Echobox data scientists examined the optimal time to post on the world’s largest social network. They found that, contrary to internet received wisdom, there is no single answer. Good social media marketing tools therefore need to take into account your audience — or they will inevitably lead you astray.
The Internet is awash with attempts to answer the seemingly simple question of when a publisher should share on Facebook to achieve maximum traffic. Coschedule, Fast Company, Hubspot, ShortStack, Forbes, Hootsuite, QuickSprout and many others all claim to have the answer.
And there’s evidently appetite for this knowledge: the supposed ‘best time’ insights are being used to guide a vast number of publishers in how they go about posting to social media.
But conventional wisdom is flawed, and by using data from sector-leading publishers we will demonstrate that there are no universal ‘best times’ to share content on Facebook.
For our investigation, we analysed the median traffic that articles received from Facebook three hours after they were shared. Some news stories are prone to ‘go viral’, and so we used the median for all stories, as the mean may be skewed by outliers. The daily averages were based on one year’s worth of data. For data protection reasons we can’t specify the individual publishers.
To test whether there are universal best times to share on social media, we started by comparing three news publishers in different countries (South American, France and the UK). All three publishers enjoy a significant presence in their respective country or continent and publish national and international news.
It’s clear that the shape of the traffic profiles for the publishers are very different. The South American publisher achieves best performance when sharing between 11am and 4pm, and poor performance at other times. The British and French publishers achieve more consistent results throughout the day, but both experience peaks in share traffic at different times. What this demonstrates is that there are indeed best times to share, but a one-size-fits-all approach for publishers in the same sector doesn’t work.
Now that we’ve illustrated that publishers of different nationalities have different audience behaviours, the natural next question is whether there are country-wide best times. Could it be that the French all consume content more consistently throughout the day than the South Americans? Can there be specific guides per country?
To answer this, we compared traffic data from that same French news publisher with another leading French sports publisher of similar size. We can see that before 10am they achieve similar results, however the curves then diverge. By early afternoon, the news publisher is enjoying a strong peak in traffic per share whilst the sports publisher is in a pronounced trough. Overall the sports publisher’s traffic is more regular, with fewer dramatic peaks and troughs, while the news publisher has clearly demarked periods when more readers are clicking through to their stories. What this shows is that even for two publications of equivalent size working in the same country, there are stark differences in audience behaviour.
But could the French news publisher’s data be a guide for what the peak readership times of another French news publisher with similar content would be? We tested this by comparing the traffic profiles of two French news publishers, both of which are leading names in France and publish similarly high profile national and international content.
Even between these two publishers, there are crucial differences in activity. They both experience a similar pattern of peaks and troughs, however these are of different relative heights and occur at different times during the day. For example, when one publisher experiences a peak in share performance at 11am, it is in fact one of the worst times for the other publisher to be sharing.
Interestingly, when two very similar publications in the same country are compared, their audiences seem to consume content at different times. These nuances help us understand the particular characteristics of audiences and their varying appetite for content at different times of the day. But even these descriptions of the individual publishers do not do the subtlety of the data justice. Although we’ve compiled the data here using averages across the year, to be of maximum practical use a publisher would need to perform this analysis again on a real-time basis due to strong daily fluctuations. This is something Echobox does automatically. Determining the best time to post is a very complex calculation, and one best done by an automated system that can process large amounts of historic and real-time data.
Our insights show that there is no universal ‘best time’ to post on Facebook. The key for publishers to find the best time to post online is partly about knowing their individual content and audiences, not just when they are online but also when they are most receptive to clicking through to a full story. That kind of information is difficult to compute, but it is key for publishers looking to maximise referral traffic from social media.
Written by Sebastian Huempher of Echobox