Taylor Swift, Xbox & Taco Bell? Top Twitter Trends of 2014

Ah, the annual wrap-up. It’s become a regular marketing institution, and with more and more social data at our fingertips, we’re seeing increasingly insightful reflections from across the industry each year. Here on the Analytics & Research team at Spredfast, we swim in social data every day, so looking back at 2014 was a no-brainer. But what’s the best way to gauge what peaked our interest the most?

We decided to take a look at Twitter trends across the United States. Twitter Trends are topics that see a high enough volume and velocity of mentions that they catch the attention of Twitter's trend algorithm—the algorithm updates every minute in 300 different worldwide geographies.

To narrow our lens on the most popular topics in the United States, we took a look at all trending data from January to mid-December, and aggregated the time a topic trended across the entire country. For example, if “#GreenBayPackers” trended in Milwaukee and Chicago for 10 minutes each, that would be a total of 20 minutes for the trend. Sure, we could create a more complicated methodology based on other dimensions in the data (including additional factors like US-wide trends, the rank of each trend, global trends, etc.) but this one helps us understand both the time that each trend spent on the leaderboards as well as the geographic reach it established. Plus, hey, it’s the holidays, let’s keep it simple.

Below is a summary of our findings after aggregating the total time every trend spent on the leaderboard throughout the year. What can trends tell us about 2014? Let’s take a look.

Top Trending Brands

You may be surprised to see which brands had the longest trending time. Taco Bell tops the list, with a Nacho Bell Grande-sized lead over Starbucks who took the #2 spot. Following the top-trending brands in the U.S were Walmart, Netflix, and Waffle House. Burger King, as we’ll see in a bit, secured lots of trending time with the return of their coveted Chicken Fries.

Starbucks: A Constant Trending Buzz

But while many brands start trending because of sales (Walmart) or product releases (Taco Bell, Burger King), Starbucks showed interesting trending patterns that made us want to go one level deeper.

As it turns out, Starbucks is a consistent trending topic across the US for the majority of mornings in 2014. That’s right, this year in the U.S., the term "Starbucks" trended on Twitter for more days (53%) than it did not trend. That’s kind of crazy. So where does Starbucks trend the most?

When we look at the city level, Sacramento tops the list—Starbucks trended there on 57% of all mornings in 2014. Here are the top ten US cities where the coffee brand trended in 2014, based on the percentage of mornings that the term "Starbucks" trended locally.

  • Sacramento: 57%
  • Phoenix: 56%
  • Denver: 56%
  • Milwaukee: 56%
  • Houston: 56%
  • Las Vegas: 55%
  • San Diego: 55%
  • Harrisburg: 55%
  • Honolulu: 54%
  • El Paso: 54%

Starbucks also showed interesting trending patterns when the data was observed using a "time-of-day" lens. While the coffee giant trended in every geography across the US this year, it trended in different ways. We found three distinct patterns of hourly trending across different cities.

Starbucks Hourly Trend #1: Peak in the Morning, Again Around 3PM

This pattern, as we see above for both Los Angeles and San Francisco, occurred for almost half of the geographies in the United States (30 of the 64 US cities that have their own Twitter trends.)

People love their coffee first thing (not surprisingly) and then again as an afternoon pick-me-up. Other cities seeing this pattern include Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Baton Rouge.

Starbucks Hourly Trend #2: Peak in the Afternoon

Another big slice of the country (32 of the 64 cities with Twitter trends) sees the term “Starbucks” trend in the afternoon more than the morning. While we see the hourly trends for Cincinnati and Indianapolis in the graph above, this pattern is also seen in other cities such as Denver, Seattle, Austin, and Chicago.

Starbucks Hourly Trend #3: Trend All Day

Two cities in the US, Honolulu and El Paso, saw a steady distribution of trending for Starbucks across almost every hour. That means you're equally as likely to see Starbucks as a trending topic at any hour of the day, other than 10-11PM.

Top Trending Products

So we looked at brands, now what about the products they sell? The product that spent the most time trending in 2014 ranged from electronics to phones to...something else:

  1. Xbox: 913 days, 00:57:10
  2. iPhone 6: 432 days, 03:30:53
  3. iOS 8: 254 days, 19:35:30
  4. #ChickenFriesAreBack: 158 days, 18:25:41

Xbox, in aggregate across all US cities, trended for over 900 days in 2014 (the new iPhone didn't even reach half of that level). iOS, Apple’s new mobile operating system, takes third place, followed by the return of a popular Burger King menu item.

Top Trending Sports Figures

Sports hit it out of the park this year as athletes and big events created trends for football, basketball, soccer, and more. Who ruled Twitter trends for the longest time in 2014? The King, himself.

Lebron James’ decision to head back to his hometown of Cleveland created trends across the country, and put him well ahead of Paul George to claim the title of “Trendiest Athlete in 2014.”

Top Trending Celebrities / Musicians

How about other celebrities? Who made the US talk in such numbers that trends occurred from Albuquerque all the way to Washington, DC? To figure that out, we’ll have to go back all the way to 1989.

We knew Taylor Swift would be trending when she walked in. Her huge release for 1989 made her a cross-country trendsetter, but even before her album dropped, the starlet enjoyed a fairly consistent presence on the trend rankings. Behind her was Soulja Boy, followed by audiences grieving the loss of Harold Ramis earlier this year. Justin Bieber sees himself as a distant 6th on the aggregate trending time rank. Maybe next year, Bieber.

It’s Taylor Swift’s World, But Where Exactly?

If there’s one thing that gets our team working overtime to crunch data, it’s the majesty that is Taylor Swift. As we saw her dominate the top celebrity trending chart, we wondered where, exactly, did she find the majority of her popularity during 2014? Data to the rescue!

Ms. Swift trended for almost 16 days in aggregate in Birmingham, AL this year, making it by far the largest 1989 trend-centric city in the US. Other smaller cities throughout the US made the top five list as well, including Memphis and Omaha. It should be noted that out of the top five cities for aggregate trending about her, only Salt Lake City and Omaha received dates for her upcoming tour. And no Austin—what’s up with that, TS?

The Shortest Trends of the Year

So everybody looks at the biggest things that happened during the year. What about the other side of the equation? We want to celebrate those trends that broke though, even if just for a moment.

We present to you, the shortest aggregate trends of 2014:

  1. #beingmariejane: after being Tweeted by star Gabrielle Union, this hashtag trended in Mesa, AZ for 9 seconds (and then never again)
  2. X-Wing: for 10 glorious seconds in Virginia Beach, this term trended after J.J. Abrams revealed a new design for the iconic starship in the upcoming Star Wars movie
  3. Donnie Wahlberg: also in Virginia Beach, this blast from the past trended for 11 seconds on April 16th of this year. Not sure why, don’t really care.

Conclusion

Twenty-fourteen was filled with surprises—twists, turns, and new topics to measure at every moment. By looking at social data, we can discover some of the most popular (and sometimes, unexpected) topics that were discussed over the year through a certain lens. We don't know what 2015 has in store, but whatever it brings, we'll be there—ready to dive into the data.

 

Learn more about how you can dive into the data and put your brand ahead of the game in 2015!

Chris Kerns's picture

Chris Kerns

@chriskerns
Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.