Storytelling is a content marketing and PR phrase that has been around for a few years now. Hashtags are the social marketer's friend – but they're also a valuable storytelling – or story finding – tool, too. In a nutshell, stories help people identify with you and because they don't sell anything, they are read far more often than marketing or advertising messages.
Hashtags come into play because readers use them to search for the content they are interested in. And when you're the one writing the content, hashtags are a good way to help more people read your work. Because as well as your customer audience reading these stories, new people will be able to find them.
Planned content works for sure – and I always advise choosing a calendar structure over an ad-hoc posting style. But maybe you're new to B2B storytelling or you're looking to grow your business profile through social media? If that's you, then going from zero to a full hero of a calendar is a big leap to take.
So, if we think about baby steps to bridge the gap between no stories and a strategic content plan, topic hashtags are your friend. Hashtags herd passing social traffic into one broad path and when specific days or weeks of the month all post content using the same hashtag it 'trends'. And the trend means that over a measured period of time, more people read and respond to specific content.
As a PR and content strategist I love hashtags so much that I've made a diary of my favourite national and global trends <sorry, not sorry!> And when I work with a new business one of the first things I do if planning a content calendar is to look at the special hashtag days that are relevant to them, to their potential customers and to their network.
May's special dates
May is a super month for special dates – as a journalist, the magazines I worked for planned always for 'good', robust content in May. In B2B May is all about balancing past results with future plans – and it's usually a very good time for really weighty articles to be read.
In consumer publishing, May is the time we quite literally spring into summer – we're cautiously optimistic, stretching our wings beyond routine fatigue and making plans for the summer months ahead.
For both sectors, May is a month without big calendar competition – Christmas, Easter, or back to school. And no-one will be out of the office on a vacation for the month, as is often the case for August. So, all in all, May is a good time to write for your audience – because there is a higher than average chance that your content will be read.
I wonder if this is why May is a bumper month for special days and social media hashtags?
Hashtags and storytelling
I'll explore a little more about what hashtags are and why they work below. But if you're pressed for time – or just here for the trends – use this guide to check what is going on this month that your business may be able to plan content around. Like I said, it's a good month...
I love hashtags, but they are misused far too often. In social posts and blogs, I often notice them in place of 'inverted commas' – seemingly put there for emphasis. This might work, if you are a soap maker and you hashtag #naturalsoap, but if you're congratulating a business you admire or network with in a post, #waytogo just isn't going to work. I can see 'naturalsoap' on Google Trends at certain times of the year, but never 'waytogo'.
If you think about the functions hashtags perform as a Search tool you're really at the very beginning of your own hashtag strategy. Hashtags are one of the largest, organic, digital ecosystems in the cyber world. And because new hashtags are always being dreamed up and used, they have become more like a contact database than a book of words.
Hashtags and content marketing
Just as we ask Siri, Alexa or Google to name that tune, we use hashtags to search for topics – on search engines and across every single social media channel. Content marketing and storytelling is all about writing interesting content – and hashtags are the best ways for new readers, potential customers and partners, to find you. Think about your past three searches, chances are if you make them again as a hashtag on social media, you will discover a lot of super new, super interesting content. Using hashtags in the right way are your golden chance to put yourself in this sweet spot of Search, and to get your content seen by a whole new, super-keen audience.
The bad advice
If you've attended any of my training days you will know I'm not a fan of empty hashtags. I don't use #motivationmonday or #transformtuesday. And the advice to find your own hashtag that matches your business name or topic with a day of the week is no longer current. I'll come back to this in another post but it's hashtag strategies like this that tier social media in the same way that good SEO tiers internet search. Quite simply, it filters out the rubbish, irrelevant content.
So, please: don't try with #fitnessfriday, #woolliewednesday and suchlike – your business is brilliant and unique. Doesn't it deserve better than a run-of-the-mill hashtag that everyone else is using? If you want your business to be returned in Search alongside gazillions of others all using the same strategy by all means go ahead. And if you're network marketing and you only want to hang with the tribe you've found then go for it.
But if you're niching in a particular area or you want to get deeper into the psychology of the customer-content relationship this word soup won't be the place for you.
And if you're doing your own PR, using hashtags consciously will open many doors for you, too. In recent years trending content has moved beyond Twitter and Instagram – hashtags have become part of our offline lives too. Just think about the number of small or local businesses who posted #blackfridaydeals last year. Over time, charities and educators have used hashtag days to build awareness, and this is really where they have become the true friend of content marketers and PRs. No longer do expensive banner ads or postal campaigns tell us about fundraisers and events – integrated strategy (and hashtags!) do the hard work for us.
And because journalists are busy, because they do not have the luxury any more of a day or two purely on research, trending topics are a sure-fire way to find a good story. And if your press release is relevant and sent a couple of weeks ahead, it has a very good chance of being picked up. And if you are a donkey sanctuary, for example, launch a campaign ahead of National Donkey week... not the week after it has passed!
Stay ahead, stay current
For social media calendars and scheduling, keeping an eye on these special days not only helps you stay relevant. It challenges you to think about what else your customer is interested in and what's newsworthy and interesting to them. I worked with a tourism business that kept some rescue donkeys on its farm – using images of these lovely animals for posts during the special week (in May) was a good way to capture traffic. Even without a hashtag, donkey-related content was popular so this content had a better chance of being spotted.
This month, I've scheduled content for English Wine Week, Mental Health Awareness Week and World Meditation Day. Walk to School week is off the radar, but I'm looking out for interesting content posted around the days in my calendar, especially on Twitter. As you can see from the lists, there is a good mix of cause, comedy and consumer. And so long as the topic is relevant to your customer at the time they need your business, you can find a creative angle and get writing.
Of course, this year there are many unforeseen challenges to communications and PR, So I urge you to think carefully about your audience and what else is going on in the world if you want to post something light. If you haven't done so already, now is a good time to review your scheduled posts and check they work in this ever-changing climate.
My golden rule is to try not to used hashtags in sales messages or as an invitation to buy, or as a means of self-congratulation. That's missing the point of the joy of using storytelling to communicate to your customers.
If you'd like the benefit of some lovely PR advice, absolutely F R E E, come on over to Marvellousity where membership is currently waived. We're all about helping small businesses and startups do their own PR and we'd love to see you.
And to read more about storytelling, this is a shorter post about the benefits of content marketing.