How do you decide when to hop in on something trending?

Last night, the Twittersphere was abuzz with news of the Oscars slap heard 'round the world…and the memes began even before the stinging of Chris Rock’s face had subsided.

Beyond the (mostly identical) piping hot personal takes, my own feed was also filled with fellow social media professionals urging each other NOT to attempt to capitalize on this very complicated and fraught moment with dumb memes or faux-witty copy somehow tying the incident to their product or service.

While most brands hopefully know to leave this one alone, it does raise the question:
How do you decide when to hop in on something “trending” as your brand?

Does controversy play a part?
Relevance to your brand or audience?
Potential backlash?
Societal concepts of “good taste”?

Also: any war stories of having to stand up to higher-ups who have urged you to hop on a trend you knew wasn’t a good idea for your brand’s social media?

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My brand shies away from controversial topics, and I wasn’t about to convince leadership to delve into this specific topic of assault/comedy at the expense of others. I think it’s important for brands to realize that if you have to reach for it we will know. What’s the cost and benefit you get from posting?

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There definitely needs to be more thought put into it. If your goal is to simply create engagement, yeah, I guess you’ll hop in on just about everything, whether the response is good or bad, but…that doesn’t seem like a wise strategy. All engagement isn’t good engagement! If most people in the comments are really hating/criticizing what you posted, it makes the brand look bad. People will remember and might bring it up later.

Unless your brand is known for getting involved in those controversial topics and has more of a sassy/“we do what we want” type of vibe, it most likely won’t come off well. Even then, there’s a fine line that you don’t want to cross and end up coming across as insensitive.

Besides, when every brand is posting the same meme just with different copy, it looks like you’re trying too hard to be relevant, hoping to go viral.

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Exactly; and not all “reach” is good reach!

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Very true. Not every brand can—or should—try to pull off “edgy” as a brand strategy.

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Honestly, think that trend marketing as a ‘trend’ needs to die. There have been many foot-in-the-mouth situations for brands because they got on a trending hashtag without putting much thought into what they were saying and it is a mess that the internet always remembers. I have been lucky that I have always worked with people who have understood this and refrained from doing something just because others were doing it.

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There are many things about the algorithms that are helpful, but one thing about it that is actively UN-helpful is the rewarding of conflict. There are algorithmic incentives to wading in. There are still costs to that, however, especially to brand reputation.

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Research is fundamental. A quick search on social media platforms will give you a feeling of where the wind is going on public opinion.
Facebook is a good barometer of public opinion, but you might find that opinions change on different platforms, and content might have to be adapted to fit the different views.

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@dewieirigjones - Like this perspective of using Facebook as a barometer. Marketers are turning their nose up to Facebook but I do still believe it’s the best representation of the breadth and depth of public opinion.

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The unfiltered public opinion on Facebook does have it’s benefits

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In general, my org asks, “How is this relevant to our mission and work?” In the Oscars slap-heard-round-the world, there was no immediate benefit to the org speaking out about it.

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Trend jacking is a strategy but it can go either way for a brand - a positive lift in engagement or a negative backlash - especially with a potentially or already controversial topic.

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