Do post times matter on social media?

“The algorithm.” You’ve heard it more times than you can count – the ever present obstacle standing between brands and their fans. As brand strategists, we are constantly trying to get around, ignore, manipulate and respect it.

With this in mind, we often wonder if there’s a best time to post content to maximize reach and get the most engagement. Posting at the “best” times means more people online, which means better reach, better engagement, and – of course – higher ROI, right?

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question, and we’re pleased to announce that we’ve figured it out (that is, until some major shift happens, which could be tomorrow). The best time to post online is…

It doesn’t matter.

It is this strategist’s humble opinion that trying to find the best times to post on each channel is telling; it means maybe, just maybe, you’ve got misplaced priorities. Wouldn’t it be better to spend time and resources formulating a full strategy, and developing top-notch creative?

Let’s explore why.

Paid Strategy > Strategic Timing

The reality is that social media marketing has evolved to nullify the importance of posting times. If you want to be sure your content gets seen, it’s all about paid support.

Before paid social, optimizing post times could be beneficial. The game was simpler then – better reach and more engagement meant higher metrics and clearer ROI. For a time, reach depended mostly on fans that were active on their feed when a brand they “liked” posted, and was supplemented by engagement actions (for example, if I liked a post from Chipotle, it’d be likely to end up in Lindsay’s feed, and if she commented on it, Rosie might see it too). Reach helped engagement, which in turn boosted reach, and so forth and so on until the post went viral (and blew up the internet).

Print

 

Nowadays, organic Facebook posts (content published on a page without any paid media) yield a maximum reach of 1% of a page’s followers (see graph). Each social platform has a different algorithm for determining organic reach from posts, but the bottom line is the same across the board.

Instagram is going much the way of their parent company – the three primary determining factors in their algorithm are interest, timeliness, and relationship. Posting time will at most account for ⅓ of the primary reasons a user may see your post (the algorithm has secondary factors too…). Even Twitter display posts non-chronologically to prioritize user preferences over whatever a brand posted more recently.

So even if you’re posting at the “best” time, you’re still only reaching an absolute maximum of 1% of your fanbase.

Go forth and target!

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last year that feeds would feature less branded content to enhance “the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” While Facebook didn’t discourage brands from buying ad placements and boosting posts, it was certainly another nail in the organic post coffin.

The monetization of social media has made the game more complicated, but ultimately provides more benefits to brands willing to play. Instead of fighting for reach and engagement for many, we are now paying to reach specific, targeted audiences and choosing the intended actions that go far beyond likes, comments, and shares.

Replace the time spent testing Wednesday afternoons vs. Friday mid-mornings with a strategy that more closely aligns with business goals. Using even small amount of paid media, brands are able to manage expectations on how far each post will go, and better yet, determine the success of their strategies with metrics like CPC (cost per click), CPA (cost per acquisition), relevance, and other significant metrics based on predetermined goals.

If you’re a budget-conscious brand – don’t worry! This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to get users to see your posts. According to AdStage, the industry average CPM (cost per thousand impressions) is $2.80. That means you’re likely to reach a million users for less than $3,000 – spread that over time and it will be well worth the investment over the menial organic post reach potential.

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If you take away one thing…

Our recommendation?  Focus on building out a social media strategy that defines target audiences, budget your resources to best reach those audiences, and create content that will resonate with them.