Trend Hijacking: 5 Important Rules to Piggybacking on Trends

Put the smartphone down, put it down- hands where I can see them! Good, now step away nice and slowly. Keep those hands up! Good.

Sorry about that but there’s two types of trend hijacking. The first is the good kind, you’ve exploited a viral trend and seamlessly incorporated your brand as part of it, which is now building your brand’s awareness and driving traffic. That’s great. The other is where you’ve said something or posted something you’ve really shouldn’t have, creating an incredibly awkward situation for everybody involved and maybe killed the trend off.

Here’s a good example.

Last year, #WhyIStayed began trending on Twitter after the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal and acted as a way to begin an important global conversation about domestic violence. It allowed previous victims to share their past and support others. It was a great trend as was the beginning of a dialogue that was overdue.  

Then a popular American pizza company threw their hat in the ring with this tweet.

#WhyIStayed You had Pizza. – @DiGornoPizza

Yeah, it’s bad.

Since then Digiorno’s Social Media Manager quickly apologised for this tweet, saying he hadn’t done any research to the background of that trend before posting it. This is surprising as Digiorno’s is known as one of the funniest brands on Twitter.

This soon became a story, putting the pizza company in the public eye and became part of a feature on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, in which the comedian and host pointed out other brands that have made similar mistakes. This includes a crisps company commenting on Martin Luther King’s legacy and a tin of spaghetti hoops hijacking the American flag. These are very cringy and they’re not even the worse.

This is not the first time a brand has been careless with their social media and it certainly won’t be the last.

That’s why in this blog post, we give you 5 Golden Rules when Trend Hijacking, keeping your brands out of the news for the wrong reasons.


Why are you doing this? What result means a success for your brand?

The metaphor I enjoy using to describe any form of social media is like having a conversation across a crowded room with megaphones. This is the case whenever you engage through social media and with trend hijacking, as there is a certain amount of risk the message or comment you publish might be misinterpreted or receive negative engagement from your audience.

So, if you’re going to take these risk, what do you expect to gain? What result constitutes as a win? What is the purpose behind it?

Are you trying to;

  • Promote a new product or service, which you can link to this trend?
  • Are you trying to promote a sale or an offer?
  • Is this trend is about something your audience/customers care about?

These are valid reasons to engage in trend hijacking but if you’re doing it just to ‘raise brand awareness’, it’s not a valid reason. It is like jumping a shark tank with a motorcycle, just so people will like you more. At least try and sell some motorcycles out of it.


Needless to say, do your research first.

Just like when you’re about to conduct any sort of campaign, you need to treat trend hijacking with the same level of research and analysis. Before you hijack or be part of any trend, you need to ask:

  • What is the meaning or background behind this trend?
  • When did this trend start?
  • Is it possible to measure how many people are engaging in this?
  • How can your brand be a part of this?

This last question is very important. Whether it’s something like the Ice Bucket Challenge and you get your staff to participate in a mass challenge or can you contribute to the story it’s creating, you need to ask yourself, how can your brand be a part of the trend without looking like a brand?

Supporting Content

Okay, you’ve published a pithy Tweet or wrote a witty Facebook comment, now what?

Just like in Content Marketing, you need to look at how much further can you take this and how you can support it. Can you:

  • Produce a funny graphic?
  • Create a Youtube video?
  • Write a blog post, expanding on what you started?

Sometimes this isn’t needed but on other occasions there’s an opportunity to go further and build on that momentum. This is all depends on the trend, the brand and the brand’s persona on social media.

May 4th or National Star Wars Day is a good example with a number of brands taking advantage of the iconic movie series and incorporating themselves as part of the festivities. Some brands joined in this year’s celebrations and they were great, producing great content that incorporated the movie franchise and everyone loved it. Some brands joined in and received a different reaction.

Either way, it garnered attention to the brand and it was much better than just tweeting “May the 4th be with you! #starwars”.

Embarrassing Dad Syndrome

This is when someone makes a dad joke, a very bad punny joke, which is embarrassing for everyone involved. You can physically hear a room full of people cringe and their teeth grind.

Embarrassing Dad Syndrome is exactly what every child fears and what brands need to avoid unless it’s part of your social media persona. Even then, I wouldn’t recommend it!


Going back to John Oliver and the feature about brands on social media, he raised a very valid and important point to consider. That no one is going to be mad or angry that you don’t take part. Keeping your mouth shut and logging out of your Twitter, is not a bad policy for some trends.

It is not uncommon to find brands engaging, awfully, in trends that either: a) do not contribute to the discussion or b) simply and shamelessly shoehorn their brand. This is because their social media manager or executive feels pressured to take part, that if their brand does not take part, people will be angry. They see a trending hashtag and think, I need to get involved.

You don’t.  

What’s worse, some brands put thoughtful messages about a serious and unrelated situation, sharing their support but also incorporating their own hashtags and promotions. I should not have to explain how inappropriate and tasteless this is but it still happens. 

If you cannot physically write down a few relevant points, answering why it is relevant and important that your brand engages with this hashtag or trend, other than to generate attention, don’t engage.

This is good to remember if you’re unsure about whether participating in a craze or trend on social media is a good move. Silence is fine, no one is going to think otherwise if you don’t join in.

Other Things to Consider

  • It is not too difficult to spot or plan for some trends if they’re seasonal or revolve around a date. This gives you time to plan content.
  • ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’ is an old military saying and applies to this situation. You can plan or predict how your engagement with a trend or craze will go down but don’t put all your eggs into that basket and be prepared to change your plan.
  • You don’t own this, you are merely a part of a large conversation. So don’t expect or try to control it.

That was Ricemedia’s 5 Golden Rules for Trend Hijacking, looking at how to and not to engage in a viral craze. If you’re interested in how else Ricemedia can help your brand grow through social media marketing, get in touch. Also, if you’re looking for advice on your SEO or PPC strategy contact us today!

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