A Hunch About Timing: When is the best time for brands to post on social?

by Liz Courtney 15 Dec 2011 Blog Post

Recently we’ve been hearing these questions a lot: When is the best time of day to tweet? How many Facebook posts is too many? Or not enough? Should we be posting on the weekends? How about at night? What do you think about Saturdays? I hear Saturday at noon is optimal; what do you think?

Our answer? You should do all your posting at 4:56pm on Thursdays.

Ok, ok, maybe the answer isn’t that simple. There are many ways to tackle these questions, but first we must first ask what it is we are looking to measure. For example we can look at when the social platforms are most busy, or we can see when content generates the most activity – which could be two very different things.

What the Data Suggests
Because clients are asking these questions, reports have started to surface that use data analytics to recommend optimal times to publish content and suggested cadences. One such report from Vitrue found that mid-morning was the best time based on frequency of likes, comments, shares and related interactions. A recent study from ArgyleSocial found that Sunday content saw higher than average engagement. Vitrue also published a second report that looked at when users are most active on Facebook and pegged that time around 3pm. A similar report from KissMetrics suggests that Saturdays at noon are the best time to post to Facebook, because that’s when the most sharing is taking place. It goes on to say that noon and 6pm are optimal for tweets based on average CTR data. Which makes sense if you consider all those people browsing Twitter on their lunch breaks or winding down from the workday. Buddy Media also did a study that indicated social activity is up outside of business hours and more towards the end of the workweek, though less on Saturdays. As Devon Burke from Edelman Digital summarized in her recent blog post on the topic, “the less people want to be at work, the more they are on Facebook.” Well put, and, duh.

So which one is it? KissMetrics may be correct that more activity is happening during certain windows of the day, but does that mean your content will get more action if it’s posted then? Or will it actually get drowned out by the others who are racing to grab your attention during your lunch hour? Perhaps that’s why mid-morning and Sunday messages received more engagement – less competition? The logic of the noon and 6pm upticks in social activity made sense to me on an intuitive level, because I’ve found myself using Facebook and Twitter during those same breaks in my work day.

Our Own Findings, and My Insightful Graph
Though we have our hunches, we at Dachis Group endeavored to do some of our own research. Some of my colleagues recently compiled the Facebook activity of roughly 300 brands to look for trends in engagement levels relative to how frequently the brands were posting to their Walls. I also did an analysis for a retail client where we categorized six months worth of Facebook messages by time and day-of-week to see if there were any trends in the number of impressions for each post.

The findings in both endeavors were inconclusive. Or rather there appear to be no clear trends. The graph I came up with from analyzing hundreds of our client’s Facebook posts looked something like this:

actual graph is proprietary, but this gives you the idea

So I recommend we think about this question differently. Let’s go back to that hunch.

Consider Your Social Customer
Rather than letting the data dictate our content planning – and don’t get me wrong, I love data! – start by simply considering your social customer.

Who are your fans online? Are they geographically focused in a particular time zone? Are they 9 to 5 office workers, or are they students who sleep in on Saturdays and troll Facebook at 4pm to LOL at last night’s party snapshots, or are they sleepy new moms who are feeding at 3am? If you know your fans, then you know when they are most likely to give you their attention.

Take for example this simple message from Target Baby’s Facebook page:

It was posted at 4am, and still it was one of the most engaging messages all month with more than 2x higher engagement than average posts on the page. All because Target understands its customers and knows there are plenty of moms up nursing at 4am who would relate to this message.

Consider Your Message
What are you talking about, and when would the people you want to connect with be talking about this topic? Are you talking about food? Then shoot that tweet out at noon when our stomachs are starting to grumble. Are you talking about what to wear on date night? Post your style board Friday afternoon while we’re planning our weekend wardrobe. Think about how engaging your tweets speculating about the [spoiler alert!] father of Blair’s baby on Gossip Girl would be Monday evenings at 8pm (also assuming you are @CW_network or @itsmeleighton) vs Tuesday afternoon. Or how shareable twitpics courtside during the Celtics v Knicks game Christmas Day would be, rather than pics posted the following Monday morning. Not all of your online followers actively seek out your content, but if you can join a conversation they are already having, that greatly increases your opportunity for engagement.

In short, be relevant! It may mean tweeting on Christmas or while nursing at 4am. You can always schedule content in advance to deploy outside of office hours.

Dare to Experiment
Since every brand’s social audience is unique, the best way to learn what timing works best for your fans is to experiment. Are you stuck in a rut of deploying your messages at roughly the same time every morning on weekdays? Try sending out a message on a Sunday afternoon, or late at night. Better yet, try sending the same, or similar, message at different times. It may seem repetitive, but remember most of your online followers don’t go directly to your pages to read your posts. They see your posts in their newsfeed, and different people are online at different times. A little scientific testing to see when the same content resonates best will tell you something about when your target fans are online. You can also experiment with the frequency of your messaging. Does a chance in cadence affect impressions, engagement, or even your number of fans and followers?

To add a little method to your madness, turn to tools like SocialBro which analyses your unique crop of Twitter followers to tell you data around time zones, when to find most of your followers on Twitter, and when your content has received the most retweets and replies.

In Conclusion, The Answer is Sunday at 4am
No! There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But, if you are doing the three things above – considering your social customer, considering your message and experimenting – then you can unlock the answer to the question of timing. All the studies aren’t as important as your own findings. Even your own hunches are a great place to start.