Trendjacking Without the Cringe

Here are some cringey ideas for your next viral social media post: photoshop your brand’s responses to Adam Levine’s dubious DMs; make a meme out of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock; or make your team do some variation of that corn song on TikTok.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a cheap dopamine thrill from the hundreds (er, dozens?) of likes. But, I’d bet your audience is classy. Eyes will roll. Shame will be felt. Rather than dragging your team through the HR nightmare of writing flirty, fictional Instagram DMs to the Maroon 5 guy, play the long game in trendjacking instead. Your audience (and your marketers) deserve better.

How could participation in an inherently fleeting trend turn into lasting success?

Effective trendjacking isn’t glomming onto the same punchline everyone else is using. It’s “Yes, and-ing” the news. It’s understanding a given trend and how you fit in (or how you don’t fit in and then backing off). Or recognizing the unique role your brand, data, or experiences play in a given news story, and creating the next chapter of the discussion.

Here are some ways to think through trend or newsjacking, which can be summed up in this matrix:

Trendjacking matrix by SparkToro

Do the work no one else is willing to do.

This framework is about grit and raw talent. It works well because you don’t need a huge team or budget. You just need to be willing to put in the work and ideally, ship the product in a timely manner.

If everyone’s up in arms about AI taking our writing jobs… could you make a writing tool that weaves in capabilities from GPT-3? That’s what Nathan Baschez and the folks at independent publisher did when they built in just a few weeks. They got 25,000 signups to their wait list in 24 hours. (Full disclosure: Writer Nat Eliason and I, friends of Nathan, were the only two creators who tweeted our excitement about Lex. Lex quickly gained attention from the tech community outside of my audience.)

Of course, you don’t need to code an app in order to trendjack. Tap into questions worth answering — questions everyone in your niche is wondering about that have gone unaddressed.

That’s exactly what social media director Adrienne Sheares did when she went viral for posting about her focus group with Gen Zers.

@AdriSheares’ tweet on Gen Z using TikTok for search

“About 40% of Gen Zers use TikTok for search?” She wondered about the truth of this statement… along with the rest of us. Then, she went the extra step to seek out answers. Adrienne did the research: asking a group of Gen Zers to show her their process first-hand. When she shared those (fascinating) findings on LinkedIn and Twitter, the curious-but-uncertain audiences reacted with massive engagement.

The incredible outcome wasn’t just the social media metrics — although growing her Twitter follower count to nearly 10,000 followers overnight wasn’t too shabby. That singular event transformed her consultancy, brought in new business, and even earned Adrienne quotes in ABC News and PRWeek, and the New York Times reached out to interview her.

On a related note, for the first time ever, Adrienne is sharing the full story of this research and its results at our SparkTogether virtual summit on November 10. Be sure to lock in your ticket to learn from her and other marketing leaders like April Dunford, Ross Simmonds, Asia Orangio, Wil Reynolds, and more.

Learn more about Adrienne from Rand’s video:

Do the work no one else is able to do.

You probably remember when Twitter said it had less than 5% of fake or spam accounts… and how Elon Musk questioned this veracity shortly after he offered to buy Twitter. We at SparkToro suspected that number to be much higher. So we teamed up with our friend Marc Mims at FollowerWonk to run a joint analysis of over 40,000 Twitter accounts and provide our own estimate: 19.42% of Twitter accounts are fake or spam.

Within four days, we published our Twitter analysis, along with our methodology and acknowledgment of gaps in our research.

The results? Over 500 unique press mentions, including from Associated Press, Newsweek, Business Insider and Entrepreneur, just to name a few. We also got a nice bump in traffic — 23,000 unique pageviews on the day we published.

SparkToro’s Google Analytics screenshot from May 2022.

And we went from not ranking at all in Google for “audience research tool” and “audience research software” to ranking #2 or #3 within that week.

Why did this work? A shallow reason is that jumping onto an Elon Musk tweet would lead to virality. But the real, more meaningful reason is that we were quick to parse through data to answer the question everyone was wondering about. With our free Twitter Fake Followers Audit, we already had the foundation to run this data analysis. We amped it up by updating our infrastructure and running a large data set through it.

Elon was the hook. Our original research that, for whatever reason, nobody else replicated? Line and sinker. (By the way, Rand has more to say on the whole “hook, line, sinker” thing.)

The thing with our report, as well as Adrienne’s focus group and’s writing app is that while these resulted in the quick, superficial wins of social shares and impressions, they also resulted in profound success. We got huge digital PR and SEO outcomes. Adrienne grew her pipeline of leads and her follower count. saw incredible word of mouth and scored one of the biggest weeks for new paid subscribers in their two-year history.

