Following the introduction of hashtags, verified accounts, and the ability to follow celebrities, Facebook is currently experimenting with another Twitter-like feature: trending topics. Located in the mobile newsfeed as a wide banner (see below, Sourced by AllThingsD), ‘trending topics’ reveal the most discussed topics taking place among all Facebook users.

trending topics Facebook

Users who select a topic will see posts all over Facebook covering that topic. MLB lightning rod Alex Rodriguez was a recent example

Currently tested on a small sample of users who use Facebook’s mobile site, ‘trending topics’ can be used as a channel to discover the latest, popular content around the world and to open the door for greater user participation in conversations. This move can also potentially be viewed as a step towards aggregating meaningful content and improving user engagement.

Given the level of testing, ‘trending topics’ is still relatively new and not much has been formally announced. However, we can hypothesize on the implications for advertisers as Facebook continues to push into “public” real-time conversations:

1. Opportunities for real-time content creation and distribution

Similar to how brands harness the power of trends on Twitter, imagine a scenario where advertisers create content based on trending topics. For example, it would be fascinating if the PGA Championship was a trending topic, and the airline carrier JetBlue created Facebook content that cleverly incorporated their brand with the sporting event in a timely, relevant fashion. And to distribute this content to relevant audiences, JetBlue subsequently promoted their content targeted at people who engaged with trending topics related to the PGA Championship. This type of content would be much more creative and engaging for users.

2. Engagement with users responding to trends

Engaging with individual Facebook users that post statuses related to the trends is another intriguing idea. For example, JetBlue can engage with someone who has a personal status saying how much they’re currently enjoying watching the PGA Championship. This type of direct outreach can potentially be an exciting new way for brands on Facebook to engage with their fans. Directly reaching out to engage with specific followers has been done on Twitter with varied success but hasn’t yet been done on Facebook. If this is possible, this will open the door for more one-to-one communication opportunities.

3. Need for real-time analytics to bolster campaign targeting

Trending topics may have a short lifespan – in order to create campaigns in response, advertisers will need to quickly find suitable audiences to target. Part of the challenge with this is scale and relevance.

To find more audiences to target, advertisers will need analytics tools that can find relevant targeting suggestions with the most similar addressable audiences (as mentioned in past posts). Additionally, these tools need to keep pace with the changing nature of people’s interests. At Optimal, we’ve recognized similarly on Twitter that user interest in trends change within a span of days, and as a result, we’ve been working to build our tools to analyze data in real-time. For example, our hashtag recommendation system captures trends within minutes after being spotted by Twitter and generates recommendations based on the most recent conversations that have occurred within the past 7 days.

targeting in real time

Real-time targeting recommendations for the television series The Bachelorette

If Facebook’s ‘trending topics’ eventually does require the same level of relevant and timely target recommendations, such real-time analytics will bolster the efficacy of campaigns.

With trending topics, users may stay on Facebook longer to read about current events and share their own thoughts. Given what we know now, it’s advisable that advertisers think about how this recent development affects their content strategy and brainstorm how to creatively engage with their fans in the future.

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Daniel Ho
is the Senior Director of Marketing for Optimal Inc. Prior to joining Optimal, Daniel worked for Initiative Media as a digital account director. Daniel holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University and a MBA from UCLA Anderson. In his spare time, he trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and makes beer.