Infographics and articles about the best time to post on social media to get the most attention are pretty popular. People re-tweet them on Twitter; people to share them on Facebook. I've noticed though that often in the comments other people complain that they aren't accurate, that because the audience for different content and different brands are dissimilar, there is one-size-fits-all solution to timing your social messaging.
I recently read an article by Stephan Hovnanian about what he called "the sad truth about 'Best Time to Post' infographics."
Hovnanian suggests that not only is the data not applicable to all social media users, but that suggesting that there are "best times to post" creates further problems by encouraging publishers and brands to all post at the same time as each other. "It's like announcing at the amusement park which ride you're going on next, which influences everyone around you to go on the same ride, and then you're all stuck in line together," he writes.
Hovnanian suggests that we ignore these popular posts and instead each come up with our own best practices for scheduling our social messages.
First, he says, we should think about what we want our piece of content to do. Why are we posting in the first place? "Are you just trying to stay top of mind with a pretty graphic?" he asks. Then you should "post when the bulk of your fan base is likely to be logged onto that social network."
According to Hovnanian, if you want to ask a question and get responses, you should post when your fan base will most likely have time to respond. If you want people to read an article, you should post when your fan base is likely to have time to leave the social network to read somewhere else.
Another big problem with "best time to post" infographics is that they often don't take time zones into account. "In the U.S. alone, three hours can separate your follower base," writes Hovnanian. "If you have followers in Europe, the gap gets even wider. In other words, if all you see on an infographic is that "the best time to post on Twitter is between 1-4pm" then whose 1pm is it?"
To create your own "Best Times to Post" best practice, "build up enough data and track for yourself what works, and when, for each piece of content you put out there," writes Hovnanian. Where do you find this data?
Hovnanian suggests that for Facebook, you should use your Page Insights, or services such as Sprout Social or HootSuite to see how many people are seeing your posts at different times and how much they are shared or commented on.
"Twitter provides analytics at analytics.twitter.com, or you can use services like Sprout Social to track performance," writes Hovnanian.
LinkedIn company pages have analytics as well as tracking for each post. "If your company page is active on LinkedIn you could use a spreadsheet," writes Hovnanian.
Another way to measure how well your message is reaching your audience is to us link shorteners and campaign tagging. "Using network-specific URL's that have campaign tags in them will let you track which networks are driving the most clicks to your site," writes Hovnanian. "Link shorteners like bit.ly do this as well."
Personally, I'm using Chartbeat to see which of my articles are being viewed in real-time. I tweet at different times and then watch Chartbeat to see what impact the tweets have. Ditto Facebook. Ditto LinkedIn.
I think the grand lesson of Hovnanian's article is this: Use your own data. And that's empowering, even it means you have a little more work to do. No one else knows your audience like you do.
image by Stephan Hovnanian