Clients have asked me, “when is the right time to post on social media?” The answer is: it depends. These are hard words to accept. Many people want a universal truth, a one-size-fits-all answer. When it comes to timing, the answer isn’t the same for everyone. If I told you what you wanted to hear, and said “post at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesdays,” I would be implying that all—or most—of humanity, no matter who you are trying to reach, is online at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesdays. That’s just not true, even if you clarify time zones.
Not all target audiences are represented by the national average
One might argue that out of all times I could post, the “most” people are online at that time. This suggestion is equally dangerous, as it supposes that your target audience acts like “most” people. If most people in the United States are online at 12 p.m. EST, but your products are great for a smaller subset of people who tend to get online at 4 p.m., you’d be missing your target audience with every post because you decided to trust some source telling you what most people do.
Also, basing your actions on a national average supposes that all people are the average, even the median, of a set of data. However, we know that there often isn't a real person who represents the actual average. There aren’t actually 2.1 children per household, for example. Even if on average most people check Twitter on Tuesdays, there are still a lot of other people checking Twitter on the other days of the week for reasons that might apply to your business. Be careful about trusting online sources that boast about knowing the “best times to post.”
Account for other factors
It's risky to follow the advice of survey reports and infographics blindly. They don't account for other factors that will affect the likelihood of reaching and influencing customers. For example, if an infographic claims that the most popular day for people to be online is Tuesday, you might decide to post on Tuesdays. What if the most popular day that businesses post ads on Facebook is also Tuesday? You might be more successful posting the second-most popular day, especially if the ratio of people online vs. businesses posting is a lot higher. You have a better chance of, and less competition for, capturing a greater per capita amount of attention. This might seem insane, but maybe you don't want to post at the time most people are online if that's when most other businesses are overwhelming consumers with content.
Some companies use this tactic with email marketing. Many people check their email on weekdays because they're already on the computer at work. Some companies will intentionally send email marketing on weekends, however, because they won't be competing with emails from coworkers, clients, and vendors. Less people might check their work email over the weekend, but for those who do, a weekend email is less likely to get lost in the mix. Vertical Response shared a study confirming the likelihood of success for such a tactic, saying, "Ironically, Saturday and Sunday had the lowest volume rates, but the highest open and click through rates in the study."
A combination of experimentation and the right tools
When it comes to strategy, you just can’t take shortcuts. You have to care about and know about your audience. You have to do your homework and figure out when they might like to hear from you. This will take some experimentation. For example, on one social network, I experimented with posting at times in the middle of the night. Some posts at 3:30 a.m. (in my local time) gave me results I was hoping for, so I continued posting at that time for as long as it brought results. You might need to use tools that can help you analyze when your current followers or engagers are online. Hootsuite and Buffer both claim to do this. If you want to use a tool that explains their calculations, Buffer offers a little more transparency than other tools, explaining that they analyze "the past 5,000 interactions (e.g. likes, favorites, clicks, etc.) you've had on the profile" and also include an "experimental" element to find "new optimal timing areas for you to post" (this explanation is available on the optimal-scheduling/results page when you login to your Buffer account).
What are your methods to find the right times to post?
What tools do you use and how often do you re-evaluate your audience's needs?