Timing, Tone, And Audience: 3 Pillars For Brands Leveraging Trends On Social

Viral fame through trend-hopping is a temptation for just about every brand, but it comes with risks. Here, Ewan Miles of social agency Wilderness outlines the pillars of trend strategy – and some home truths.

Hopping on a social media trend, whether a format or a conversation, is difficult for brands. It requires being in tune with the conversation, knowing how it fits in with your message, and proactively seeking new opportunities.

Brands that lack agility will suffer, appearing out of touch, or joining a conversation where they don’t belong. Here, I break down three important factors in leveraging trends for brands (timing, tone, and audience) to help you build a tight strategy for trend spotting. Many brands get it wrong, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it right.

1. Timing

Trending formats can fade from popularity quickly, posing a challenge for brands. Factors that affect a trend’s shelf-life include how easy it is to recreate; whether it drives sharing among fans; and how niche it is.

To capitalize on trends, spot them early. Ensure that everyone in your team shares trends when they see them, and motivate people to present an execution. Organize brainstorms to draw on ideas.

Be both proactive and reactive; designate a person to frequently search for trending formats. They should catch trends early and generate content ideas promptly to shorten the turnaround time.

If another brand jumps a trend early, it may reveal problems related to brands joining the trend. If not, move to reactively take advantage. Judge your level of caution and if you think you have a strong idea, go for it. Minimizing turnaround time remains crucial, which leads to a hard truth.

You might be too slow.

You must be agile. If assets need multiple approval stages, or complicated internal sign-off routes slow you down, it’s unlikely you can be effective. And regardless, you can’t just hop the first trend you see; time for research and understanding is essential.

You can still achieve quick wins in these cases. Allocate resources for proactive trend monitoring and keep up to date. Prioritize static assets; approving these quickly is typically easier than with video assets. Maintain a list of content constraints and pre-approved topics to draw from.

2. Tone

Trends seldom come ready for brand use, so when you spot a trend, consider three things:

How does it fit into your broader discussion?

Which platform is the trend hot on?

What is your role on that platform?

In other words, ask yourself, ‘how am I adding to the conversation?’

Be cautious of trying to mold trends to fit the tone of your message – stop and consider if you’ll have to bend a format too far from its original idea. Often, you should instead find a trending format or topic that is more aligned with your message.

Joining a trend just because you can generates dull content. Effective trend leveraging should direct the content back to your overall goal and add something new to the format. A brand transforming a trending format with its own spin avoids transparently jumping on the bandwagon.

This matters because brands entering social spaces and adapting user-generated content can face resistance.

Thus, our second hard truth: it might be too risky.

Most trends are user-generated formats and aren’t subject to tone and copyright guidelines. They can include extreme, insulting, or self-deprecating elements that brands usually avoid. Prepare to take a few creative risks to be effective.

You can adapt. If the format relies on showing the creator, transfer this to a brand ambassador, mascot, or fill-in character. Change strong or off-tone language so that it still conveys the idea but is less extreme (or adds an ironic twist on the format). Drop or substitute background tracks to avoid copyright concerns.

3. Audience

Social listening and community management tools allow you to investigate which creators have used trends you’ve spotted, who is engaging with the trend, and whether they overlap with your audience’s demographics.

The best sign is if your audience is already reposting the trend.

When you successfully leverage a trend, the audience that joins your following may expect you to continue posting trends. Having a trend strategy using the principles laid out here will allow you to consolidate that audience.

Some trends cover specific community or cultural issues. In these cases, assess your relevance to the conversation. Would those sharing the trend (and your audience) appreciate your participation? Gillette received backlash for leveraging the #MeToo conversation, alienating some of its customer base.

This points to a third hard truth: trends may not be useful to your campaign if your audience doesn’t engage with them, or they don’t align with your audience’s interests.

Trends can be used to expand your audience, but there can be pressure to follow up in content style and tone.

So listen to your audience.

Gather data insights on your audience’s demographics and conduct social listening on the trend. This helps you to understand whether your audience will engage with it.

Implement a trend-spotting strategy to continue leveraging further trends and consolidate your audience. Take caution when venturing into trends related to social issues or controversial topics.

Strategy, strategy, strategy

To leverage trends, you need a strategy.

Be realistic about how fast you can respond and be proactive in searching for new trends.

Add a new take on the trend to build on the conversation.

Continue with a strategy after posting a trend to consolidate the follower growth.

Don’t be first to join a trend if you’re unsure; others may expose problems for you.

Don’t jump on a trend just for the sake of it. Make sure it fits your message; if it doesn’t, consider why you’re attracting the audience that engages with the trend.

Don’t pick a trend that your target audience isn’t paying attention to.

Only join trends with serious or controversial subjects once you’re ready to join the conversation and know you have a place in it.

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