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What’s the value of ‘trending’?

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Sarah Gardner: You may have heard this kind of thing the last week or so — “Ann Romney’s trending,” “Michelle Obama’s  trending.” Those two ladies have been hot topics of conversation on Twitter. Trending usually happens when a whole bunch of people decide to weigh in on a topic — like “Clint Eastwood and the empty chair.” Other people pay to have their topic featured in Twitter’ s trend window. Either way, just what is the value of trending? 

Marketplace’s Mark Garrison takes a look.

Mark Garrison: Pay Twitter enough and they’ll make sure your message trends all the way to the top. Today the right-leaning 501(c)(4) Americans for Prosperity paid to boost the hashtag #FailingAgenda, hoping that would get people talking about their critique of President Obama’s policies. Buying Twitter trends has been popular this campaign season.

Bryan Eisenberg: It’s definitely pretty powerful.

Online marketing consultant Bryan Eisenberg says it’s a tool to rise above all the competing noise.

Eisenberg: To break through the clutter in any way you can, even if it’s for a fleeting moment.

Twitter is banking on this. Selling promoted tweets and trends is one way it hopes to solve the problem a lot of big social media companies have: lots of users and buzz, not so much money coming in. But Twitter can’t control what happens to trends it sells.

Jeff Dachis is a social marketing strategist.

Jeff Dachis: You could have an equal number of people on the other side of that message, utilizing that same hashtag.

And indeed, a lot of Obama supporters turned today’s #FailingAgenda hashtag around into an indictment of Republican ideas. Project for Excellence in Journalism director Tom Rosenstiel:

Tom Rosenstiel: It’s a little bit like being in a bar and seeing a TV ad come on and if somebody bellows that the ad’s a bad ad and everybody laughs, that ad could really backfire on you. It could be not a form of persuasion, but a form of ridicule.

But in any case, tens of millions of Americans don’t use Twitter at all. If Twitter passion won elections, Ron Paul would be the Republican nominee.

In New York, I’m Mark Garrison for Marketplace.

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