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Beware Social Media Experts and Social Media Generalities

Posted May 29 2013 6:42am

One of my pet peeves is social media experts giving out advice and, in doing so, using huge generalities. There is no doubt that this is usually done with the best of intentions but without enough background to know that they are giving out bad advice or making poor recommendations. Often this advice is based on the poor assumption that social media users are this homogeneous group who all use these platforms exactly the same way. In reality, these are niche marketing platforms and it is up to each of us to understand the niche audiences we seek to engage. The strategy should grow out of a detailed understand of the daily lives of individuals within that target audience.

Recently there was a post on Social Media Today titled “Best Times to Post of Social Media.”  I knew this was potentially problematic before I even read the post. Questions immediately popped into my head: To achieve what objectives? To reach what audience? And why are we having to choose between times? Can’t we post the same message at various times throughout the day? But to be fair, the writer, Brianna Smith, hedged her bets throughout the piece. She gives some good tips like using tools such as ow.lys, bit.lys, hootsuite and Social Bro to get a picture of how your audience is interacting with and responding to the messages you’re distributing through social media. She also recommends using Timing+ to better understand when to post on Google+.

My concern with Brianna’s post is that it is too easy for the reader to go straight to the data about when its best to post on various platforms. My other concern is that the infographic she shares is dealing in broad generalities and we live on a world of specifics. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in social media marketing.

Here’s what is listed in the post for best times to post on social media (source is the infographic produced by socialcaffeine.com):

  • Facebook – between 10 am and 4pm Monday thru Thursday.
  • Twitter – between 1pm and 3pm Monday thru Thursday.
  • LinkedIn – focus on posting before and after business hours, 7 am to 9 am and 5pm to 6pm Tuesday thru Thursday.
  • Google+ – 9am to 11am on workdays.

If you read Brianna’s post carefully, she correctly points out that these generalities do not work for all businesses, all target audiences and all messages. In other words (mine), they are fun to look at but fairly useless when it comes to developing your social media strategy.

But let’s start at the beginning. The post in Social Media Today begins by saying:

“Social media is 24/7. Someone is always tweeting, posting on Facebook, or uploading a new picture to instagram. However, for social media managers and businesses alike, this can be quite of a challenge. We obviously can’t be online all day, even for those of us who are social media managers or strategist.” (Social Media Today, May 10, 2013)

The truth is, using a social media management service like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to schedule your posts, you can be online all day, and there’s no excuse not to be. Weekends too! (The author of the Social Media Today post, Brianna Smith, mentions Hootsuite and its auto scheduling feature.) Here’s some news: We don’t live in a Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm world. Our target audiences’ social media habits do not necessarily conform to our workday schedules. As my friend Dean Browell pointed out in a presentation the other day, your posts on Twitter are here and then gone. They are ephemeral or fleeting. I like the analogy of geese flying overhead. Your social media audience, particularly on Twitter, are like flocks of geese flying overhead. Unless you Tweet at just the right time, they miss your message. That’s why it always amazes when people are afraid to re-post the same message more than once throughout the day. Go for it. You are not going to burn out or alienate your followers. If you’ve got something you want to share on Twitter, post it at 10am, then again at 3pm, and again at 9pm, and then at 5am the next morning. It is likely that most of your followers will never see the message more than once. But with this strategy you’ll have a much higher likelihood of reaching more of you followers. With a tool like Hootsuite, you can easily schedule your Tweets 24/7 without a worry. Yes, you can even post on weekends without actually being in the office. In short, it doesn’t take much more work to be thorough in your approach.

After mentioning that there isn’t one good answer for every business, the Social Media Today post shows an infographic recommending specific times of day for posting, based on overall traffic volume for each platform. The infographic doesn’t deal with demographic or psychographic breakouts. The question you should ask yourself is whether or not the busiest time of day is also the time when you are going to have the most success getting someone’s attention? And isn’t it dependent on the habits of your specific target audience. For example, I’ve found that the best time to reach physicians with social media is early in the morning 5am to 6am and late in the evening – 9pm to 1am.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 2.54.28 PM The infographic within the Social Media Today post recommends posting on Facebook on weekdays (“avoid posting on weekends”)  between 1pm and 4pm. Again, this recommendation is based on peak traffic times for all Facebook users. But those numbers are skewed by business people active on social media from 9am to 5pm, Monday – Friday. Unfortunately, those alone are not the best times to post if you’re a hospital seeking to reach women, particularly mothers. A study by Reed Smith demonstrated how hospitals can benefit from posting on Facebook in the evening and on weekends – times when moms are online. (That is also why Pinterest has such good numbers on the weekend and on evenings.) It is worth noting that one of the things Reed noticed when he switched his hospitals to posting exclusively in the evening and on weekends was a slight decline in “people talking about this” (engagement) despite a significant increase in “Likes” for the hospital Facebook pages. Those results point toward the importance of balance in the strategy. It is important to post at different times of the day to take advantage of various usage habits. At my firm we’ve seen the benefit of reaching moms on Twitter and Facebook in the evening after they put the kids to bed.

When developing your own posting strategy, ignore the generalities and get down to specifics. Your strategy should be grounded in an understanding of your target audience. Think like a sociologist or ethnographer. How does your target audience spend his or her day? When are they likely to be using social media and what type of device will they be using? As Brianna Smith says in her post, “When determining when to post on social media make sure to consider your customers, your product or service, and the types of messages you are posting.” By the way, be sure to check out the comments that follow Brianna’s post. They are insightful!

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