Saturday, September 04, 2010

Forced Trending Topics

Case Study: #MyChemicalRomance


So I tried to work out why this was trending. The reasons were most likely to be related to them releasing two new songs and one of the band members having a birthday recently.

But there's very little talk of these, specifically. Instead, what you see a lot of is people tweeting along the lines of "get #MyChemicalRomance trending", "#MyChemicalRomance is trending!", and so on.

I traced this type of tweet back as far as I could and found this posted by @MCR_FANS:

@DantyGeewayMCR has 53 followers, so realistically, she was unlikely to get it trending by just tweeting "lets get #MyChemicalRomance trending"

Instead @DantyGeewayMCR gave @MCR_FANS the idea through direct contact with them. And as you would expect, they supported the cause and tweeted the above.


With 2,483 followers, all of whom you'd expect to be My Chemical Romance fans, @MCR_FANS acts as a sort of central 'connector'* for the spread of the idea. And if you look through their tweets you see how and why they were such a mass propagator of this 'attack' - determined to get it trending to an obsessive and almost troubling degree.

And on top of that, while those two and a half thousand followers would possibly be enough on their own, it's likely that the followers have followers (who don't also follow @MCR_FANS), that are also MCR fans - so the idea basically spreads outwards from this connector until it reach a significant number of fans.

And then, as you would expect from fans, they did their very best to get #MyChemicalRomance trending around the world. And as further proof you should never under-estimate the determination of fans, they did it!

Incidentally, it's probably similar occurrences that got 'Justin Bieber', almost perpetually trending. Or at least, until Twitter tweaked the 'TT' algorithm to stop trends persisting beyond a certain period of time (to keep the TTs 'fresh'). This, unfortunately, led to the 'Bustin Jieber' approach, and other derivatives - but you've got to hand it to these kids, they're not completely daft. Sadly.

Twitter's Rules

Now, what's also interesting about that original tweet is the "Just ONCE IN A TWEET!" part. This is because Twitter has put in place certain methods for improving quality/filtering out crap in search results.

In the case of using the same tag multiple times in the same tweet, these kinds of tweets are treated as spam, so are filtered and not shown in search results or counted towards TTs.

More on this and other things that will get you filtered (or even suspended!) can be found here, here and here. TL;DR Twitter don't tolerate spamming, abusing TTs, or using TTs to beg for follows.

It's also further proof that these people know what they're doing, or need to do to get something trending.

Incidental Tweets

What all this demonstrates is that there may be no (real) reason for something to be trending, other than because people want it to be. The songs and the birthday were likely just the sparks that gave birth to the idea, but not the actual source.

So when something like this - or indeed, most things - start trending, you start to get unforced uses of the tag and general remarks about the topic - "OMG #MyChemicalRomance trending!! <3", "lol as if I used to be a #MyChemicalRomance listening emo kid" et al. Which adds to the popularity of the tag.

It also, sadly, leads to a lot of "why is [x] trending?" type tweets. And this only adds fuel to the fire and further obscures the origin of the trend - leading to more 'WTF', and so on and so forth until people lose interest and the trend starts to die away.

Top Tweets

Another thing to look out for are "Top Tweets". These are tweets with a significant number of RTs - therefore considered popular. I don't know what the lower limit is though.

In this case, one such top tweet was from @AmyLovesMCR. And what's interesting about this is that she got to being a top tweet, despite her relatively modest 280 followers. What was her Top Tweet?
A fairly uninformative tweet, and one that leads you to wonder why it got so many RTs. Or maybe I just don't understand that level of fandom. But like with the 'trend origin' tweet, it most likely comes down to a RT through a connector - possibly even @MCR_FANS again.

In fact, none of the top tweets are particularly informative as to why #MyChemicalRomance was trending. This isn't always the case, but more often than not, it is. And again, this sort of thing isn't exactly helpful and leads to more confusion and 'WTF tweets'. But that's not really Twitter's fault.

A Useless Graph

Finally, here's the graph of #MyChemicalRomance [courtesy of Trendistic]

Notice, though, that while September 2nd is the date of the 'origin' tweet, the trend doesn't seem to appear until the 4th.

And the fact that it's basically non-existent until after midnight on the 4th leads me to believe that that's just because the data the graph's based on only goes back that far, which would make the graph fairly useless. But I could be wrong.

Summary, and How To Force a Trend

So if all of this has taught me anything, it's that when aggressive fandom meets social media, the results can be potentially dangerous.

And more so, it's a troubling forewarning for what a determined, politically motivated group could achieve - an example of this is already happening on Digg. And frankly, I think we should all fear it greatly. But I'm probably just paranoid. Maybe.

So if you want to get something trending, the most important step is get it to a connector that will support your cause and expose it to a wider audience of supporters.

But when choosing your connector, don't aim too high - Stephen Fry has a massive reach, but is unlikely to help/RT unless it's a really good cause. And the bigger celebrities are unlikely to notice you anyway, since they get a lot of @replies. Ideally, you want to do like the MCR fans - aim for a relevant fan club with at least 1,000 followers.

You have to be very determined, as do all of the participants. So unless what you're trying to trend is something people are likely to get passionate about, your odds are poor. And while you're trying to force the trend, remember to play by Twitter's rules, or you'll be filtered or block.

And finally, there's no harm in being just a tiny bit inexplicable to generate a 'WTF noise' boost.


* inspired by "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell

No comments: