. That’s not to say that brands can’t participate in broader, more popular hashtags. But it’s crucial that it makes sense and doesn’t come off like you’re trying too hard to enter a conversation.

Plan a content calendar based on past and upcoming trends

Twitter gives you an at-a-glance look at what is going, at that moment, on social media. This makes it a great resource when it comes to forecasting trends and planning out your content calendar.

After a while, you’ll notice certain trends becoming predictable. Recurring hashtags like #motivationmonday or #transformationtuesday, will trend every week. This makes it easy to incorporate those trends into your schedule or content plan.

Other predictable events like seasonal events, holidays and hashtag holidays are also great opportunities to plan out your content in advance with the knowledge that this is what people will be talking about on Twitter that day.

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Use Twitter Promoted Trends for a paid marketing solution

Promoted trends are a paid option that businesses can utilize to appear on the “Trending” list on the homepage and the Explore tab on Twitter.

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These trends are usually complemented with other Promoted Tweets that show up in users’ timelines. Promoted Trends work well for brands who are launching a new campaign or product and want to promote it to a specific audience.

One of the benefits of using Promoted Tweets is that Twitter has an exclusivity policy. This policy only allows one client per day per country to run a Promoted Trend. So unlike other advertising platforms, you won’t compete with any other advertisers in your area on Twitter for 24 hours.

Twitter trends are here to stay

Trending topics can help brands capitalize on trends in their industry and gauge what their audience is paying attention to. Twitter trends help marketers keep a finger on the pulse and actively join the conversation in real-time. As the platform continues to grow, the ways to engage with your audience through trends and relevant topics are also growing.

For a deeper dive into how brands are using specific Twitter trends check out our take on when and how to know which trends you should participate in.

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