From the fun and frivolous (#FiveWordsToRuinADate) to the hard-hitting and newsy (#SpiritCooking amplified a mini Satanic panic that would eventually lead to Pizzagate), trends are one of social media’s most powerful tools for keeping us informed, engaged and entertained. For marketers, trending offers a valuable way to reach a wide and potentially new audience with a quick-hitting topic.

Trending is a feature that allows people to see what topics are popular on their favorite social media platforms, like Twitter or TikTok, at any given moment. It works by monitoring for a sudden uptick in activity on a particular hashtag or topic, and then displaying that information to users as a “trending” item.

Many platforms customize the topics they show based on their user’s location, previous searches and likes, and who they follow. For example, if you follow the account of a local ceramics store, you may be shown a trending topic related to a special promotion they are running. In some cases, trends are also attached to specific tweets to provide additional context and credibility, such as a quote from the person who initiated the trend.

Some of these trends are more serious than others, with the most concerning ones reflecting political tensions and unsubstantiated rumors about celebrities and other high-profile figures. In addition, some of the trends are even manipulated by trolls in an attempt to spread misinformation and amplify their reach. The phenomenon has been so pronounced that many people have begun to question whether or not the trending function on social media sites is even legitimate.

The good news is, it still is, and there are still plenty of ways for brands to capitalize on this mercurial tool. The best approach for marketers is to be strategic with their use of trending, and provide clear instructions as to the type of activity they want from their followers. For example, rather than asking for them to simply use a trending hashtag, it would be better to give them a specific campaign hashtag, along with a timeframe in which they should post and a couple of sample messages to grease the engine.

This strategy has the added benefit of ensuring that any posts they encourage their followers to participate in will have a higher chance of actually becoming a trending topic. It can be risky to invest time and effort into trying to create a trend, but the rewards can be substantial. The key is to have a clear idea of your goals and to be willing to make the necessary investments. Trending is a constantly evolving concept and it’s up to businesses and influencers to keep up with the changes as they happen. Just don’t forget that selfie, twerking, bromance and podcast are all real words in the dictionary, too.