Remember when all you could do on Facebook was set statuses and, er, “poke”? Or how about when Instagram’s entire suite of tools hinged on a handful of photo filters?
It seems bizarre now, given how much you can do with social media today. With the ever-growing list of social media platforms releasing new features daily, it’s an exciting time to build a following online — but it’s not an easy one.
With the plethora of social media content options available every time you open your favorite app, it can be difficult to know what type of content your audience most wants to see. Short-form video? A carousel? Or is a good old-fashioned selfie still the best way to engage them?
Over at Buffer, we’ve been scratching our heads over this, too — so we dug into our data to find some answers! We analyzed millions (really, millions) of posts sent through Buffer on Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.
Before we dig in, the usual Ts and Cs: The best content for your social media marketing depends on your target audience. Every audience is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach that’s going to work for every social media account.
To pinpoint what works best for you, I’d encourage you to start with a social media content strategy and, from there, experiment with different types of content in your social media content calendar! Use the data in this article as a springboard to help you figure out what kind of content is most likely to resonate with your followers.
Got all that? On to the data. Here are the best types of social media content for each platform, measured by engagement rate, plus some social media content ideas to get you started.
The best content to post on LinkedIn
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite personal brand-building platform, LinkedIn. The professional networking site has exploded with creators in recent years — many of them building a following off helping others build their personal brands on the platform.
Perhaps the most common advice from personal brand aficionados is to explore video, photo, and document carousel posts — and they would be right.
According to Buffer data, the best content to post on LinkedIn is video by a hair’s breadth — photos and carousels aren’t far off. Our numbers show that video content has the highest engagement rate, with photos just 0.1 percent behind.
Posts that contain only a link got the least engagement, which makes sense. More and more, we’re seeing platforms’ (and social media users’) preference for high-quality zero-click content. The platforms want to keep their users within their app or on their site, and users are less inclined to click on a link and consume their content elsewhere.
Of the social media platforms we analyzed, LinkedIn is the social media channel where we saw the smallest difference between the various media types. For example, video posts only ranked 0.1 percent higher than photo posts, and photo posts were only 0.4 percent higher than PDF carousels.
My takeaway from this graph — rather than that video should be the be-all and end-all of my LinkedIn social media strategy — is to maintain a good content mix on the platform.
LinkedIn content ideas
1. Chop up any video content you have
When it comes to creating enough content to maintain consistency on the platform, repurposing is your best friend. If you’re hosting a webinar or speaking at professional events, be sure to get the recording — even a 30-minute session can yield several different one-minute clips for the platform.
2. Don’t shy away from the selfie
Putting a face to a post — preferably yours — can make or break it. This is something I can personally attest to: my top-performing posts as a creator on LinkedIn have all featured my face (either a simple selfie or a video does the trick).
3. Leverage AI for text-only posts
Text-only posts are still solid engagement generators on LinkedIn, which is great news — most folks will find these far less time-consuming to create, and they can help you maintain consistency on the platform.
To work even smarter, tap into an AI tool like Buffer’s free AI Social Media Post Creator to create the foundations of your content. Buffer content writer Tamilore Oladipo published AI content on LinkedIn for an entire week and was pretty impressed with how well it performed.
(Though we’d recommend giving your AI posts a quick polish before posting to make it sound like you or your brand — as you’ll see from Tami’s experiment, there’s no replacing that human touch). Here are 50 AI prompts to help get you started.
4. Lean on templates for carousels
Sticking to a template for your LinkedIn carousels will not only help you maintain brand consistency but can also speed up your content creation time. There are many template options out there, though Canva is my favorite tool for this. Here are 11 LinkedIn Carousel ideas, from user-generated content (UGC) to infographics to memes — that will help!
The best content to post on Facebook
On Facebook, Buffer data suggests that video is the most engaging content type, followed by photos or images, then text-based posts, with link-only posts lagging.
It’s not surprising that video content is a cut about the rest on the platform — Meta has made no secret that they want “Facebook to be the best place for people to find and enjoy videos online.” They introduced Facebook Reels in 2022 to support their “fastest growing video format.”
While they’ve stopped short of saying the Facebook algorithm prioritizes video, the social media giant did reveal that they had tweaked their recommendation model, resulting in a 15 percent increase in Reels watch time in their Q2 earnings in 2022.
It’s safe to say that if Facebook is a priority channel for you, short-form video is a must for engagement and brand awareness. Our everything guide to Facebook Reels will help get you started.
Bonus tip: link-only posts tend to perform best on Facebook
On the flip side — while links do garner the least engagement, it’s worth noting that of all the platforms that support link-only posts (Facebook, LinkedIn, and X/Twitter), Facebook links tend to get five times more clicks than those posted on LinkedIn, and four times more than those posted on X.
