#BackToTheFutureDay: Lessons for Brands About Trending Topics

Great Scott! Brands have been hitting us with all sorts of Back to the Future Day campaigns, posts and images lately. They’ve been coming in at 88 mph!

October 21, 2015, marked the day Marty McFly flew in from his present-day 1985 to see what lies ahead in Back to the Future II. Some brands marked the occasion in grand fashion.

Pepsi released a limited number of Pepsi Perfect bottles that were depicted in the film. Playing off the garbage-fueled, time-traveling DeLorean, Toyota managed to get Michael J. Fox, a.k.a. Marty McFly, and Christopher Lloyd, a.k.a. Doc Brown, to discuss the new Mirai hydrogen car.

Some trending topics can come out of nowhere and gain popularity at neck-snapping speeds, so it can be hard to prepare for them. Other trending topics and hashtags are recurring, often supporting weekly TV shows, annual holidays or momentous anniversaries like that of Back to the Future. With recurring topics, brands have a head start and can plan trending topic-related content weeks or even months ahead of time.

Hopping onto a trending topic or hashtag can be a smart play. It has the potential to propel your brand into the mainstream spotlight, give your social media properties a boost in engagement and connect with your audience in real-time—when done right. But sometimes, it’s not worth the risk.

Whether the hashtags are one-hit wonders or mainstays, ask yourself these questions before jumping on the hash-wagon:

Does this fit in with my brand voice?

In an attempt to reach a younger audience, some brands may feel the need to use slang, trending hashtags and popular memes to fit in. But if your brand has to “fit in” somewhere, then that may not be the place for you. Make sure posts related to trends work with the rest of your feed, and seem genuine and authentic.

These tweets from Miller Lite and Verizon do a great job of capitalizing on the #BackToTheFutureDay trending topic while still maintaining an authentic brand voice:


Do I get it?

Make sure you really get the joke and that you’re an insider, not a “trend-jacking” outsider looking in. Otherwise, your attempt at extending the joke to your brand’s content could, at best, fall on deaf ears, or at the very worst, turn into a tomato bashing on the world’s stage.

Do I know the trend’s backstory?

Always do your research on a trending topic before incorporating it into your content strategy. Read articles about the trend, and check up on social media posts that include the hashtag. Consult coworkers who may know the scoop. Try to understand how a trend originated so you’re not inserting your brand into a controversial or very serious conversation.

Is it relevant to my brand?

Does this add value to the conversation? If you’re selling shoes, for example, then ask why you’d want to jump on a hashtag initiated by a bird-watching community.

Consider this example. Petco hit a home run with their audience when they posted a tweet about the trending hashtag #FiveWordsToRuinADate:

Will my audience understand?

Just like in any other aspect of your marketing—You. Must. Know. Your. Audience. Hopefully, many moons of publishing posts will provide community managers with enough insight to understand what their audience will like and how to craft messages that connect with them. Think with the end in mind.

These are just a few tips for brands considering jumping on the hashtag bandwagon. Do you have a tip you’d like to add to this list? Let me know in the comment section below!

Keep reading in Social Media