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It’s Time to Reconsider ‘Best Time to Post on Social Media’ Studies. Here’s What to Do Instead.

Jul 10, 2018 10 min readSocial Media Marketing
Photo of Alfred Lua
Alfred Lua

Product Marketing @ Buffer

If you are a social media manager, you’ve likely looked at ‘best time to post on social media’ studies to come up with several posting times for your brand.

I know I have.

But now, I believe it’s time to reconsider these studies.

In the last few years, more and more studies on the best times to post have been released. (At Buffer, we contributed to this too!) And while knowing your best time to post is still very relevant, I’m starting to feel that it’s no longer useful to refer to studies on this topic.

Bad insights can drive poor decision-making and simply going with the best time to post from a study could hinder your marketing efforts rather than help.

Read on to find out what you should do instead…

How to Find Your Best Time to Post on Social Media

Why we should reconsider “best time to post on social media” studies

The concept of ‘best time to post on social media’ is still very much relevant.

Even with social media algorithms, it’s important to get engagement within the first few hours of posting so that the algorithms will show your posts to more of your audience. And finding the right times to post for your brand can help with that.

But I think it’s time we shift our focus away from studies on the best time to post on social media. While the studies are well-intended, they (including ours) are flawed in several ways.

Aggregated data vs unique audience

Many of these studies suggest best times to post based on aggregated data. The challenge with this is that the data includes businesses and individuals from different locations and different industries while your audience is unique to you. It’s hard to say that the average best time to post for a wide range of businesses would apply to your business.

Here are two good examples by Matt Rhodes from his article, The danger of bad insights and poor digital marketing decisions:

For a brand targeting mums, for example, it may make more sense to create engaging content at 2am when mums are awake and alone with their babies. For a brand targeting football fans, as another example, your research may find that your audience most wants to engage after football matches in the afternoon or evening.

Outdated studies

We are guilty of this at Buffer. Our best time to tweet study was done in 2016. Another guide on best times that we compiled was done in 2013!

As social media usage has likely changed over the last few years, the information in these posts might not be that useful now.

It’s also good to note that “newer” studies that were published recently could be referring to much older studies. So it’ll be great to check the primary source of the data before taking the recommendations.

Great starting point

Does this mean that those studies are not useful at all? Not entirely.

They can serve as a great starting point, especially if they suggest plausible explanations for those best times to post. For example, if you are working on an entirely new social media profile and do not have any data of your own to work with, some studies can come in handy. But they are not a copy-and-paste blueprint for success.

Try to go beyond just taking the “best times” from the studies and understand why those could be great times to post. Perhaps it’s because people are using Facebook while commuting to work. Or maybe it’s because teenagers are scrolling through Instagram late at night before they sleep.

And they are just that — a starting point.

What’s more important is to gain a better understanding of your brand’s unique audience such as their social media usage patterns. Let’s go through how to find your best time to post on social media while learning about your audience!

How to find your best time to post on social media

Social media is becoming increasingly personalized. From being a broadcasting channel, social media is becoming a one-to-one and one-to-few engagement channel.

To provide a personalized experience to your brand’s followers, you need to post according to your audience’s social media usage behavior. When done right, there’s a higher chance of them seeing and engaging with your social media posts — more reach and more engagement!

Here’s how to find your own best time to post on social media:

1. For a new social media profile, start with informed guesses

The approach that we’ll be going through below depends on your previous posts. Even if it’s your first social media manager job, the brand probably has some data for you to work with if they have posted before.

If you are taking on a brand new social media profile, don’t worry. You can start with a few informed guesses. Think logically about when your audience might be online and interacting with your social media posts. (Or some of the better studies could be useful.)

Here are some possibilities:

  1. Mornings and evenings during commute time
  2. Lunch and tea break
  3. Weekdays for B2B brands and weekends for B2C brands

If you know your target audience and their rough location, you could use that information to strengthen your hypotheses. For example, if you are a local business in Singapore, you might want to focus on times when people in Singapore are awake.

2. Set up a posting schedule

Once you have a handful of informed guesses, it’s time to test them!

To effectively test your guesses, you would want to post at those particular times a few times. With Buffer’s custom posting schedule, you can easily experiment with the times over a period of a few weeks (or more).

Buffer custom posting schedule

Here’s how the posting schedule works: After you set up your posting schedule with several times, every social media post that you “Add to Queue” will fill up the next available time slot in your schedule (or “Buffer queue”).

To create or change your posting schedule, select your desired social account and click on “Settings”, then “Posting Schedule”.

Here are the quick steps to adding a new posting time:

  1. Select if you want to add the new posting time to every day of the week, only the weekdays, only the weekends, or only a specific day of the week
  2. Set the time
  3. Click on “Add Posting Time”
Add a new posting time

If you want to edit a time in your schedule, simply click on it.

Edit posting time

To delete a time in your schedule, hover over the time and click on the cross that would appear on its right.

Note: Your posting schedule is unique to each connected social account. Adding a new posting time to one social account’s schedule does not apply it to all your connected social accounts.

3. Schedule posts for several weeks

You could schedule a few weeks’ of social media posts all at a go or do it on a weekly basis. Up to you!

This is not truly scientific but three to four weeks of posting would usually give you enough data to work with and find your best times.