Facebook content ideas
1. Tap into trending audio
Trending audio and music tend to rear their heads on TikTok first, then pop up on Instagram and Facebook Reels — so you’ll be ahead of the curve if you keep an eye on TikTok. Here’s our guide to finding trending sounds on TikTok and trending audio on Instagram that you can leverage here.
Small business Villoni Boutique does a great job of staying on top of these audio clips in their fun Facebook Reels:
2. Record ‘stock footage’
Buffer’s social media manager Mitra Mehvar put me on to this, and it’s genius — she keeps an album of stock footage she can use for short-form videos with a simple text overlay. This could be anything from you working at your desk (Mitra does a lot of those) to clips of you going about your day or putting the finishing touches on a new product.
Here’s a great example from the @cozyhomestead (which she cross-posted from Instagram).
The best content to post on Instagram
Buffer data suggests the best content to post on Instagram for engagement is carousels — multiple images within a single feed post — rather than video.
My theory is that carousels tend to offer more to engage with. Instagrammers often use this post format to share photo dumps and life updates, the kind of content friends, family, and followers will be inclined to weigh in with comments and reactions.
While Instagram’s answer to video, Instagram Reels, might be great for expanding reach and drawing in new followers — check out our article unpacking the Instagram algorithm to understand why — they’re not the easiest content format to engage with on the app. Most users will tend to watch and then scroll on down to the next clip.
Instagram content ideas
1. Put captions on your photos
This carousel style mimics TikTok’s, and I’m seeing it more and more frequently on Instagram from creators and influencers. The trick is to keep it simple to make it easy to digest — no more than a line or two per image, as @sugarfreesundays has done in the example below.
2. Repurpose LinkedIn carousels
We’ve been experimenting with Instagram carousels at Buffer that mimic what we usually create for LinkedIn’s PDF carousels (tools like Canva make it easy to convert these doc files into Instagram-friendly images).
Here’s a recent example that explains zero-click content, which garnered some great engagement in terms of likes and comments.
3. Try a weekly 'photo dump'
Out: Perfectly polished feeds on Instagram. In: Messy, authentic, candid snaps. This trend lends itself perfectly to carousel-style posts, where all you need are some recent snaps from your camera roll.
Fitness creator @meggangrubb shares ‘photo dumps’ like this every week, and her followers can’t get enough of them:
The best content to post on X (Twitter)
On the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, X, the numbers paint a similar picture to the best format to post on Facebook — with an interesting twist.
Video is once again at the top of the list when it comes to engagement. Like Facebook, the former micro-blogging platform seems to be devoting more resources to improving the video experience. In 2023, they launched live streams and real-time video and made it possible for X Premium subscribers to download videos from the app.
The company is also doubling down on their own video content — in early 2024, X announced a trio of new shows hosted by an ex-CNN journalist, a former politician, and a sports radio host.
Even with the social network’s much-talked-about desire to become “the everything app,” they can’t escape their microblogging roots. Text-only posts are still high up when it comes to engagement, beating out links and even images — surprisingly, the least likely format to garner engagement on the platform, according to our data.
X/Twitter content ideas
1. Chop your blog or other social media posts up into threads
The X character limit doesn’t mean lengthier thought leadership posts are off the table. In fact, X’s threads functionality lends itself to posts like this. Here’s a thread example from Buffer guest post contributor Gaetano DiNardi, which surprised him by going viral on X — his explainer shows that repurposed content can surprise you when you give it life on a new platform.
2. Repurpose Reels and TikToks
It’s nearly impossible to predict what content will perform best where — so don’t shy away from sharing the videos you create for other platforms on X. As creators or social media managers, we often fall into the trap of thinking everyone in your audience has seen everything, but in reality, only a small fraction of your audience will follow you on multiple platforms.
Resharing video content on X is a great way to maximize your reach.
3. Quote tweet relevant comments from your community
Amplify your followers (and your content) by retweeting or quote-tweeting the best comments on your own tweets. Not only does this build trust and encourage more engagement — it keeps the conversation going, too.
4. Create polls to spark discussion
Polls are a staple feature on X and still work brilliantly on the platform. They’re a great way to generate engagement and even spark ideas for new content you can share beyond X.
Which social media platform do you think is going to be your most used platform in 2024?— Buffer (@buffer) December 21, 2023
(We only have 4 options, so if we’re missing the one you have in mind, comment and let us know! Shout-out to YouTube, Threads, and TikTok)
Speaking of sparking discussion — have you seen the above content types work for your social channels? Or do you find something completely different works for your audience? We'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or join the Buffer Community to have your say.