Trending on Twitter was a difficult undertaking just a few years ago. If you were a major celebrity who a lot of people liked, you would have a shot. If you were famous and said something really stupid, you had a fighting chance. If you were at any point a well known name and you suddenly croaked, you have an 80% probability of trending high on the social networking site.
With this in mind, it is no shock that businesses and especially freelancers have found it an almost insurmountable task that for many have been unwilling to even contemplate. Why set out to become a trending topic if there is such a tiny chance that they will manage to succeed? Especially now that the site is growing and there is more competition.
There is also a further problem now. A short while ago, Twitter began to tweak and change their algorithm that monitors trends. It is no longer enough to be a popular name, because it doesn’t register topics that are consistently being mentioned. Instead, it gives preference to sudden surges in specific events, because they are considered novelty posts. For example, Amy Winehouse’s sudden death became a huge Twitter trend as all at once people began tweeting links, condolences and speculations about the cause.
You might be wondering how there could be an upside to all of this. If it is so impossible to become a trend on Twitter, why go for it at all as a freelancer? That, my friend, is where things get interesting. Because finding public data and exploiting hashtags can really help you to brand yourself through trending topics on Twitter.
The Mighty Hashtag
Have you ever been on someone’s Twitter profile and seen them say something at the end of their tweet like #tiredofwaiting or #lovingtherain? This is a hashtag–a collection of keywords without a space following a # sign, which sums up the subject or relation of a tweet. You can find these on other sites as they spread, or because of social network syncing that lets people post one thing on Twitter and then have it show up on Facebook, etc. But on Twitter, they have a very specific purpose.
While not all posts will have a hashtag to sum up the tweet, many of them will. More importantly, many users will apply them to categorize their tweets and show what it is they are currently following. For example, #HarryPotterandtheDeathlyHallows. It is like putting up a flashing sign that says “This is what I want to talk about!”
This is ultimately where you can see a benefit. Not by making yourself trend, but by getting a hashtag too. This process is much simpler than making yourself a trend.
Ways of Trending a Hashtag
The popularity of memes is impossible to ignore. I am so sure you will know what a meme is, in fact, that I am not going to bother explaining it here. On Twitter, around half of the tweets posted seem to be a meme in some form, usually providing a challenge or questions/answer format. In this case, it is the hashtag following the status that provides the question, while the tweet itself is the answer.
If you want to get a hashtag to act like a meme and trend heavily on Twitter (or trend at all), it should do one or more of the following:
- Be funny. This is important, as people are much more likely to comment, repost or continually bring up something that makes them laugh.
- Tell a story. Storytelling has always been a major part of the social networking experience. Telling a personal story will ensure interest and retweets.
- Be opinionated. Whether you gather agreement or incite a post riot, remember what they say about opinions with this less rude version of a common phrase: they are like faces…everyone has one.
- Make a recommendation. Positive or negative, recommending something will get a huge response. It doesn’t even matter if it is something they are sure to like or hate. Either will have the desired result, and usually on the same level.
Ride the Coattails of a Big Event
I went to the midnight release of the final Harry Potter book, in full costume, at the largest bookstore in my area. While this makes me is an enormous geek who should probably be locked away for my own safety, it also makes me smart. How so? People were waiting in line for hours in anticipation of one of the more anticipated book releases in history.
That entire night I sat with my smartphone, tweeting humorous insights, details and stories from my time waiting in line. It was the largest response I have ever gotten, and it gained me more followers than I could have imagined.
Every year there are dozens of events like this that end up with people sitting in line, waiting for tickets, a book, access to a film, a new CD or a hot new gadget. Remember the latest release of the iPhone 4? That couldn’t have been more of a Twitter trend if Steve Jobs himself had spontaneously combusted while riding a unicorn down a rainbow to the Apple headquarters.
People waiting in line at a huge event is one of the most unappreciated and under-utilized marketing forces around. The best part is that others are usually happy and willing to talk to you, because they have nothing better to do. They are also pumped full of excitement and just bursting with enthusiasm. You can take advantage of this for your marketing without any trouble.
They also probably all have cell phones or devices with them capable of connecting to Twitter; such is the wonder of our modern world. So next time you have an event like this in your area, put on a sandwich board or make a sign with your hashtag. Print out fliers. Walk up and down the line and get people to use that hashtag on Twitter. Watch how fast it trends.
Above All: Get Involved
There are other ways of trending a hashtag, such as purchasing one that is already gaining speed. But as a freelancer, you are probably used to getting right in there and making things happen. That is part of being your own boss, after all.
These are the easiest and most hands-on ways of creating a hashtag frenzy and branding yourself as a freelancer. Do you have any other ideas? Share them with us in the comments below.
Image by Steve Snodgrass