TOP Talk

How to Spot a Trend: Listening for the Shift

Posted May 27, 2021 By Celena Fine

Topics: Social Listening and Trend Spotting


A silver telescope with copper trip looking up and out over a large lake.


Trends are changes that stick around. Social changes, technological changes, expectation changes. Spotting them before they fully take to the mainstream can be a huge advantage for brands who strive to be up-to-date and on-trend. By identifying a trend that’s on the upswing, brands can set themselves up as a leader (dare we say, trendsetter), rather than a follower who’s jumped on a trend after the fact.

So, how can brands capitalize on trends before they make it big? One word: Trendspotting. This requires agility (once you’ve spotted a trend you must act quickly) and a keen eye for larger patterns in a sea of distractions. Mastering trendspotting takes time and practice, but a few key processes can get you headed in the right direction.

Pay Close Attention 

The most important thing you can do to spot a trend is to always be listening. (Not to be confused with always be closing in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”) Listen to what people are talking about and how they’re talking about it. Keep your eyes and ears on social media, podcasts, your morning newsletters, and nightly news broadcasts. Listen to your customers, your competitors, thought leaders, influencers. Listen to your peers, families, and coworkers. The most important source of information is always people. 

When you’re listening, you’re looking for ideas that keep appearing. But when you notice a concept that keeps coming, how does each new mention differ? How is the conversation around it changing? How are consumers reacting to it, or businesses? What are their new expectations? What is changing socially, culturally, technologically? That shift, the change — that’s when you know you should stop just listening and pay attention. You’ve just spotted a trend.

You can also see shifts in social opinion, in conversations and consumer expectations, and in business and technology investment. And don’t be afraid to cast a wide net. Listen to conversations outside your field and your comfort zone. Changes in one space can spur changes in others, so keep your eyes, ears, and Twitter accounts open.

Don’t Get Distracted

As you’re listening, watch out for those shiny objects (a.k.a. fads). Fads are small scale — think social media challenges or viral memes. Fads can be indicative of a larger trend, but they themselves are things that will come and go quickly. When a concept, method, or idea goes from inception to mainstream adoption — that’s a trend. 

The recent rise in social audio apps is a great case study for trend vs. fad in action. This craze began with Clubhouse, and while it remains to be seen whether Clubhouse will keep its crown or die as just another fad, the app’s rise points to a more long-term shift in social media and audio consumption (one that Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have all take notice of).

Pro Tip: Think of fads as tactics, something you can use to stay top of mind and raise brand awareness. But fads don’t last, and they don’t create a larger change.

Follow Through

The most important part of trendspotting isn’t the trend itself, but what you do with it. When you listen for trends, always keep in mind how you can connect it to your business or brand. Maybe you can become a resource with a blog post or webinar on the trend. Maybe you can craft your next marketing campaign around the trend. Perhaps the trend is something important your business needs to take a stance on. Or the trend might be so big it will transform the way you do business. It’s not always about being the first to spot a trend or even what the trend is — it’s knowing how to use it.

Recently, we used trendspotting to identify thought leadership media opportunities for one of our financial services clients. Cryptocurrency has been around for awhile, but it’s currently experiencing a substantial shift in consumer perception and cultural prominence — establishing it as a trend.  In response, we partnered with our client on an agile insight program that monitors the news conversation closely to observe timely changes and secure media opportunities to showcase their knowledge and expertise.

Stay Agile

Trendspotting will keep your content relevant and your messaging resonant with your audience, creating meaningful, useful, and authentic connections with your brand. But to be a trendspotter, you must remain agile. By keeping your eyes and ears alert and being ready to act, your brand can stay one step ahead of the next big thing.

Learn how Tier One can help you make trends work harder for your business.

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Celena Fine

About Celena Fine

What Motivates Me: Waking up to a new challenge every day.