Chasing trends is not a marketing strategy I would recommend for most businesses. It can be disjointing and confusing for customers and a lot of unnecessary work for the company. However, it is still important to watch trending topics on social platforms like Twitter, and be ready to pounce on opportunities when they present themselves. 

One reason for this is a concept we behavioral economists know as the availability bias--one of the original foundations of the field coined by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky back in their 1974 paper "Judgment Under Uncertainty." 

Availability bias is triggered when we base the likelihood of something happening on how easily a concept comes to mind. When it is easier for us to think of, we believe it to be more likely than something we are less aware of. Common examples include: 

  • People are more likely to get flood insurance right after a flood (when they don't need it)
  • When you get a speeding ticket, you will likely drive better for a while, expecting another cop is likely (even if it is the only ticket you've gotten in 15 years) 
  • When asked, people said there were more violent crimes in Detroit than in the entire state of Michigan (which makes no sense), but this is because you are more likely to hear about crime in Detroit versus the rest of the state--it comes to mind easier

In the case of trending hashtags, availability bias works closely with social proof and our natural tendency to herd. Seeing other people doing something makes us want to be part of the in-crowd and do it too. And a topic "everyone" is talking about can inspire people to take action they wouldn't otherwise. 

Case in Point: Truth Over Flies

I promise, this post will not get into politics, but I do want to talk about "the fly" from the vice presidential debate. In case you didn't see the program live (or on social media in the days that followed), there was a fly that landed on Mike Pence's head and hung around for just over two minutes. Social media had a field day: Many social accounts and hashtags popped up as everyone wanted to take part in the conversation. 

The Biden-Harris campaign saw an opportunity and quickly posted a photo of Joe Biden holding a fly swatter with the caption "Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly." Shortly after that, the branded "Truth Over Flies" fly swatter was available for $10 as a donation to the Biden Victory Fund. 

How long would it have taken the Biden campaign to raise $350,000 from random citizens? In $5 to $10 increments, probably quite a while! Following the trends on Twitter and acting quickly allowed them to capitalize on availability bias and social proof to do a lot of great things for the brand: 

  1. Drive their brand and campaign points home 
  2. Show they are relevant and have a relatable sense of humor
  3. Get a lot of people (including celebrities and news outlets) to share their message and images of the swatter

You Can Dunk in the Dark

The Biden-Harris campaign isn't the first to take advantage of an opportunity like this. Remember the blackout at Super Bowl XLVII, when Oreo quickly created a tweet: "Power out? No problem: You can still dunk in the dark." It was retweeted 15,000 times, and Oreo was widely touted as having the best marketing campaign of the Super Bowl (from a tweet that cost them nothing). 

What Can Your Business Do?

When looking to capitalize on availability bias and social proof with those trending hashtags, keep these three things in mind: 

  1. Be quick and simple: Hashtags and their trends are notoriously fickle. If you aren't in the conversation and creating your item in the moment, people will quickly forget and not care. 
  2. Be brand aware: That being said, don't jump on every trend and hope it may land. Many brands have made snafus in that area by aligning themselves with a hashtag they thought meant one thing but was actually saying something completely different. Consider keeping a list of the topics/brand messages handy so you can say, "How might this align with our message?" If you don't have a clear answer, hold off on posting that tweet.
  3. Understand the spirit: If it is a lighthearted joke on social, match that message. If it is a more serious hashtag, you don't want to be silly and look out of touch. 

Happy tweeting!