The Science of Effective Social Media Use

Photo by Flickr User Marc_Smith, used under Creative Commons license allowing for commercial use.

Photo by Flickr User Marc_Smith

(A by-the-numbers look at controlling your media feed instead of having it control you.)

In “Learning from Social Media Failures” we explored so many of the ways social media can go wrong and erode your quality of life. But how about a little focus on the ways to use it right?

Whether you’re a content creator, an information hound, or a social butterfly, research and experience suggests there are effective ways to use social media, so long as you adopt smart personal guidelines and avoid overuse.

For the research, we’ll look at several surveys conducted by social media businesses both large and small. For the experience, we’ll be relying on a healthy dose of common sense, and my own experiment in willfully overdoing it on Facebook for one full month in order to find out which parts of it would make me the most miserable.

For Creators: How to “Narrowcast”

For artists, creators and companies, researchers suggest that the best bet is to be consistent: Post regularly, but not too often. Become a part of the rhythm of your fans lives.

Common suggestions range from posting no less than three times a week, to no more than three times a day.

Of course, there is no definite number. Scientist owes much of its growth to social media, and we’ve spent the majority of our three years in existence rarely posting more than a single, concentrated flurry of articles each month. It still seems to have worked okay.

What mattered most at the beginning was that we had a plan, and we stuck to it, while letting it evolve based on real-time feedback. You’ll also have to observe others, test what methods seem likely to work for you, and then be honest about the results. As rapid as our growth has been, I know there’s a lot we could probably do better, and a lot more we could try.

Fortunately, there is at least some existing research we can look to for a sense for what days and times are likely to be best for posting your work if you want to take advantage of the power of adopting a healthy habit.

Different studies from different companies tend do tend to give differing, sometimes contradictory, recommendations. But there are some norms that seem to show up repeatedly.

Facebook Timing
Recommendations for the best time to post new content to Facebook varies, but there are at least some consistent patterns in the traffic:

Each day starts with an early morning burst, between the hours of 6am and 8am, in which 80% of people under 40 start tapping away at their smartphones before they even brush their teeth.

After a brief pause for the daily commute, the site goes on to get most of its traffic on weekdays between 9am and 7pm. (Wow, we really are using it to distract ourselves at work, aren’t we?)

Traffic and clickthrough rates are at their greatest between 1pm and 4pm on weekdays, with a peak on Wednesdays around 3pm.

Active behavior however, such as sharing and commenting, tends rise throughout the week, with the heaviest levels of active engagement on Thursdays and Fridays.

(This makes some sense. With any luck, most of us have probably gotten some of our most important work done by these times.)

Facebook use then plummets on weekdays after 8pm, and stays down until the following morning. Use is also dramatically lower on Saturday and Sundays.

Still, it’s worth noting that for those who do post in these off-hours, engagement in the form of comments and shares can be comparatively very high as there is less competition for eyeballs, and people with nothing to do are more likely to be looking for something to do. At least one study suggests that this may be one of the best times to promote offers aimed directly at end consumers.

I’d also venture to guess that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are the most common days for long-winded political debates among those of us who didn’t plan anything that’s actually fun for the weekend. (And at least one survey does show that blog comments are highest by far on Saturdays.)

Twitter Timing
Traffic on Twitter follows a slightly different pattern: Usage is very high in the morning, peaking between 9am and 3pm.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean these are the best times to post.

The highest clickthrough rates tend to be between 1pm and 3pm, Monday-Thursday, according to a study conducted by Meanwhile, rewteets and reshares reach their peak at about 5pm.

(One would assume everyone’s more or less done with their own self-promotion by 5, and is ready to remember to be “social”.)

Twitter doesn’t seem to work very well on nights or weekends, however. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, you can expect traffic – and interest – to be very low.

The common wisdom is that you ought to “interact” with people on twitter. While some “favorite-ing” and “retweeting” and replying to pleasant inquiries is widely considered good form, there are many companies and creators that do just fine in broadcast-only mode.

And remember: if someone approaches you trollishly via Twitter, you are under no obligation to reply.

Feel free to use the “block” button in cases of extreme trollishness, unless real damage control is warranted.

It’s also worth mentioning that as much as I’ve enjoyed Twitter, out of all the social media sites we have used, it has easily had the lowest rates of clickthrough and return-on-investment of time. (And we have a healthy dose of followers.) So don’t go crazy over it. I’ve personally come to prefer it as an easier and more concise alternative to RSS.

Blogs and Other Social Media Sites
, like many specialized sites, follows a pattern all its own: Users on this site (mostly age 30+, with a good sense for the value of time) tend to log in right before and after work. Traffic on LinkedIn peaks between 7:30am and 8:30am, and then again between 5pm and 6pm.

Predictably, the kids over at Tumblr like to start late and stay up later: Usage here doesn’t begin to pick up until around 4pm, with the highest rates of clickthrough taking place from 7pm-10pm.

