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Social Media Hacks: Tips & Tools for Tracking Viral Trends

Tell me you need some intel on finding the next viral trend without actually *telling* me you need intel on finding the next viral trend. We’ll wait. From the tomato feta pasta recipe that literally wiped out Finland’s entire supply of feta cheese to the woman who single-handedly boosted old song downloads for country music’s top male stars through a few hilariously thirsty duets, trends on social media are diabolical in their power to move ideas across the internet. Trying to understand why certain content goes viral and others don’t is an entire blog series in itself, but tracking viral trends is definitely a topic we can help you master in a few easy steps. It all boils down to being hyper-vigilant (like checking a crush’s Snapchat Score–vigilant), extremely online, and always one step ahead of the curve. Here are a few expert tips and tools that’ll live in your head rent-free whenever you think about creating content around the next viral trend. 

Understanding Virality

Before we get into tips and tools, does anyone exactly know how trends go viral? If you think it’s a workstream in Asana with five of the coolest people in the world (Beyoncé, the ghost of whoever invented pizza, etc.) project managing all the content in the world and deciding which things are worthy of being a hit, we're sad to report it’s not that sexy.

As Christopher Tompkins, Go! Agency CEO, explains in Forbes

You can’t make a social media epidemic happen; it’s a unique blend of the right content dropping at the right time and getting noticed by the right people at the very start.

It’s a chaotic science of ever-changing algorithms at work behind all the best social media platforms from TikTok to LinkedIn. Algorithms contingent on the culture, current events, demographics, and general framework of a society or online community.

For instance, the content bound to trend daily in America will likely differ from the content that trends daily in Japan. Igniting a viral phenomenon requires creating something that includes a link to the universal human experience, like a shared mood or commonality. From there, you apply that rule to creating timely content tailored to your specific audience. Understanding your audience is an ingredient to creating viral content but it’s hardly the recipe. 

What that means is, creating viral content is less a proactive measure and usually content that happens in response to something happening in real-time like a current event, news story, or holiday. Think about all the viral reaction content that came to life after the U.S. election or Antoine Dodson’s Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife video which was actually his on-the-fly- response to a real crime. If you tried to strategize and “plan” viral content like you would a campaign, you’d likely miss the window of relevance. To create content that latches onto a current viral trend and rides the wave of popularity, speed is your ultimate ally.

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Tips for Tracking Viral Trends

Keep your fingers on the pulse aka your screen or keyboard. It’s okay to be extremely online. It’s a way of life for the modern marketer, and no one can shame you for wanting to be good at your job!

  • Bookmark all of your social feeds and add them to your bookmarks bar or create icons on your phone’s home screen for ease of reference. You can also add bookmarks to each platform’s trending or explore page.
  • Turn on post notifications and real-time alerts for top influencers, creators, celebrities, news outlets, and other figures in your specific industry or space. A few general examples include BuzzFeed, COMPLEX, Betches, Barstool Sports, Tabitha Brown, Chrissy Teigen and Madison Beer. 

Traditional news headlines are always one step behind. The best intel comes directly from the platform itself. Get your insights straight from the source.

  • We can’t count how many times we've seen an article from a major publication talking about a trend on social media that happened nearly two weeks ago – *cringe.* By the time a trend has reached a news outlet, it’s likely gone through several different hands (i.e. from the news desk to the reporter to the editor, to the editor’s editor, to the editor’s social media manager, and so on and so forth), and depending on how sensational the trend is, it may have already been through its 15-minutes of fame.
  • In the interest of time, rely on the real-time conversations, trending hashtags, and moments happening on your feed in the moment. This ensures the content you create is timely and relevant to the current conversation.

Tools for Tracking Viral Trends

Google Trends & Google Alerts
Google is always coming in clutch with free tools to help manage your business, and Trends & Alerts are key for any social marketer. Check Google Trends for a real-time pulse on trending Google searches all across the world. For Google Alerts, set up a keyword search to track articles featuring topics relevant to your industry and audience. For example, let's say you're a small artisan candle maker, you can set up a search to track "viral trends" when mentioned with "candles" or "scent" or "home goods" and receive email alerts throughout the day. 

Muck Rack Trends
While primarily used as a paid public relations software to connect with journalists, Muck Rack's Trends feature is completely free and accessible without an account. Here you can track key topics trending in the headlines like "back to school" or "summer vacation ideas."  

Know Your Meme
Don't sleep on Know Your Meme. While it may seem like a site your kid brother might frequent, it's arguably the best database for tracking new meme formats as they pop up across the internet. Plus, if you just need a good laugh, you can knock out two birds with one stone. 


Stay up to date with the latest internet memes with Memegine, a search engine for internet memes. It's constantly updating with the latest memes from subreddits averaging 10,000 new meme uploads a day. 

What's most powerful about the act of going viral is the fact that it can happen to anyone and anything. It doesn’t matter how big your platform is or if you’re a verified user, and TikTok in particular has been a testament to the random case of going viral in the 2020s.

Ultimately, it’s about creating unique, original content, staying vigilant, and seizing the moment when a new trend takes over the internet for its 60-seconds of fame. Who knows when your cereal oat milk latte recipe (except you can't take this one because we just thought of it) might become the next dalgona coffee and wipe out a small country's supply of oats, so good luck and happy creating!

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Asia Phua

Asia Phua is a contributing writer at PLANOLY. Combining her love for the three C's: culture, communication, and creativity, she thrives in helping brands tell their stories through content.

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