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3 Questions to See If You Should Tackle Trending Topics

Topical content has advantages, but it also can trip you up.

With content focused on trending topics, you can have an audience primed to find the subject matter valuable, which will more quickly lead to higher views and shares. But the trade-off is investing your time to create content that could more quickly become irrelevant.

How do you decide when to pursue trending topics or stick with evergreen content? Answer these three questions.

Question 1: How much time do you have?

The key to creating trending content is making sure the topic can lift your content enough in the short term to make creating it worth your time and resources.

You need enough time to 1) create the content 2) promote the content and 3) benefit from the sharing/viewership. All three things must happen while the topic is still trending.

At Fractl, we partnered with Exploding Topics, a tech-based internet trend research firm, to get a better sense of the life span of trending topics based on search data.

Exploding Topics labels fall into three categories – regular (solid growth month after month), exploding (accelerating demand), and peaked (little to no growth after spike in interest).

Trending topics average 10 months in exploding-to-peaked stage, according to @FractlAgency @ExplodingTopics via @CMIContent. #Research Share on X

For our purposes, we want to look at the orange section in the chart above – exploding to peaked, meaning the time when the topic had its highest popularity.

On average, topics remain in this highly trending phase for about 10 months. Not too shabby, right?

But many factors can affect why one topic is popular so we decided to look at trending timelines by industry niche.

(To clarify, we’re not talking about topics trending because of breaking news. This exploration specifically examines trending topics. For example, in the food category, some topics could be “keto” or “Uber Eats” or “instant pot.”)

As you can see, not all industries are equal when it comes to the longevity of their trending topics. Topics in industries like travel and finance have longer staying power, while topics in the sports and fitness industries cycle through trends more quickly.

If your industry niche has a longer timeline for topics in the exploding-to-peaked phase, your content investment risk likely is less than an industry with a shorter timeline. You will have more time for the content to gain traction and remain relevant.

Does that mean if your industry has a short timeline, you should forgo trending topics? Of course not. But it’s good to be cognizant of potential challenges.

TIP: Create a realistic schedule to know how long it will take to create and promote your content. (Refer to previous content development project timelines to help verify your estimates.) Does that schedule allow for enough time to actively see the trending content project through?

Create a realistic schedule to know how long it will take to create & promote your #content, says @millanda via @CMIContent. Share on X

Question 2: Do you have something new to contribute?

A trending topic already is popular, thus it’s also likely to be a topic saturated by content. Thus, the second question: What new, specific value can your content provide?

Let’s look at two options – one based on your audience and one based on your research capacity.

Existing audience

During the pandemic, interest in biking has surged as many people avoid public transit or are looking for an outdoor activity.

Bike Shop Girl took a longer view on the topic – looking to keep the interest going after COVID-19 is over. The resulting post garnered more than 1,800 engagements on Facebook, according to research from BuzzSumo.

Was it the only article on the topic? No. Major news outlets published similar pieces.

It was still successful because Bike Shop Girl spoke to her audience – avid bikers – and explained how they specifically could encourage people to take up and keep biking. This specific objective and audience worked to Bike Shop Girl’s advantage.

.@bikeshopgirlcom tackled trending #content (biking during COVID-19) for her audience w/ long-term view, says @millanda via @CMIContent. Share on X

If you have a dedicated audience, it is more likely to rely on your content for trending topics than on a general web search. You can personalize the trending topic to deliver content audience members want and/or need.

New insight development

Another way to ensure that you’re providing something novel to a trending conversation is to create news related to it. You conduct the research that will reveal the data to answer the questions asked by the community at large.

Take this example from Slack, a business communication app. It dove into the trending topic of telecommuting in the age of COVID-19. It surveyed over 2,800 telecommuters (new and veteran) to see how well they were adapting, the challenges they faced, and the benefits they gained.

By coming up with new information that contributes to a broader trending conversation, you’re much more likely to receive attention both from your audience and third-party sites, including the media.

TIP: To ensure that your trending topic content idea is unique, always research what other content is available about the trending topic overall as well as your planned niches. Tools like BuzzSumo can help identify similar stories. You also can do standard web searches to see what the results pages show about what’s being covered and what people are asking.

Question 3: Can you find an intersection of trending and evergreen?

If your answers to the first two questions are no or maybe, this question may lead to a viable solution. Developing content where the trending topic meets an evergreen topic is often the best scenario. The content can speak about a trending topic in a greater context that will make it applicable for many years. Achieving this, however, isn’t easy.

Developing #content where the trending topic meets an evergreen topic is the best scenario, says @millanda via @CMIContent. Share on X

Let’s go back to the topic of biking in the age of COVID-19.

On May 17, the Global Mountain Bike Network published this video and included this description:

Times have been very different for almost everybody in the world, and we’re sure times have been hard for a lot of people. Mental Health (sic) has been a talking point for the last few years, even more so at the moment, with much of the world in lockdown.

While they put in the pandemic context at the beginning of the video, the rest of it involves the general exploration of mountain biking’s impact on mental health. Even the title – Can Mountain Biking Help Your Mental Health? MTB is Our Therapy – doesn’t reference COVID-19. The Global Mountain Bike Network found that difficult but valuable intersection of a trending topic (COVID-19) and an evergreen one (mental health).

TIP: Ask these questions about a trending topic to see if there is an evergreen angle:

  • Why is this trending? What need is it addressing?
  • Are there similar topics trending, and if so, how do they fit together?
  • How has this topic evolved and where will it to go?
  • Is this topic the main idea, or is it a subset of a bigger, more important idea?

Think before you tackle trending topics

It is often worthwhile to tackle trending content. It helps your audience members realize that your brand is on top of their interests and may have a unique perspective to share. It also can help new and bigger audiences discover your content, too. But the key is to answer these three questions before you dive headfirst into developing content about trending topics. That critical exploration will help you identify whether creating content around that conversation will be helpful to your audience and your business.

All tools cited in the article come from the author. If you have a tool to suggest (including your company’s), please share in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute