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Published June 6th 2024

The Trendbait Phenomenon: How to Use Slang as a Brand

Here's how you can use slang to connect with your audience and boost your brand’s online presence.

Let's dive into internet slang.

The beauty of internet slang is that it constantly changes to suit the needs of the user. And the pace of internet jargon has sped up substantially since the advent of TikTok, where videos can go global in minutes.

New slang terms are constantly being created, used, and shared among online communities. And brands can use these terms to show they’re in on the joke – if they know what they’re doing. 

Let’s do a deep dive into the fast-paced nature of these slang terms and discover how you can use them to connect with your target audience on a new level. 

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The rise of trendbait

TikTok is a hub for new language. The ability for a video to go viral fast is a driving force for the high quantity of terms which are being invented and shared online.

Some TikTokers are aware that if a term they’ve coined goes viral, their video and profile will likely do the same. Others simply want to put a name to a feeling or experience they’ve had, to see if others have ever felt the same way. This combination has led to hundreds of new slang terms being generated and shared on TikTok, like “girl hobby,” “quiet quitting,” or “almond mom.” 

The number of people using these terms tends to skyrocket after a post coining the phrase goes viral, and then volume lessens over time as the term settles into our internet (and real-life) lexicon. 

Here’s an example. Let’s look at the term “quiet quitting,” which is used to describe doing the minimum amount required at one’s job. The slang term skyrocketed to fame in mid 2022. 

After a brief rise to stardom, the term settled into its new baseline as it permeated the internet’s vocabulary. It's now averaging 10,000 uses every single month and is understood by most corners of the internet.

Vox (ironically) coined a word to describe the prevalence of this slang: trendbait. Trendbait describes the influx of slang for slang’s sake, where people create slang terms or new phrases in the hopes of going viral.

So, what’s the purpose of trendbait? And why do brands need to pay attention? 

Why you should be listening

Trendbait leans into internet FOMO – the fear of missing out. It helps generate language which bonds niche communities on the internet. And, where relevant, brands can lean into this language to connect with their target audience. 

Vox describes this phenomenon as “a collective search for identity by labeling and pigeonholing every possible part of the human experience.” While some things don’t necessarily need to be explained with a term, like “dinner and couch friend”, people engage with these niche feelings which help them feel like part of a community.

Here’s another example. Last year, the phrase “girl dinner” took off after a video coining the term went viral. According to Dictionary.com – yes, it’s now officially recognized – “girl dinner” describes a meal typically consisting of snacks, side dishes, and small portions of (often randomly assembled) foods.

Girls in Gen Z related to the term heavily, and it took off. They were happy that their lack of effort in their dinnertime meals was an experience shared by many others. In response they made videos sharing their favorite girl dinners, and someone even created a catchy song. Now, the phrase is attached to over 250 million videos on TikTok.

Fast food chain Popeyes saw the popularity of girl dinners, and made their own menu paying homage to the trend. People loved it.

Popeyes released the campaign in July last year, which was when the term was peaking, according to Brandwatch data.

Catching these trending terms at their peak – which is exactly what Popeyes did – is vital for brands wanting to connect with their communities. Leaning into the FOMO aspect can help your audience associate you as being part of the in-crowd.

The girl dinner trend has since lost its popularity online – as most trends do – but it's legacy lives on in in-person interactions.

So, how can your brand replicate Popeyes’ success? And how can you stay ahead of rising terms to engage with them at their peak?

How to use trendbait to your advantage

There are a few tactics you can use to tap into these trending terms and use them to your advantage. You can start by using social listening platforms to identify which terms are seeing a spike in volume. 

For example, we took some terms we’ve seen used on TikTok lately and plugged them into Brandwatch Consumer Research. By tracking these terms, we can see which are on the rise – and therefore which are worth paying attention to.

For example, here are some slang terms which are on the rise right now.  

As you can see from the chart, “you ate” – which is used to show admiration or praise for someone who has done a great job at something – has seen exceptional growth over the last few months. Now being used almost 800k times every month, the term has settled into the internet’s everyday vocabulary nicely.

“Era,” used to label a person's current interests or priorities, and “iykyk,” an abbreviation of “if you know you know,” have both been on the rise consistently over the past two years and are currently at a peak. So, brands using these terms will be in good company.

“Delulu” is also a term to watch. Short for “delusional,” the term’s risen to popularity after spreading throughout the K-Pop community. Since then, it’s grown into an internet-favorite term to describe someone who is acting delusional (which can also be a good thing).

By being aware of the peak that these terms are currently experiencing, you can better connect with your target demographic. Using them to reply to comments, engage in communities, or in your own marketing efforts can help your audience know you’re in-the-know.

Additionally, understanding these terms can come in handy when looking through mentions of your own brand. Having knowledge about the ins-and-outs of internet lexicon can help you decipher whether people are saying positive or negative things about your brand. 

However, make sure to only use this language if your audience is also using these terms. It can take a while for some terms to seep into every demographic, and sometimes they don’t seep through at all. So, it’s important to examine conversations happening among your target audience to see if they’re familiar with this language. Brandwatch Social Panels can help with this.

Why it’s important to pay attention

Understanding internet slang may seem like a trivial task, but it’s an important one. Language is continually changing, however grasping both short-lived and longstanding trending slang is vital for any brand to communicate effectively with their audience.

Understanding when to – and more importantly, when not to – use slang can make or break your online presence, so follow trends closely to stay informed.

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