When I was a kid, we planted a garden in the backyard: carrots, beets, lettuce, tomatoes and sometimes even a row of corn. I remember planting carrot seeds according to the instructions on the back of the seed packet. The seed packet told me everything I needed to know: how far apart to plant the seeds, how deep into the soil, what time of year to plant them and whether they needed sun or shade. When I reached the end of my row, I tossed the last few seeds into the air and let them land wherever the wind took them.
“Sometimes those are the seeds that germinate best,” my mother said, acknowledging that, while it’s important to follow directions to bring about the best results, sometimes it is best to leave it up to nature.
Social media management is a lot like gardening. To reach your goals for traffic and engagement, you need to seed your content at the right time. But how do you know when is the best time to post on Facebook? Several studies have attempted to answer this question. We took a look at five of them.
Neil Patel: “Saturday is the best day to post on Facebook.”
Best-selling author Neil Patel writes that content posted on Saturdays gets “nearly twice as many” shares as content posted on any other day. He also writes that some of the best times to post on Facebook are noon, 7 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Fast Company: “On weekends engagement hits rock bottom.”
An article on the Fast Company website directly contradicts Mr. Patel’s findings, stating that Facebook click-through rates “hit rock bottom on weekends, before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.” The article recommends posting between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays and notes that the peak time for engagement is 3 p.m.
Argyle Social: “Engagement is 32% higher on weekends.”
A study by Argyle Social puts up more numbers that support weekend posting. It shows that engagement increases by 18% on Thursdays and Fridays, and by 32% on the weekends. This backs up Mr. Patel’s claim that Saturday posts get double the shares. The Argyle Social study also says that the best time to post on Facebook is between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Bit.ly and Raka: “3 p.m. is the best time to post.”
Bit.ly and Raka released a study that supports Fast Company’s assertion that 3 p.m. is the ideal posting time.
KISSMetrics: “1 p.m. posts get shared the most.”
According to KISSMetrics, if your goal for a particular piece of content is shares, then your best bet is to post it at 1 p.m.
What does it all mean?
If you’re confused by these conflicting data sets, you’re not alone. I’d like to know more about whose data they are looking at. The folks at Search Engine Land, for example, are likely to see a steep drop-off in engagement over the weekends because the information they share is related to work that people do — not something most people want to think about on their days off. The Minneapolis Farmers Market, on the other hand, should see a significant increase in engagement on the weekends, which is its busiest time.
If you’re running a business-to-business enterprise, then posting on weekends or after work hours is probably a waste of time. However, if you run a restaurant, a lifestyle brand, nonprofit or other consumer-facing entity, then posting during the hours when people have more time to take an interest in what you do makes a lot of sense.
3 p.m. traffic jam
There’s something that I have yet to see addressed in any of these studies. What happens when everyone follows their advice? If everyone posts at 3 p.m. hoping to catch the attention of people who are bored at work, then it must make for stiff competition, right? At that point, it’s up to Facebook’s algorithm to decide whose content gets to be seen and whose gets stuck in the bottleneck. If your page gets a lot of engagement, the algorithm will prioritize your content over others’; it’s reasonable to conclude that quality trumps timing.
Find out when your audience is on Facebook
Quintly has some sound advice: find out what timing works best for your audience. There’s a reason why Facebook gives you so much information about your audience. It’s so you can get better at reaching it. If a majority of your fans are third shift workers, then 2 a.m. is a good time to post. If you’re trying to reach parents with newborn babies, odds are that 2 a.m. is a good time to reach them too. If teens are your target, then post on weekends, but not before noon. It takes some trial and error to find the best times to reach your audience, but just like there is no perfect time to post, there are no shortcuts to success.
Anecdotal caveat that you should take with a large grain of salt
I used to do social media for a restaurant that is known, in part, for its tater tots. One Sunday morning a few weeks before Christmas, I saw a meme that showed tater tots with glowing green eyes drawn on them. The text read, “Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.” I immediately shared it on the restaurant’s page, even though it was before 8 a.m. on a weekend morning. Within hours, the post had hundreds of reactions and comments. Like the handful of seeds I tossed in the air, sometimes the posts that go up outside of “optimal” timeframes are the ones that perform best.