Raahil Chopra
Dec 16, 2015

Double Standards: Does trending on Twitter matter?

Sabyasachi Mitter, MD, IBS, and Apurva Chamaria, head - global brand and digital marketing, discuss trending on Twitter. It’s not about whether it matters, but when.

Double Standards: Does trending on Twitter matter?
Does trending on Twitter matter? 
Apurva Chamaria (AC): There are two parts. Twitter has ‘Promoted Trends’ and ‘Organic Trends’. I would say that organic trending matters. It doesn’t matter in the sense, that it’s the only criteria that makes a campaign successful.
I would say promoted trends don’t matter a lot, because there’s no data to show user interaction with such kind of content. And organically, it still matters because it gives you data.
Sabyasachi Mitter (SM): The answer depends completely on how a brand ends up trending on Twitter. Today most media agencies vend ‘influencer marketing’ as a service which loosely translates to a volley of tweets on a hashtag that beats Twitter’s algorithm and makes a hashtag trend. This is really a brute force attack involving thousands of tweets. Such kind of trends have little impact on the success of the brand as most people can see through the scheme of things. Of course presently they make for a great powerpoint slide that many on the brand side are elated about. However, there are times when brands actually get the mix right. Either by coming up with a campaign that resonates with people or by enlisting the right influencers. In such cases the volume of tweets may not be high but the reach and impact are substantial.
Can any brand or hashtag now trend on Twitter by spending money? If yes, should trending be a parameter for evaluating a social media campaign’s success? 
AC: It’s a very good parameter, it tells you that you have moved the market and got people talking about your campaign. There are agencies that have used bots to get campaigns to trend. Those kinds of trends don’t matter. But, if CMOs and digital agencies are true to themselves, they can organically get them to trend using tools like influencer marketing, celebs, brand ambassadors.
Ultimately Twitter is a big-data place. It gives you data by city/by country and tells us where is the campaign generating word-of-mouth.
SM: Clearly yes. In most cases while a hashtag trends any experienced marketer can figure out if its organic or paid. Trending cannot be the only parameter for evaluating a campaign’s success but reach certainly is. A campaign on Twitter that maximises reach is a far better campaign that trended with little to no reach.
Do netizens take notice of brands and campaigns that are trending? 
AC: Facebook has globally about 1.3 billion followers. LinkedIn has around 330 million. Twitter is somewhere in the middle. It still has a lot of people who are just getting onto the platform. Even in India. For people who are getting onto the platform now, there is a large number of people who’d be interested in seeing these trends. It’s a bit like the Delhi Times – ten years ago people didn’t know that it was paid content and thought it was editorial. When you featured that time in the paper, it mattered. Now, that the market is mature, it doesn’t matter because people know every column is paid for. 
Similarly, on Twitter, now trending does matter, but in 10 years time, when it hits a certain base of users it will stop mattering because people know the only way to get trending is by paying. 
SM: People who are very active on Twitter do look at the trends, even news channels refer to trends to shape their stories. Genuine events that impact people create trends that receive widespread attention with significant reach. However as with advertising, it is difficult for a branded hashtag to really do well on Twitter unless it comes from users and in many parts pertaining to a brand problem or controversy.
What works better for brands - getting its own hashtag on top or joining in a conversation with an already existing top hashtag? 
AC: Joining onto a hashtag which is trending is called trendjacking. Trendjacking can be a very good strategy or be hugely risky. For example, Lenskart tried joining into the Nepal earthquake hashtag, and that showed what happens if it’s not done very elegantly. It needs to have a good shift between the brand and hashtag to avoid be seen as a cheesy brand or marketer. It has to be almost like native advertising, and be integrated into your brand’s proposition. Trendjacking should be done very carefully.
If you’re trying to promote your own trend or hashtag, a lot of people try pushing your brand into the hashtag. That should be avoided. I personally think that’s intrusive and scares off people as they know it’s an advertising campaign. When the brand name is missing it can lead to more conversations. 
SM: The two are completely different and non-exclusive strategies. All brands who claim to be socially devoted must listen in to trending topics of interest and participate if relevant. This is an always on strategy that has been made famous by the likes of Oreo. However branded hashtags are also relevant during a brand campaign. The purpose of the two approaches are very different and cannot be compared.
Do you think consumers can see the difference between a brand genuinely trending or one that has paid to get itself there? 
AC: What will happen is that some people may click on the hashtag, and then get to know. When bots help in getting a hashtag trending, they’re usually the same posts multiple times. So, then it’s very easy to find out. I think a lot of digital marketing agencies are doing this and unfortunately some clients who are under pressure to show that their campaigns are doing well, end up buying these products.
But, the market will mature in the next couple of years. Now, there’s a huge amount of awareness in campaigns that have used bots. I’ve seen this when I’m on the jury of some awards, and I end up looking at the campaign, I quickly make out what’s the reason for this.
SM: Most people on social media for any decent period of time can see through this quite easily.
If trending isn’t the ultimate target for brands, then what is a measure to see effectiveness of a brand campaign?
AC: We have various metrics. One is CPE (Cost Per Engagement). Twitter can be used for multiple things. It can be used to launch a brand, to drive leads and more. You can use Twitter Cards for lead generation. So, the metric depends on what the marketing objective you’re trying to achieve is. But for a mainstream brand that is already launched and doing well, engagement and number of impressions followed by the number of conversations and CPE are the important things.
SM: Clearly reach, brand recall and impact on key brand metrics like awareness and preference. In that sense digital and Twitter trends can be subjected to no different an evaluation as conventional media when it comes to a brand campaign.
(This article first appeared in the 11 December 2015 issue of Campaign India)
Campaign India

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