Why "Peak Time" Data Is a Lie: How to Determine the Optimal Time to Post
Digital Marketer? Social Media Influencer? Wannabe? Whatever you are, that title may have caused your eye to twitch. Embrace that anxiety, and say it with me:
Peak Time Graphs Lie!
For all of you who are scratching your head, "peak time" is the time in which the traffic to your social media account, your webpage, your digital ad, or whatever you're tracking online is receiving the highest volume of traffic, or simply put, when the most eyes are on your content. Marketers generally utilize this information in order to determine when they're going to post what content.
I used to follow the concept of peak time religiously. No matter what the content was, I would only post during peak times. Whether it was a news story, a photograph of food, or an ad/PR that I've brokered for the client, I would always post the content ONLY during the peak time. However it was still hit or miss. While the numbers were generally high, nine times out of 10 the results were not what I desired (or what the client desired).
Peak times lie. I'll keep repeating it. I know it's probably giving you wild anxiety, but it's true. Utilizing the metrics from the peak time analysis as your sole guidance of when to post and what to post is not going to give you the results that you desire.
How Peak Times Are Wrong
Keeping in mind the definition of peak time, when you create the peak time analysis you will generally see three peak times during the day on any website no matter where you are in the world:
As you can see peak times generally run around socially acceptable downtimes. Morning, lunchtime, and then evening.
But remember: peak time just equals to how many people SEE your post. What quality content and a successful campaign requires is engagement.
High Volume of Views Does Not Equal Success
If your clients are anything like mine, they believe that then more people who see their content will mean the probability of achieving that goal is more likely. And they’re not completely wrong. Of course, the probability rises the more people who view it.
But does their conversion rate show it?
It is important to measure your analytics with the conversion rate. In sales that’s easy - in politics … not so much (but that’s a different article for a different day).
Measuring the success of a post, against the conversion rate during the duration of an Ad Buy on Facebook - or during peak time - is one way of actually measuring when your actual peak time is. This will tell you when the customers you want to attract are out there looking to shop.
There is an easier way.
Let me tell you a story. A former client of mine had released a video that, in their words, “needed to go viral." They knew that the more organic views and engagement on their post before they purchased ad time on Facebook, the more bang for their buck they would receive.
So they devised a plan: Their current customers would all receive a “sneak peek” in the newsletter with a call to action: comment, tell stories, share, and encourage their audiences to do the same.
The "to-be-viral" video was released. At 4:50 pm.
Now…I would like to say their plan worked, and some would. Within the first 24 hours, the video garnered about 930 views. And those were all unique, trackable, local views. Completely within their target market.
Here’s the problem: there were less than 100 shares with less than 20 comments. That lack of engagement slowed down the organic growth rate of the video on ALL PLATFORMS.
It’s hard. But in this day and age, to have a successful digital marketing campaign, you need to be able to hit a significant amount of your target market within the first 12 hours of a campaign. And if you want it to “go viral” you have to do it organically.
Where's the problem? They posted at 4:50 pm. Sure, it is well within the average peak hours of their Social Media medium locally. But as a social media marketer, you have to understand the peak times culture.
What Is Peak Time Culture?
Peak time culture is what your audience is doing when you are posting.
No one slows down these days. We are masters of multitasking. Most people are flipping through their social media feeds trying to gather themselves on a break.
I know in my home growing up, we always had CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) playing at mealtime. We enjoyed The Simpsons, Fresh Prince, and then ended the meal on learning about the local goings-on from the news. And we discussed everything that we heard and saw.
The same thing is happening, but now with scrolling. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, TickTock, and YouTube have replaced CBC. Now in our home, we sit down and watch a video or two on YouTube; scroll through Facebook or Insta, or we're chuckling at TickTocks.
Why is this important to understand? Because to have a successful, organic campaign with your audience, you need your audience’s full attention for the length of time it takes to completely engage with your post: a like, comment, share. You need an uninterrupted 30 seconds.
What Your Audience Is Doing, in 30-Minute Intervals: an Example
Below I have a great little table that I recommend you try out doing. This is an example of a peak time analysis that I established to help explain to clients why we post during certain times.
Knowing who your market is, and what their daily routine is (traditionally speaking for your area) is going to help you a lot in defining your Peak Time Culture.
What your audience is doing
Coming home from work; Scanning the internet for supper ideas; Avoiding cooking supper; Waiting for supper; Walking in the door; Catching up on the day
Organizing supper; Setting the table; Still avoiding cooking supper
Family time; Eating; Still avoiding cooking supper; Ordering supper
5:45 - 6:15
Eating; Family time; Paying for supper
Eating; Cleaning up after dinner; Avoiding cooking supper; Digging into those gummy bears because … screw supper
6:45 - 7:15
Cleaning up after dinner; Taking the trash out; Regretting those Gummy Bears; Relaxing
If you see a post while your shovelling potatoes in your mouth - how likely is it that you will share? Get distracted and keep scrolling? It's pretty high.
But look closer to the end of that table: the list of distractions (the actual distractions) is getting shorter.
The fewer distractions your audience has - the more likely it is that they will engage with the post. THIS is when you post those posts should be going up.
So next time you are in the middle of developing a strategy on how and when to post those critical posts, don't just look at that peak time graph - think: what is my audience doing during those times.
Now for that dooming disclaimer: social media is touchy. You also have to take into consideration news cycles, content, engagement, and just in general: people. So no - this isn’t a foolproof way for making sure your posts go viral. But this is one thing you should take into consideration in your social media strategy with your client.