Many moons ago, every other person on Twitter called themself a “social media guru”. At the time we laughed, but it turns out that they probably weren’t all too far wrong, as evidenced by the fact that since Twitter went mainstream it’s now largely populated by people who have no clue how social media can best be leveraged, and many of those people work in marketing or some other social media role.

The mainstream media now seems full of mentions of things trending on Twitter, and it appears to be on the bucket-list of every other tween with an incurable condition, so it seems trending has become the main KPI for life on Earth!

Except it isn’t.

You can easily see what’s trending now, but I defy anyone to tell me what was trending last week, unless it was also trending in all other forms of media. Unless we’re talking about some massive event, there’s no hope that you could say what was trending on Twitter 6 months ago.

Georgina Lewis is the Digital Engagement Lead for Microsoft UK. She had this to say on the matter of trending as a goal:

Trending is synonymous with the short term nature of the way people sometimes think about the planning and success of social media. It takes time, resource and much planning to develop a long term-strategy to ensure you show up in social media. A single tweet, or a single instance of trending is equivalent to nothing more than a quick glance at someone as you pass them by. What you should strive for is seeing that person in the street, knowing them by name and being able to have a conversation about how their mum is, how was their holiday and their plans for the weekend. To do this, you need to connect all the elements of an individual’s connections with your brand (purchases, customer services etc..) and understand them as an individual (their interests, behaviours etc..) in order to be able to build a relationship with them. I heard someone quote recently that we want to move them up the “ladder of engagement” because once they are so far up that ladder, it is easier to keep going up than come down (thanks Jesse Stanchak).

This is of course the nirvana and there are so many theories and tools that promise this realisation. We have some way to go, but for now we start with a solid foundation of people speaking to people.

Fortunately there are some people and companies that have grasped that the benefit of social media is in engagement rather than broadcast. For instance, there are many good and bad examples of  dealing with bad press on Twitter. The good ones put their hands up, engage with people and say sorry. The bad ones stick their heads in the sand and hope it’ll blow over.

There’s currently a very broad spectrum of corporate Twitter use. That’s partly because some organisations are slow moving, partly because it’s difficult to quantify the value of pouring resources into your Twitter presence, and partly because even when you do try to do the right thing, it’s still really difficult to do it consistently. I recently raised two issues to the same corporate Twitter account. I one instance I was engaged properly, with a conversation trying to help me out. On the other occasion, I was pointed to the URL of their FAQs, saying why what I was trying to do wasn’t supported. The second experience was almost bad enough to negate what happened with the first.

And that’s the crux of the point. It doesn’t matter that you might be able to bask in the glow of the Twitter trending topics list for a fraction of a day – it’s not something that can be maintained, and if somebody has a bad experience on social media with you today, it doesn’t matter that you were trending yesterday – you’ve still gained a detractor. It’s only by sustained engagement that you turn people into friends/allies/evangelists. Trending may give you some short-term satisfaction, but really it’s like eating empty carbs.