13 October 2016 15:14:36 IST

Of curious trends and infectious comments

What’s trending may not necessarily be what people are interested in

Do you check what’s trending on Twitter and wonder what the inane trends are? Well, creating trends has now become one of the oldest tricks in the social media handbook. Brands and politicians are especially adept at it. Trends that come up organically are now the exception rather than the rule with, at least five out of the top ten trends usually either created through paid posts or promoted trends.

You just need to see the top trends to make out that most are manipulated. See how #TrumpWon was one of the top hashtags soon after the second Presidential debate — even though the CNN poll clearly showed Hillary Clinton to be the winner. Something fishy there, surely? Or see how, with unfailing regularity, a BJP-rigged or AAP-sponsored trend pops up on twitter.

A little scepticism

In the case of the #TrumpWon hashtag, determined data scientists instantly got to work, especially as there were innuendos that the hashtag originated in Russia. The Russian angle was debunked at once though, unsurprisingly, the fact that it was a manipulated tweet was proved. Thanks to heatmaps and sites like TrendsMap.com one can find out which cities are posting most on the trend and what are the user groups involved. A bit of digging can also reveal whether bots and fake users are involved.

The simple point here is: if you are a user, it’s best not to take trends on social media at face value. Instead, do some network analysis. There are enough open analytics platforms out there to give you a true picture of what people are really talking about.

What’s the reach?

And if you are brand or a celebrity, are promoted trends really getting you worthwhile returns? If the only people tweeting about a “trend” are all paid or bought, then are you reaching your core target? Increasingly, people are also getting cynical when they see something trending – and don’t automatically tag along. So a promoted trend may actually have a detrimental effect on brand trust.


In the US, over 80 per cent of marketers use promoted tweets; India is also slowly getting there. If all brands start using the tool, just imagine the awful clutter. The other point is that trends in social media have very short lives — even an hour is considered good!


Indeed, the whole issue of “virality” is coming under the scanner now too. As more and more marketing agencies claim to have cracked the code and promise to deliver “viral videos”, brands need to question whether their purpose is being met or not. True, a Pan Bahar video may have gone viral in a day-and-a-half, but what was the sentiment behind the shares? The sniggering comments about Pierce Brosnan were more infectious than the video itself!

In the long run, it may be best to do things the hard way. Actually, do something that will make people talk about you in a good way and cause you to trend on social media.