Over on the Soshable blog there are a couple of very useful posts about an often overlooked aspect of social media marketing – the importance of timing your posts so as to maximise their impact. The articles discuss the results of various studies and, although in the end there are no hard-and-fast rules (some of the studies contradict each-other), the undeniable conclusion is that timing matters – we’re just not yet 100% sure how.

This issue is especially important for small businesses where the person responsible for social media marketing often has many, if not all, the other tasks to worry about as well. Often this means that social media marketing happens when this person has 5 minutes to spare with a cup of tea and is checking their emails at a computer – and not necessarily at the time when posts will be most effective.

So, various considerations need to be made in order to pinpoint the best timing for your campaigns. Depending on the campaign type, audience, and nature of engagement sought, these considerations might suggest variable time-slots for posting – but  if you can figure it out, you’ll see improved results.

In light of this, rather than try to lay down generalisations which might not hold for everyone, below I’ll share a few examples of timing considerations which have served me well recently in relation to Facebook marketing.

1. Firstly and most importantly, bear in mind when people are likely to be spending time on Facebook.

I find that 8-9 am is great for catching people when they’re on their morning commute to work, often killing time on their smartphones. Secondly, there isn’t much competition in the newsfeed from friends’ status updates in this window (as much as there is at the weekend for example).

As a result, this is a great window for engaging in a more in-depth manner with followers – ideal for campaigns where you are seeking some form of sustained exchange (for example asking for comments or feedback on something). If you have people spending an average 20-35 minutes on the morning commute (average time varies in the UK depending on the part of country), that’s a decent window for posting and developing a thread – with a greater chance people will stay with it for a longer period of time.

Meanwhile, during the day many people who work at a desk with a computer might check Facebook at various points in the day – which seems like a great opportunity to reach them, but you should bear in mind that this is likely to be only a fleeting visit when users might just scan through for the most interesting items and bits of news – but are unlikely to engage at length (as they might on a morning commute). Furthermore, due to the general volume of stuff in the newsfeed by this point, your post is likely to get lost amidst the noise.

2. Next, the topic in question is also crucial.

For example, during the morning commute I find people are more open to engaging on a wide variety of topics than they are in the evening. This perhaps has something to do with the fact that, after the day’s work, people are planning and thinking about their evening – perhaps engaging more with their friends’ updates – and less interested in brand posts which have little to do with that. On the other hand, if a brand post relates to a daily topical news item, it’ll be far more successful in this slot as, by that time, more people will be aware of it and perhaps keen to discuss or engage with it.

3. Another consideration is the age and lifestyle of your audience – students typically have slightly different rhythms to people in their 30’s and so on (I’m aware that students can be of any age – but in the UK most of them are between 18-23). However, the 8 pm cut-off seems to be a generally sound principle as, whether going out or having an early night, not as many people are connected after this time. And by the next morning, the post will have been swallowed up by the million other items jostling for attention in the newsfeed.

4. Finally, there is the question of exploiting one-off events. Just like the distributors of the Sex and the City 2 film earlier this summer saw an opportunity to exploit the Euro 2012 football tournament by identifying that their core audience will be bored during this period and very keen for something to do with other bored female friends while other halves watch football, so too you need to be alert to the potential presented by certain one-off events. (Note: this doesn’t extend to cynical exploitation of high-profile but unfortunate events – as a previous post made clear).

Ultimately however, it all comes down to trial and error and learning from experience (it’s important to use analytics properly for this purpose). To finish with, I would recommend, before ever clicking ‘post’, it’s always good to ask yourself these quick questions:

1. What is my audience doing right now?
2.  Are they likely to visit Facebook in the next hour or so – and if so, on which platform? Mobile or desk-top?
3. What is the competition for their attention on Facebook in this moment?
4. Are they likely to be prepared to engage in the manner in which a particular campaign requires?

Good luck!