We all know that social media is important. But how are you using it? As each platform evolves, brands have to face certain challenges (hello Facebook algorithm…), but they also add features that can help brands make their content on social media even better. One of these features is trending topics. Considering two of the top social media platforms use trending topics (Facebook and Twitter), perhaps you should start using it to your advantage.

Trending topics show you what everyone is talking about on social media at that moment. It can be breaking news/stories, feel good stories, humour, etc. Where Twitter is concerned, because the dialogue changes so quickly on the platform the trending topics can change quickly. Trending topics basically give you insight into consumer behaviour on social media on a daily/hourly basis and the opportunity to engage in real time. If you’re not using them, you’re missing out on valuable information and opportunities.

Before you jump in to trending topics, here are a few things to consider to make sure you’re successful.

Don’t join in for the sake of joining in

The idea behind brands using trending topics on social media is to join in existing conversations to help you create dialogue and a higher level of engagement. Keep in mind that it still needs to be on-brand. Choose to join in on conversations that are relevant to your messaging and brand story.

To stay on-brand with your trending topic conversations, it’s best to listen to where the conversation is going first. Once you know the direction the topic will take, and it fits with your brand, then you can join in. That’s not to say you have to be salesy when you interact, but you want to make sure you don’t alienate your target audience.

Don’t force it

Remember that your social media strategy should be social, encouraging authentic interactions between your brand and your target audience. Don’t try to force the connection between your brand and the trending topic. If you have to force it, just wait for the next opportunity.

Similarly, make sure that when you do join in you are adding value to the conversation.

Don’t get into fights

Having an opinion as a brand is important. Trying to force your opinion on others is not a great idea. You want to avoid negative debates, rants, and arguments of any kind. It will likely blow up in your face and reflect negatively on your brand.

If you are planning on voicing your opinion, be prepared for people to disagree with you. Opinions are great, and you want your brand to take a stand when it comes to certain causes, but you need to consider all potential outcomes before taking that public.

Don’t fake it

You may have seen spam posts on Twitter that list off multiple hashtags that have nothing to do with the actual content they are posting. Don’t do that. Just because a hashtag is trending alongside a topic doesn’t mean you should use it at all costs just to “get noticed.” Use the trending hashtag in the right way.

Avoid controversial topics

Avoid trending topics that are controversial (unless that is who you are as a brand), tragic, or depressing. While you want to be authentic and not everyone is upbeat all the time, your customers don’t want their brands to depress them. And remember, you want to try to avoid arguments online.

Avoid #PRFail disasters

It shouldn’t need to be said, but it happens so often, so here we go: Don’t “use” tragedies for your brand gain – insensitivity will land you a PR fail. Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are not good foundations for an ad campaign.

Additionally, make sure you do a bit of research on the trending topic before you join in. Find out why the topic is trending, the story behind it, and who is involved. You want to make sure you are on topic and you won’t inadvertently offend a large group of people.

You should learn to embrace spontaneity with your social media strategy. While it is spontaneous, you still need to plan it out and monitor the follow up and dialogue. Aim for a mix of scheduled and “real time” content.

This article was originally published to the SongBird Marketing Communications Blog.

Read more: How to Use Trending Topics for Your Business: Twitter Success