What you should be posting can be a blog post on its own (or several blog posts) so I’ll not cover this here. If you would like some reading resources, here are some of our blog posts on content creation:

To schedule your social media posts with Buffer, click on the composer (“What do you want to share?”) in your dashboard. In the composer, select the social media accounts you want to share to and add your text, link, or multimedia. When you hit “Add to Queue”, that post will fill up the next available slot in your posting schedule (or “Buffer queue”).

Tailored posts

Pro tip: When you add a link to the composer, we’ll automatically detect images on the page and suggest them for your post.

4. Study your analytics

Once you have a few weeks worth of data, you can start to analyze your results.

In your Buffer dashboard, select your preferred social media account and click on “Analytics”. There are two ways you can analyze your social media posts and find your best time to post. (If you are not using Buffer, here are some other ideas!)

Posts Report

The first way is to use your Posts Report. When you click on “Analytics”, you should see it. Otherwise, click on “Posts”.

(This report is only available on our paid plans.)

To find out the best times to post for your social media account, click on “Most Popular” and see when the top posts were published or if any times keep coming up for your top posts. Note down the times. These are your current best times to post.

Buffer analytics: Posts Reports

Pro tip: For a little more advanced exploration, you could filter by “Most Likes”, “Most Clicks”, etc. and/or by post types.

Overview Report

If you are on one of our Business plans and want a more advanced way of finding your best time to post for Twitter, you could also use the Overview Report.

In the Analytics section, click on “Overview” and scroll down till “Engagements by the hour of the day”.

With the chart, you can quickly identify when you receive the most engagements on your social media posts. These are likely the times when your followers are active and interacting with you — possibly also your best times to post to maximize your engagement. Again, note them down.

Buffer analytics: Overview Reports

Pro tip: You could also look at impressions, likes, clicks, etc. by the hour of the day by changing the setting in the upper-left corner.

5. Experiment further

By now, you should have a good sense of the good and bad times ?

Go back to your posting schedule in your Buffer dashboard and update it. Keep the good posting times, delete the bad ones, and add a few more experimental times.

(And repeat all the steps!)

How many posting times should you keep and how many to delete? It depends. And this isn’t very scientific: for a start, you could keep half of the posting times and change the remaining half. Once you have run a few rounds of tests and are more certain about your best times to post, you could keep to an 80/20 ratio — 80 percent tested times / 20 percent experimental times.

Your best time to post could be always changing as your following grows. It might not change, too. If you’re comfortable, you could only re-run this timing experiment every quarter or half a year.

Pro tip: By now, you likely have some followers data in your native analytics such as Facebook Insights and Instagram Insights. Use the information (e.g. top follower locations, demographics, interests) to come up with more educated guesses (as per step 1 above).

If you’re not using Buffer…

That’s cool! The native analytics on the social media platforms and some free tools can provide you with helpful data for finding your best times to post.

How to find your best time to post on Facebook

In your Facebook Page Insights, under the Post tab, there’s a section at the top called When Your Fans Are Online. It tells you the number of fans who were online on each day and each hour of the past week.

Facebook When Your Fans Are Online

With this data, you can then come up with a few times to test. For example, our Facebook fans seem to mostly online between 9am and 1pm ET so we could test a few times within that range.

How to find your best time to post on Instagram

If you have a business profile on Instagram, you will have data similar to your Facebook Insights in your Instagram Insights. Look for the Followers section in your Instagram Insights to see the days and hours when your followers are most active.

Instagram Insights Followers

Just like for Facebook, experiment with a few times when your Instagram followers are most active.

How to find your best time to tweet

While Twitter doesn’t provide the same follower data, Followerwonk (by Moz) does! When you sign up for a free account with your Twitter account, you get to analyze accounts with up to one million followers.

Best time to tweet

How to find your best time to post on LinkedIn and Pinterest

Finding your best time to post on LinkedIn and Pinterest is a bit more tricky. Neither LinkedIn nor Pinterest shares follower activity data like Facebook and Instagram. (If you know of a tool like Follwerwonk but for LinkedIn or Pinterest, please let me know.)

But no worries at all! With a combination of a spreadsheet and their native analytics, you can still find your best time to post on these platforms.

  1. Make a copy of this spreadsheet.
  2. Whenever you post to LinkedIn or Pinterest, jot down the post, day, and time. (To keep things simple, try to post at only a handful of times.)
  3. After a week, go to your LinkedIn or Pinterest analytics to see how your posts performed.
  4. For the posts that performed above-average, mark a “Yes” under the “Top Post?” column.
  5. After a few weeks, take a look at the times of the top posts. Is there a time that consistently shows up?
Best time to post spreadsheet

Over to you: How do you find your best time to post?

While I still think posting times are important for reach and engagement, I personally feel that we marketers have unintentionally put more emphasis on “best times to post on social media” studies than doing our own experimentation. Instead of getting recommendations from the studies, we might be much better off running our own best time experiments.

That’s because every brand has a unique audience. Your audience is likely made up of mostly your customers and your fans while other brands’ audience is made of theirs. What works for other brands might not work for you so it’s important to do your own experimentations to find your best time to post on social media.

It’ll be great to hear from you. What do you think of “best times to post on social media” studies? How do you find your best time to post? (I’m sure what I’ve shared in this post is just one of the many ways of doing it.)

Image credit: Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

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