Last week during the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump’s campaign paid a reported high six figure sum to promote its hashtags to a national audience.
And there’s some question as to whether this was an effective use of the campaign’s resources:
Trump paid six figures for a hashtag that clicks through to this. pic.twitter.com/n0cG6Dwk5w
— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) July 21, 2016
But what if your campaign or organization doesn’t have that kind of money to pay for a promoted trend? Here’s how you can get your hashtags trending regionally and nationally on Twitter. Spoiler alert: it takes time and hard work.
Build a Community
This is the most time consuming part. Notice that I said community and not network. Building a large following on Twitter isn’t that difficult, but building a true community takes time and commitment:
- You need to find your community: the supporters who are your advocates on Twitter. They’re sharing your content on Twitter, they’re replying to your Tweets, and they’re probably even creating their own graphics and content.
- Get to know them — personally. Reach out to them. Ask them for their email and find out more about them.
- Connect your community by introducing your online supporters to each other.
- Encourage supporters from other channels to join the conversation on Twitter. If you’ve got a super fan who is active on Facebook or email, get them to sign up on Twitter and meet others in your community.
- Encourage your community by highlighting their work to your broader following.
- Empower and trust them to help you.
If you’re interested in learning more about building and empowering strong communities — online and offline — read The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (thanks to Wesley Donehue for introducing me to this book and its principles).
Trending topics is a little bit of a mystery that involves an algorithm and some human judgment, but the basic formula, as described by Twitter is:
Volume x Velocity = Trend worthiness
In order for a hashtag to trend, it has to be trend worthy. It has to be an idea that is clever and demands to be shared and built upon. A successful hashtag is like a good improv sketch: it grows by saying “yes and…” On Twitter this usually means humor, sarcasm, or irony. You can’t force humor. For campaigns and advocacy organizations humor can be tough because it seems “off message,” but the truth is you lost control of your message a long time ago. So take a risk and be funny.
Getting it Started
To get your hashtag trending, you need to seed it first with influencers. It could be a celebrity, but it could also be one of your well-connected community members. It’s very important that the trend start within your community and not from the top down. Help them own it. You can provide them with ideas or concepts, but remember, this is an exercise in letting go and saying “yes and…”
Because the community created and owns your hashtag, they’ll share it amongst themselves. This is the velocity component of getting your trend started.
Help it Trend
Once the hashtag has taken hold within the community, promote it from your official accounts and join in on the fun. This will raise it to the attention of journalists and other influencers. This is your volume.
Cross Your Fingers
Now, you’ve done all you can and with a little bit of luck, your hashtag will start trending. Just make sure you give your community the credit it deserves when it does.