Meanwhile, the female-dominated image-sharing site Pinterest tends to hit its peak on Saturday morning, with additional spikes on afternoons between 2pm-4pm, and evenings from 8pm-11pm.

Blog posts tend to do best early in the day, with 70% of blog reading occurring in the morning, just like with the newspapers of old.

From this morning high, blog visits tend to decrease as the day continues, particularly among women, while men continue to read more blogs into the later hours.

In the evening and nighttime hours, the blog audience is slanted almost 60/40 toward men.

The greatest flurry of web comments tends to take place earlier in the day. They tend to decline and then level off after 12 noon, with one tiny peak again near the end of the night.

And in case you’re interested: Yes, there is a wicked high correlation between posting more stuff and getting more visitors.

For News Consumers: How To Reduce Noise By Going on an Information Diet

Social media can be a decent way to get news, so long as you curate it heavily, and use it as a way to access the primary sources you trust, rather than as a primary source itself.

If you approach Facebook or Twitter as a gateway to the best stories from your favorite publications (with a bit of extra context from your most trusted and interesting friends thrown in) then congratulations: You’re probably a very smart person, getting smarter by the day.

If however, you’re allowing others to set the agenda for what goes on in your news feed (as I have been guilty of in the past) then you’re probably about as dumb as I am half the time, and are driving yourself – and others – quite crazy.

So here is our advice to you: Cut ruthlessly.

If you wind up with a news feed filled with junky political propaganda from either the far-left or the far-right, hit “Hide”, “Hide All” or “Unfollow”. Do this with decadent abandon, cackling gleefully at all the wasted time and unneeded stress you’ve cleared out of your life.

Do not chime in, as I have done the past, in order to be the voice of reason and say:

“Well, I think there are two reasonable sides to this issue. Everyone makes mistakes, and I’m not quite certain that all Republicans are evil, racist baby-eating fundamentalist zealots out to steal your civil liberties; nor that all Democrats are god-hating socialists bent on a new world order of utter totalitarian conformity in which all private business decisions are replaced with the decrees of freedom-hating commissars.”

More than anything, political extremists on either side of the spectrum tend to hate that kind of thing. And they will talk your ear off about it if you give them the time of day.

It’s also worth noting that thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect — which shows that incompetent people lack the competence necessary to realize that they are in fact, incompetent — the people you are engaging in this kind of behavior with will usually lack the competence necessary to even realize that they are being irrational, uninformed or extreme in their statements.

The extra-scary realization suggested by the Dunning-Kruger effect is that, hey — That could be you and you’d never know it! So: Please be kind.

As an experiment, I spent one full month carefully considering and reasonably responding to every single argument I was presented with in my social media feed, and was amazed to discover just how long people will keep going if you give them a little attention. It was excruciatingly time consuming, and at the end of the experiment, I was ready to never look at a comment thread ever again.

So learn from my pain: Resist the temptation to weigh in with well-meaning comments in order to suggest that maybe there are also real benefits to genetic modification of foods, and that maybe natural gas extraction doesn’t really cause giant fireballs to explode forth from people’s faucets; Fight the urge to suggest that wait, maybe markets and governance are both important, and that by vilifying one or sanctifying the other, we do a disservice to ourselves and to the world.

There is a time and place for that. It is not when you are reading your 21st century digital newspaper at 8:00am, nor is it when you should be having dinner with your spouse at 8:00pm. And it is probably not, at any time, or under any circumstances, on Facebook.

If these issues of known science, basic economics, and general practicality are important to you, then instead of wading deep into the belly of the beast, consider ruthlessly trimming your media feeds, liberally deleting overly argumentative comments from your own postings, and presenting a generally more positive alternative of your own.

Instead of sinking to the lowest common denominator, consider leading by example.

For Social Butterflies: Fly From Flower to Flower, But Make Sure To Get That Nectar.

From my personal experience, the absolute worst way to engage in online conversations is by simply throwing around “likes” or wading into comment threads.

The next time you see a post that you’ve enjoyed or that prompts further questions, instead of simply leaving a detailed comment, try sending a personal message, and email, or text.

If the post really inspires you- god forbid- pick up the damn phone. Social media should be a gateway to real personal social interaction. Not a replacement for it.

The next time you’re tempted to “like” a friend’s post or update, feel free to do so, but also think of sharing it. If you really like and admire what your friends are doing, why not consider promoting it yourself without having to be asked?

And if you find that your own links are shared via social media, instead of just dropping a quick “like”, maybe consider sending a brief, one-line personal note to say “thanks”? I wish I started a policy of doing this long ago. Thanking people is well worth the minimal effort required.

If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be surprised at how quickly and effectively these simple changes can be in helping to build real, lasting relationships based on respect and trust.

This can be of great benefit to your career, your personal happiness, and it can encourage you to get out of the house and see the world bit more than you already are.

Even if you’re already doing this right, you can probably do it even better. I know I could.

Justin Colletti is a writer, an educator, and a producer/engineer who specializes in mastering.

This entry was posted in 2014, All Stories, Featured Stories, January 2014, Rants and Raves. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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