Trending is the term used to describe topics, hashtags or keywords that become popular on a social media platform like Twitter, TikTok or Instagram. When a topic is trending it usually means that it’s being talked about more than usual and therefore is getting more impressions, engagements and mentions. You can see trends on TikTok and Instagram in their Explore and Trending areas, while Twitter displays them across several different areas including their trending page.

Trends are typically based on a mixture of factors including the amount of activity that a topic has received over time, the number of users talking about it and how much interest there is in a specific topic compared to others. Trends can be influenced by people deliberately trying to make a topic go viral or by algorithms that influence what shows up in trending lists.

For example, the algorithm that decides what’s shown on the Trending list on Twitter is based on how many people have searched for the subject and also looks at the amount of time spent searching for it. If a search spikes and suddenly appears in the trending list, that’s likely due to a specific campaign, such as people searching for information on how to vote abroad in an upcoming election or to spread conspiracy theories about a certain politician.

Despite attempts by platforms to combat this, it’s very easy for small groups of people to hijack trends. This was seen recently in India where a few organizers for a right-wing political party managed to get hundreds of topics trending on Twitter at the same time by coordinating swells of posts carrying a particular message or keyword.

Businesses can also try to capitalize on a trending topic to get attention. For example, if an interesting one-time hashtag can be made to trend, it could help a movie or TV show attract viewers and secure distribution deals (e.g., Outlander’s trending status during Season Two premiere helped Sony and Starz secure a higher price for the distribution rights).

YouTube has come under fire after a video that falsely claimed that students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting were crisis actors made it to the Trending page. The company said it’s being “extra careful about the safety of videos featured in the Trending section.”

If you’re a business, it’s worth knowing how trends are determined. This way you can be sure that the content you produce isn’t being pushed into the spotlight by competitors. You can also use Google’s trend tool to compare up to five different search terms or competitors, which can be helpful for understanding how your audience is engaging with your brand in comparison to your competition. This can also be a good way to see what people are searching for online when you’re launching new products or services. This can give you ideas for keywords or content to focus on.