Wednesday, September 3

The Best Time Fallacy For Social Sharing

You can read countless opinions about the best time to share content on social networks and come up with all sorts of conclusions. Some people have even published guides about sharing. And other people claim that there is a science behind sharing. Maybe it is science or maybe it's more random.

If it really was science, one would think big data could decipher it by now. Or who knows? Maybe it already did. If you spend a little time reading these articles, most pros are convinced by their metrics.

Some look for peaks in reach. Others avoid peaks in reach.  Some prefer off hours. Others prefer on hours. Some measure peaks in engagement. Others measure other stuff. Some say do what everyone else does. And others? Well, they say Friday.  Friday? Yes, Friday

Take your pick or subscribe to the most common of claims — 1-3 p.m. on Twitter, 1-4 p.m. on Facebook, 5-6 p.m. on Instagram, 8-11 p.m. on Pinterest, etc. — and you will eventually learn one thing. These assumptions are mostly wrong, at least wrong enough that they aren't always right.

Social sharing is largely shaped by three interdependent factors. 

The simple truth is that different social communities consume, engage, and share differently and different content (both in form or function) is consumed, engaged, and shared differently. The very best that anyone can hope for is to assess how their community receives and responds to content.

So where some self-proclaimed data analysts get it wrong is in not considering the entire picture. Ergo, the best time to share isn't necessarily dictated by big data patterns but by three interdependent influencers that established those data patterns. Specifically?

Community Demographics. Demographics do shape some online activity much like they shape broadcast channels, with the exception of increased accessibility at work. Sooner or later, marketers are likely to see age, gender, income level, race and ethnicity as influences (with occupations or interests being big tells too). This is doubly true for brands driving demographics to their accounts.

The point is that musicians and music lovers might be more active between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., graphic designers between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., authors and book lovers at around 11 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. This space, by the way, tends to perform better earlier in the day, especially between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., which corresponds with marketers and communicators getting into work on the East Coast.

Social Media Management. And if you ever wondered why so many social media professionals can make seemingly contradictory claims about the best time, chalk it up to their own design. If a social media manager engages people between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. every day, then it's more than likely they will develop an audience around those times.

In fact, it might even make sense to pick times slightly off from some community demographics in an attempt to reach underserved prospects. Or, depending on resources and strategies, it might make sense to weight more activity during other timeframes. In the case of this space even, I'm partly responsible for that 6-8 a.m. timeframe mentioned earlier.

Content Type And Relevancy. Of course, engagement doesn't begin and end with participants. Not all content is created equal at the same time. For example, a social media manager might find that long-form content, studies, and white papers are best delivered when people are fresh while shorter content and timely information feels better late in the day and early morning.

Not all topics are created equal either. Some are predisposed to natural timeframes. People are more receptive to food porn before they eat rather than after they eat whereas recipes are easier to consume mid-morning and a few hours after dinner. And other special interests (such as programs or television shows) have unique timeframes too. Sometimes it can even be as simple as before and after (and sometimes during) the program.

In sum, the best time to share content has nothing to do with data patterns and much more to do with the factors that created those data patterns, with "do what seems to work" coming in a close second. Even the case of this space, all the external data suggests that I'm publishing at the worst time for a communication blog except the evidence that comes with publishing and sharing at other times.
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