A Peek Behind Twitter’s Trending Algorithm

Looking to get your next Twitter campaign push on the coveted "trending topics" area of Twitter's home page? Your best bet is to plan—if possible—for a burst of intense conversation around a single topic rather than go for a longer, sustained conversational approach. Twitter's algorithms for determining trending topics favor what's trending at that moment, not what's been discussed over time. 

In fact, long-term popularity for a topic on Twitter may actually hurt its potential to become a trending topic. Occupy Oakland, for example, didn't make the trending list despite thousands of tweets under the #OccupyWallStreet moniker, Twitter's director of communications Matt Graves told NPR on Dec. 7. The reason, he said, is that the protests—and tweets—had been going on for weeks, which diluted their relevance compared to new, in-the-moment emerging trends happening on Twitter. 

"We look at trending topics as a reflection of what people are talking about more right now in this moment, than they were a minute ago, an hour ago or a day ago," Graves told NPR. Twitter's search algorithm, which sifts through over 250 million tweets per day, is what recognizes the sudden appearance of a topic in large volume. These topics might include a new album release, a TV show on air or a sudden celebrity death. 

The PR lesson? As David Meerman Scott has said, communicators should jump on hot topics in real time and create their own conversations about these topics in social media channels.

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