A trend is a general direction something is taking as it develops or evolves. It can be as simple as a style in fashion or entertainment or as complex as the global warming phenomenon. A trend is also the name of an algorithm used by social media networks to display a list of current popular topics and hashtags in real time. The list is displayed on the home page of each network and in several other places within the platform. Trending can be a useful tool for brands to use as they try to reach their audience with the right message at the right time.

Twitter’s “trending” feature displays a list of topical subjects that are being discussed on the microblogging platform in real time. The topics are selected by an algorithm that looks at who’s searching for specific keywords and phrases or using specific hashtags. The results appear on a section of Twitter’s website and mobile apps that is tailored to each user’s location. The popularity of the trends is based on a combination of factors including how recently searchers have done so, the number of people searching for the term and whether the topic has a positive or negative connotation.

Facebook uses a similar algorithm to select the trending topics that appear on its website and mobile apps. Users can choose to customize the information that is shown to them and their friends by adjusting their settings. Trends are grouped into categories that include all news, science and technology, sports and recreation, entertainment and politics. Clicking on one of the topics brings up a page that displays public and in-network conversations about it.

Google’s “trending” feature provides a similar function. Users can enter a specific keyword or topic in the top bar of the Google homepage to see related trends for the day and for different locations. Trends can be interesting for their own sake but are also useful as research tools when it comes to finding out how many people are searching for certain terms and how that has changed over time.

Getting a business to trend on Twitter or other social platforms can help them reach new customers. If a company can get a hashtag to trend, it will appear in the sidebar of Twitter’s main page and be visible to a large number of Twitter users outside of that company’s core demographic. If the company is smart enough to participate in a trend with a call to action, like encouraging people to sign an online petition, it can generate a lot of momentum and potentially lead to some very high-profile press coverage.

However, a company that wants to participate in a trend needs to approach it with care. Insensitive or overly promotional posts can cause a trend to shift from being helpful to being offensive. For example, some American brands made the mistake of trying to capitalize on the trend #9/11 in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks and were accused by AdWeek of lowering the tone of the conversation from being compassionate to disrespectful.