The biggest tech Twitter trends of 2021

Spoiler alert: Elon Musk was big on Twitter, and people love tweeting the crying-laughing emoji.

Tweet logos with speech bubbles of trend topics

What were the most popular tech topics of the year?

Illustration: Getty Images; Protocol

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Twitter doesn’t put out a personalized recap of the year, but it does offer something arguably better: a summary of what everyone else was tweeting about.

In the tech world, that includes quite a few Elon Musk tweets and lots of crypto banter. Protocol compiled some of the most talked-about Twitter trends in tech from 2021, using data from the platform and other analytics tools.

Top tech personalities: Elon Musk and Bill Gates

Brandwatch, which tracks analytics across social media platforms, released its list of 2021’s 50 most influential people on Twitter based on their followers, retweets and engagement. Aside from the obvious celebrities like Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon, two notable tech leaders were included: Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

Musk is unsurprisingly listed at No. 4 for the second year in a row, this time between Katy Perry and Barack Obama. The Tesla CEO has a tendency to move markets, even if it’s unintended. When he tweets about Tesla, shares rise and fall. When he tweets about dogecoin, it soars. When Time chose him as Person of the Year, he got yet another chance to engage on the platform: by trading barbs at Elizabeth Warren.

Gates came in at No. 11, just behind Kim Kardashian and ahead of Jennifer Lopez. His Twitter account isn’t as — let’s say, fiery — as Musk’s: He usually tweets out health information and generally talks about issues related to his foundation. He also tweets about books he’s read and his outlook for the future to his millions of followers.

Top tech tweet: Twitter’s own tweet

Twitter can pat itself on the back for one of the most popular tweets of 2021. The tweet from early October, “hello literally everyone,” was ranked the third most-liked tweet and fourth most-retweeted post. (It was poking fun: At the time, Meta and all of its apps were down, an outage that lasted around six hours.)

@Twitter has a good idea what kinds of tweets people will like. Most tweets are in all lowercase letters, a nod to Gen Z, and have a tendency to talk about Twitter ironically. And that’s by design: The small team that’s responsible for crafting these tweets is always on the lookout for opportunities to engage with the 10 million to 20 million people who see the posts every day.

Top emoji: The crying face

The cry-laughing emoji might be the most-used emoji of the year worldwide, but on Twitter, the crying face 😭took first place and 😂 came in at No. 2.

Other emojis that came in the top 10 on Twitter include the pleading face 🥺, the rolling on the floor laughing 🤣emoji, the smiling face with heart-shaped eyes 😍, the smiling face with hearts 🥰, the pensive face 😔, the folded hands 🙏, the grinning face with sweat 😅and, our personal favorite, the 👀.

Like the most-used emojis worldwide, the icons used on Twitter show a need for positivity and connection online. Even though the crying face indicates, well, crying, it’s also not uncommon for it to be used to show someone is laughing to the point of tears. That cry-laughing emoji accomplishes the same, but the laugh is less intense.

Top hashtag: #bitcoin

The word on everybody’s lips this year was crypto, and lots of people turned to Twitter to learn all about digital assets. Tech-related hashtags weren’t the highest-ranked on Twitter worldwide, but in India, everyone was talking about crypto.

The hashtag #bitcoin was the ninth-most tweeted hashtag in India this year. People on Twitter in India weren’t only talking about bitcoin; #BSC, #crypto, #NFT and #DeFi were also some of the most tweeted-about digital assets in the country — a pretty good sign that crypto will remain on people’s minds in 2022 and beyond.

Top workplace conversation: The back-to-office chat

Nothing sums up thoughts on going back to the office quite like this tweet. But everyone who once had an office to report to in early 2020 was thinking about their company's back-to-work plans this past year. This summer, tweets about returning to work surged 76% compared to the year before.

Just as everyone was gearing up to sit in a conference room again, omicron hit, sending everyone back into their work-from-home sweatpants and dress shirts. No one can quite settle on a vaccine protocol, and employees seem to have more of a say over work plans than their bosses. The back-to-office tweets may start to feel like a joke, and many already have.

Top media conversation: ‘Squid Game’

Twitter is popular for all the latest TV show buzz, which only helped Netflix when it released “Squid Game” in September.

It was ranked the third most talked-about show on the platform, just behind “Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Big Brother Brasil.” Shows and movies have a tendency to land well on Twitter; all people need to do is write a top-of-mind thought then continue watching.

Top tech craze: The GameStop short-squeeze

Sure, it was originally a Reddit conversation. But it wasn’t long before the GameStop-Robinhood fiasco played out all over Twitter.

When the saga began on Jan. 28, Robinhood was the top trending topic of the day, Wall Street was the third most-popular topic, and GameStop came in at No. 11, according to ExportData. In late September, when retail traders and Citadel Securities brawled over the meme-stock fiasco, #CitadelScandal soared to one of the top Twitter trends of the day.

Twitter seems to be the place that tries to make sense of issues happening in other corners of the internet. Whether the platform can catch onto trends before they shake up Wall Street is a different story.

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