The mechanics of a TikTok trend: Our blueprint for viral content

Key takeaways:

  • Tap into Trend Signals, not just fleeting Trend Moments
  • Raw beats polished in TikTok storytelling
  • Mix & match trend elements for unique brand content

Culture is shaped, influenced and created on TikTok every single day, with Gen Z and Gen Alpha leading the charge. Tapping into these trends authentically is your shortcut to participating in these cultural moments and driving brand love and equity. But as we’ve seen countless times, it’s easier said than done.

Before we dive deeper, a quick clarification: given the rapid pace at which trends evolve on the video-sharing platform, this isn’t a guide to the latest TikTok trends for your brand to jump on willy-nilly. Trends change so swiftly that such a guide would lose relevance within days, if not sooner. No, we’re here to bring you expert insights on how to understand the broader landscape through ‘Trend Signals’—a concept introduced by none other than TikTok.

These signals, emerging from a number of fleeting viral moments, provide a more sustainable entry point for brands. By focusing on these, you can build a solid foundation and a deeper comprehension of trending content on the app. It’s about time you tap into those enduring cultural shifts, right?

Leveraging Trend Signals for lasting impact

Ah, the ‘sad hamster’ and glambot-at-home TikToks—viral moments that captured our hearts and screens, but vanished as quickly as they came. While these fleeting trends may offer temporary engagement, the real magic lies in cultivating a presence on TikTok that resonates on a deeper level. It’s about forging genuine connections, crafting compelling narratives, and truly understanding the nuances of your audience.

In its What’s Next 2024 Trend Report, TikTok itself spotlighted three pivotal categories of Trend Signals: curiosity peaked, storytelling unhinged, and bridging the trust gap. These categories were not just arbitrarily chosen; they represent the core areas where TikTok predicts significant cultural and engagement shifts and, only 3 months into the year, we’re already witnessing this. Let’s dive into each category and unpack how they can serve as your North Star in the ever-evolving cosmos of TikTok.

Curiosity peaked: the quest for novelty

In a digital landscape brimming with content, sparking curiosity is key. How? By crafting messages that intrigue and challenge. Imagine creating content equivalent to a blockbuster movie’s plot twist—it makes your audience stop, think, and want to explore more. Dive into discussions, pose questions, and share insights that leave your audience hungry for what’s next. This isn’t about reinventing the wheel; it’s about adding your unique spin to the mix.

Storytelling unhinged: originality unleashed

Storytelling, an art form since the dawn of time, takes on its own unique flavour on TikTok. Unhinged storytelling means letting down the barriers, being vulnerable, and sharing both the highs and lows. It’s showing the human side of your brand. Think less about polished, high-budget productions and more about raw, user-generated content (UGC), and relatable content that speaks directly to the hearts of your audience.

Bridging the trust gap: transparency as currency

In today’s world, trust is the currency of choice, and transparency is the fastest way to earn it. TikTok users value honesty and can sniff out inauthenticity from miles away. Share your brand’s process, admit to mistakes and show how you’re fixing them, and let your audience in on your decision-making. It’s about building a relationship where your audience feels they’re part of the journey, not just spectators.

The anatomy of a TikTok trend: crafting your brand’s viral moment

Ever wonder why some trends on TikTok feel like catching lightning in a bottle, while others are more like a slow-burning candle, illuminating the path forward? It boils down to understanding the difference between ‘Trend Moments’ and ‘Trend Signals’. While Trend Moments are the flash-in-the-pan viral crazes that come and go with the wind, Trend Signals are the larger cultural shifts that those moments collectively hint at. It’s about discerning which movements align with your brand’s core values and vision. This understanding not only helps you navigate the trend landscape more effectively but also ensures that your engagement is authentic and resonant.

Every trend on TikTok is a unique blend of four key ingredients:

  • Trend message: The core idea or theme. It’s the ‘what’ of the trend.
  • Associated hashtags: The clickable keys to the trend’s kingdom.
  • Sonic identity: The song or viral audio that make your content move and groove.
  • Visual narrative: The story told through images, videos, and visuals.

For those fleeting Trend Moments, these elements are tightly defined, making it a sprint for brands to jump in. But for the broader Trend Signals, there’s more room to play, adapt, and truly make a mark in a way that resonates over time.

Customising trends: the mix & match strategy

Want to ride the wave of a trend without getting lost in the sea of sameness? Here’s a pro tip: choose two key elements of the trend to anchor your content—such as the trend message and visual narrative. Then, give the hashtags and sonic identity a twist that’s all your own. This approach keeps your content recognisable within the trend, yet distinct enough to stand out.

For instance, as brands began leveraging the ‘delulu is the solulu’ Trend Signal on TikTok, we observed countless videos tapping into existing Trend Moments like the ‘Nobody Loves Me Like You Do’ trend, which also spurred the creation of new ones, such as the ‘Of course we’ format. Many accounts successfully adopted a mix & match method, retaining certain elements of these trends while giving others a unique twist, exemplifying the strategy’s effectiveness.

But while some accounts understood the very essence of delulu—meaning embracing a playful sense of delusion and narrating their stories without shying away from sounding slightly ridiculous—others didn’t get the memo about the self-deprecation needed to hit the nail on the head… Although British Transport Police’s attempt at the trend resulted in over 1.5 million views, it also received some pretty nasty comments.


We’re British Transport Police Officers…of course we had to jump on this trend 💁‍♀️✨ #ofcourse #ofcoursetrend #weare #police #policeofficer

♬ Hurts Me (Alone At Prom) – Tory Lanez

A cautionary note: timing is crucial. A humorous TikTok video posted just a day after a widely reported serious incident like the Clapham acid attack might not be well-received.

Crafting your viral blueprint

Navigating the trend landscape on TikTok isn’t just about quick reactions to what’s hot; it’s about strategic engagement with the cultural currents that shape the platform. By dissecting the components of trends and understanding the difference between moments and signals, you can position your brand not just as a trend follower, but as a trendsetter.

Remember, the key to unlocking TikTok success lies in blending authenticity with creativity, ensuring your brand not only participates in the conversation but adds value to it. So, go ahead, dive into those Trend Signals, and infuse every piece of content with the unique essence of your brand.


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