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Published April 13th 2011

Trend Species: jokers, mysteries and more

All kinds of topics trend and sweep across Twitter. Some are sustained and some are shortlived; some are serious and some are silly. Often it’s not apparent why exactly they are trending, but here we take a look at the various species you might see, what’s likely to have caused them and how their characteristics differ. We’re going to maintain a musical theme in doing so, due to the particularly high number of artists trending last week.

Each of the below appeared in the Trending Topics section of Twitter last week, but we have used cross-platform data in our numbers to show the full extent of the trend and how confined it was to Twitter activity:

The big rumour: This is a trending topic that people are genuinely excited about. There is a large and sustained increase in buzz which is found across other platforms – it’s likely to relate to a story reported in the news.

Trend biography: On Thursday 7th April, The Sun website ran a story declaring that The Stone Roses were reuniting. Moments later the NME picked up on the story, wrote their own article and began tweeting about it, setting off a huge buzz around Twitter and the rest of the web. The trend peaked at 11am with 756 mentions, but, as the NME continued to perpetuate the rumour with more articles and polls, it persisted throughout the day at around 150-200 mentions per hour:

The joker: This is a topic that largely trends because there is something funny or tongue in cheek about it. It may have some genuine interest or a particular story behind it, but the conversation is dominated by humorous asides, mostly confined to Twitter and of a short duration.

Trend biography: Also on Thursday 7th April, Right Said Fred appeared on Daybreak to publicise their forthcoming comeback tour. Over the course of the day there was a surge in Twitter conversation – the majority of which involved lyrics from ‘I’m Too Sexy’. For any of you thinking it harsh of us to call this trend ‘the joker’, observe the following: despite Right Said Fred appearing on Daybreak at around 7.30am, it was around midday that they saw the highest number of mentions. Comparing this to the hour-by-hour timing of the Stone Roses (above) and scanning through a sample of the mentions, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that RSF’s increase in buzz came from them absorbing some of the SR conversation as a comical accomplice to the main reunion story:

The memory: Birthdays or anniversaries of notable people’s deaths are a frequent area of chatter on Twitter – trends like this often appear across different platforms, but the breadth, size and duration generally depends on how famous the subject is.

Trend biography: Kurt Cobain died in 1994 and on 5th April it was 17 years to the day. As a huge musical and cult figure, mentions of Kurt Cobain still average 326 a day across all platforms, but on the anniversary of his death the number jumped to 8249. Although mentions dropped after the day had passed, the level of conversation remained significantly higher than the previous average over the next few days:

The competition: A common way brands and bodies try to market themselves on Twitter is through competitions involving either RTs or @ replies. If successful this can trigger enough activity to become a trending topic, but the trend is likely to stay entirely within Twitter and die out abruptly.

Trend biography: On Tuesday 5th April, @TwitCelebGossip launched a competition where they asked their followers what JB’s (a member of JLS) ‘real name’ was. Entrants were required to tweet their answer @TwitCelebGossip and soon ‘Jonathan Benjamin Gill’ started to trend. The extreme percentage increase in buzz owes to the fact that JB’s full name was previously almost never used prior to the competition and, as the graph shows, it dropped out immediately after the competition too:

The mystery: Sometimes, no matter how deep you dig, topics appear to trend for no single particular reason. Twitter are pretty secretive about the algorithm they use to rank trending topics, and as long as they continue to be so, the mystery trend will keep popping up.

Trend biography: The first jump in mentions of Mumford & Sons came on April 6th, but the trend peaked on 7th April before fading out over the course of the 8th. Analysing the mentions, various sub-stories pop up repeatedly such as people voting for them in the Time 100 Poll, the announcement of US tour dates and Taylor Swift covering one of the band’s songs. However, none of the stories in particular seem to dominate the conversation – the majority of mentions are from generic “I’m listening to…” or “I love…” statements. Checking through the top recurring phrases in the mentions further confirms that there are no stand-out stories and that the trend is, for the most part, a coincidental culmination of separate stories.

Of course, this is only a selection of the types of Twitter trend you might find. While we have focused on some of the more intriguing varieties, there are many other types; with those pertaining to current affairs, sporting events and celebrity gossip being amongst the most common.

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