It’s worth noting that in calling these “profound” successes, I’m using “profound” to describe needle-moving results driven by one product or campaign.

We all moved quickly, yes, but it was within a span of days or weeks — not seconds and minutes. We worked and published in a timely manner without sacrificing quality.

Punch up to dunk on a bad opinion.

This is especially effective when it’s clear that most people agree on said bad opinion. But it requires much faster publishing than the previous examples.

This past summer, when leading Canadian news anchor Lisa LaFlamme was fired in part for her decision to let her hair gray naturally, known brands stepped up on her behalf. Dove clapped back with a #KeepTheGrey campaign that kicked off with a donation of $100,000 to Catalyst, a Canadian organization focused on inclusive workplaces for women.

Dove Canada’s Going Grey tweet

Wendy’s — a brand that’s famously no stranger to punching up! — followed suit with a logo change featuring Wendy’s iconic braids in gray instead of red.

Wendy’s gray hair tweet.

It’s easy to get your audience on board when you call out a bad take. But you truly win them over with generosity or cleverness. Done repeatedly over time, it’s what leads to long-term success.

Create a pithy campaign that’s highly relevant to culture.

Classic trendjacking. Almost too broad to include. But to ensure broader appeal, the key is to either avoid any political undertone — or toe the political territory strategically.

Oreo’s “dunk in the dark” campaign in 2013 might very well go down in history as the greatest trendjacking stunt of all time. It was the first time (at least, to my knowledge) that we saw a major brand comment on culture in a pithy way, blazingly fast.

Oreo’s “dunking in the dark” tweet”

Super Bowl XLVII was halted for 34 minutes because of a power outage, leaving millions of people in the dark (literally and figuratively, as no one knew what caused the blackout). Within minutes, Oreo created and published their viral tweet.

So how did they do it? The creative agency has said they couldn’t have done the campaign had they not had such a trusting relationship with Oreo, one in which Oreo had become comfortable commenting on culture over the course of two years. The team was on deck, in a partially-remote war room, so they were ready to spin up the creative. Then it was just a matter of making sure that Super Bowl attendees were safe before letting ‘er rip (lest they risk making light of a dangerous situation).

For brands willing to wade into politics, no one did this better than the Calm meditation app during the 2020 U.S. election when they sponsored CNN’s coverage… with a logo placement. Just a logo placement. Any further copy or content would have been heavy-handed and Calm was wisely aware of that.

Calm’s logo placement on CNN

In these examples of punching up and cleverly staying culturally relevant, speed was most crucial to success. If Dove and Wendy’s commented on Lisa LaFlamme’s firing weeks later, their campaigns would’ve fallen flat. And seeing the Calm logo during, not after the stressful election night was pitch perfect. A result of each of these campaigns was a quick win. And a bunch of quick wins scored over time results in profound success.

Align the tactics with your unique value proposition.

When you reverse engineer success of all these examples, it’s obvious. is an independent publisher, so it makes sense that they would create a writing tool. Adrienne is a PR-pro-turned-social-media-marketer, so she would know how to run a focus group and present the findings in a sticky way. We make audience research software and our team moves fast with data, so of course we published the Twitter fake account analysis. (Could someone else have created this report? Sure. But did they? Nope.)

Lovably snarky Wendy’s would know how to dunk for good, and inclusive Dove would turn graying hair into a movement. Oreo already had the war room strategy that enabled them to move fast, and all Calm had to do was… uh… exist in the spotlight during unprecedented stressful times.

Key to success in all these campaigns is the perfect alignment of trends or news with each brand’s unique set of capabilities.

Here’s where I think they all fall on our trendjacking matrix:

Where all the examples in this blog post fall on the trendjacking matrix

The next time you rack your brain for trendjacking ideas, ask yourself at least two out of the five questions:

  1. What’s the question everyone is asking but no one else is answering?
  2. How can I answer that question?
  3. How can I comment on culture (or call out a bad behavior) in a way that advances the conversation?
  4. Does my core value proposition directly align with this trend?
  5. Can I be the fastest mover on this trend?

In doing so, you’ll start with a “Yes, and…” mindset. And hopefully, you’ll go a level deeper than the cheap thrills, and find meaningful success.

Learn more. Watch stories of the smartest marketers who are using non-gimmicky strategies to create profound success for themselves and their clients. Register for SparkTogether on November 10.

Special thanks to friends Brendan Hufford and Jay Acunzo for workshopping the trendjacking matrix with me.