When a topic, hashtag or keyword is trending on social media, it means that it has gained popularity among users at a given moment. Often, it’s the result of a news event, celebrity or political figure making headlines, or it could be an ongoing debate or discussion in real time. Users can see the trends by visiting the platform’s “Trending” area (Twitter, TikTok and Instagram).

Trending topics are influenced by several factors, including their relevance, timeliness, virality and controversy. For example, a new viral video will likely generate a surge in engagement and become a trending topic on YouTube, whereas a controversial political issue or public figure is more likely to be trending on Twitter. The algorithms that determine what appears on the trending page also take into account the geographical area of the user, as well as whether or not the user follows or shares content related to the topic in question.

Businesses often seek to capitalise on trending topics in order to increase awareness and gain new followers, but it can be a tricky task. Aside from the fact that you can break Twitter’s rules on trend abuse – which could lead to your account being suspended – posting irrelevant content can confuse viewers and damage your brand image. It’s important to only engage with a trending topic if it is relevant to your business and its audience, and if you’re not sure about the context of the conversation, do some research beforehand to make sure it fits in with your messaging and tone of voice.

In addition, it’s crucial to be aware that a topic can be made trending by artificial means, which can impact the integrity of trends in general. This can be done through hashtag manipulation, whereby a group of people will coordinate their activity in order to artificially create a trending topic, or more simply through using bots, which are software programs that act as automated agents and can tweet on behalf of individuals and brands.

It’s also worth remembering that the algorithm that determines trending topics favours spikes over gradual increases in volume, and that the trending page is populated with popular topics that have already garnered a great deal of attention. In many cases, a hashtag that has been a top trend in the past will remain in the list for a long period of time.

If you’re a creator, it’s understandable that you’d want to get your name on the trending page, as this is the sort of free publicity that dreams are made of. However, if you’re just engaging with trending topics as part of your job, it’s worth noting that there are some recurring trends (like #motivationmonday or #transformationtuesday) that will be predictable and easy to incorporate into your content calendar.