To be successful in social media marketing, you have to do two things:
- Provide interesting content that gives people value for their time.
- Deliver your message at a time and place when your audience is there to hear it.
Creating interesting content is the easy part for most marketers. Finding the right place to communicate your message is a function of targeting your message to the right audience, and then finding the communications channel that reaches that audience. There are many tools and techniques for doing that.
Timing, on the other hand, can seem mystifying. How on earth are you supposed to predict when a particular person will be online to receive your message? The answer, of course, is that you can’t predict the behavior of a particular individual in the future – but you can certainly get clues as to their likely behavior from their past behavior online.
That’s how social media management tools that help you schedule social media posts at the best time do it: they analyze the past behavior of your fans, followers, and friends and predict the best times to post new content when the maximum number will see it. But whether you use a scheduling product or not, understanding how to time your social media content for best results is important.
The Half-Life of a Tweet
Link shortening app Bit.ly coined the term “tweet half-life” in September, 2011, with a blog post that explained its analysis of clicks on its short-links based on when they were first tweeted. Klout follower in November of the same year with an analysis of tweets that showed that users with a high Klout score (and therefore a larger social network) had a longer “shelf life” for their messages than those with lower Klout scores.
Bit.ly said that the average half-life of a tweet – that is the amount of time before it had reached the majority of the people who would click on the link in a tweet – was just 3 hours, while Klout said that just over 5 hours was the top of the range for even those social media users with the highest Klout scores.
Other social media channels don’t fare much better in terms of lasting impact according to research by Gartner – a post on Facebook or Google+ has a half-life of about 6 hours, while LinkedIn status updates are viewable on the front page of someone with about 500 connections for less than 7 hours.
There are three ways to approach the problem of extending the life of your social media efforts.
- Repeat the same link, with different messages, over several days, at different times of day, on Twitter.
- Use hashtags and posting to special interest groups (on LinkedIn, or in an industry-specific forum) or social bookmarking sites (Reddit, StumbleUpon) to extend the life of your messages.
- Optimize the timing of your initial posting (and subsequent re-posting, if needed) to reach the largest possible audience.
More and more marketers have decided that the right approach is to do all three, testing and tweaking their campaigns until they get the results they want. Don’t worry about too many tweets, or about repeating tweets. They have a very short “shelf life” unless someone is using a hashtag to search for a particular topic.
In social networks other than Twitter, content and value are more important than quantity. Facebook’s in-house research shows that company posts more than every other day don’t get as many “likes” and comments as corporate posts made less frequently, for example.
What Works Today May Not Work Tomorrow
Social media is a changing, living, growing communications channel. Human beings – not marketing plans – govern social media, and human behavior varies from day to day. So it’s important to remember that there are no hard and fast rules on timing.
Each company or brand needs to test and evaluate the best times for their audience, and their objectives. If you meet an “expert” who says they know exactly what you should do, ask them how. If the answer is anything other than, “We’ve analyzed your followers based on publicly available data, and we think this is the optimum schedule to start – and we’ll be tracking and modifying the schedule based on actual results,” then look elsewhere for help.
One trend that has happened over the last two years that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future is the time-shifting that many professionals are doing. Email and social media have become “adult homework”. We do it when we have time – and that means that millions of us read our LinkedIn Groups, our Facebook pages, and the email that isn’t directly related to our job early in the morning, after work, while eating lunch at our desk, or on the weekend, because that’s when we have time to do it.
A side-effect of this trend is that when one of these time-shifting customers reaches out to your company online, they want a response “at Internet speed” – social media isn’t a 9-5 job, and monitoring it is vital because bad news can spread a lot faster than you can prepare a response and get it approved by legal.
In general, where you’re located and what you’re trying to communicate are the most important factors in determining when you deliver a social media marketing message – that is if the message is tied to a particular event or promotion. So if you’re a restaurant offering a lunch-time special today, you’ll want to deliver that message when people are starting to get hungry, but before they’re in the car on the way to lunch.
Common sense, right? Consider this, then: 48% of the U.S. population lives in the Eastern Time Zone, and another 33% lives in the Central Time Zone. Only 4% live in Mountain Time, 14% live in the Pacific Time Zone, and just 2% live in Alaska or Hawaii. So if you’re a national brand, make sure you’re timing your social media for a national audience.
In general, if your audience is business executives or decision makers and you had to pick just one time of day for social media messages, try 9 a.m. Pacific. You’ll have a good chance of catching:
- People arriving at work on the West Coast of America and Canada
- Lunchtime (12:00 pm EST) on the East Coast
- The end of the business day in London (5:00 pm GMT)
The end of the business day – between 5 and 6:30 p.m. – in your home time zone may be a good starting point for your business social media posts in your “home time zone”. Wherever you start, be sure to test your timing, and compare results before creating a schedule.
There are a number of social media management tools on the market – from free tools to social CRM packages aimed at the largest corporate customers – that can help analyze the data and recommend the best times for your message.
A good social media marketing firm can help, too – in fact, it can be faster and less expensive to outsource your social media marketing to the right agency than to try to do it in-house. To compare costs and get an idea of what an experienced team can do for you, contact us now.