The beginning of a new year is a good time to experiment with changing up the timing of your posts, as your followers' habits may have changed.
The hottest social media trend this fall? Complaining about lower-than-usual Instagram engagement (especially if you haven’t tried Reels yet).
Before we go all-in on the “did I get shadowbanned” conspiracy theories, it’s important to note that there are a lot of different reasons that social media managers might be experiencing a bit of a drop. One likely explanation? As COVID restrictions loosened in fall 2021, people started using social media in different ways.
With that in mind: now seems like a perfect time to experiment with changing up the timing of posts. It’s a simple way to potentially improve engagement, but a powerful one. So, for my next trick, I’m going to see if using Hootsuite’s recommended time to publish feature for your Instagram posts improves engagement, as opposed to posting at any old time I feel like it.
And if that fails? Well, I guess it’s back to commiserating with the shadow-ban community.
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Hypothesis: Posting when your audience is online can improve your Instagram engagement rate
Timing is a small but important component of successful social media campaigns. If your audience is online, they’re more likely to see what you’ve posted: simple as that!
Figuring out when that is, of course, is a totally different story. You can comb through your Instagram analytics and insights manually to pull together those numbers, but tools like Hootsuite’s recommended time to publish feature automate the process.
For this experiment, we’ll take the Hoot-bot’s wisdom to heart, and put it to the test.
My usual method of posting on Instagram is “whenever I feel like it,” so to kick off this grand experiment, I carried on doing just that. I prepped a handful of beautiful wedding photos to post to the Instagram account of a wedding magazine I work for (we have about 10,000 followers), and scattered them across the course of a week in a deeply non-methodical way.
Wednesday afternoon? Sure, that felt right! 8:35 a.m. on a Thursday? Why the heck not! Let’s call it “intuitive posting.” (Patent pending!)
The week after that, I posted another selection of beautiful wedding photos (with similarly themed captions, for scientific-control-group purposes), but this time, I followed Hootsuite’s advice for the best times to post.
If you’re using your account regularly enough, the recommendations for posting times will be available when you click “Schedule” while using the “Compose” tool.
Otherwise, you’ll find some suggestions over on the Analytics tab. You can select timing recommendations for each network in the top left drop down menu.
Hootsuite bases these suggestions on when your followers are likely to be on a particular social network, and when your account has accumulated the most engagement and views in the past.
It’s math (or… science?) and not intuition even a little bit. So: did Hoot-bot or my womanly inner powers know best?
What happened when I posted at recommended times
Okay, trying out this experiment during the holidays was admittedly not the best move, science-wise. Overall, social media usage habits are wildly out of whack with normal behavior, so accurately predicting how people will act based on recent actions doesn’t quite work perfectly.
Regardless: Hootsuite’s recommended times still helped my posts perform better, with higher impressions, comments and likes on average than my throw-a-dart-at-the-wall method of posting the week prior.
I saw a 30% increase in impressions, from 2,200 the week before to 2,900 during Hootsuite Recommendation week. Likewise, my best-performing post this week got 30% more likes than the best-performing post the week prior.
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Not bad at all.
Yes, this is a shameless plug for our tool. But it also proves an important principle: that posting when your audience is online does make a difference. And your audience’s habits may have changed this past fall.
But if you didn’t notice, that’s OK! We’re all learning and growing together here. The important thing is that this is an opportunity to get your engagement back to where you want it to be.
What do the results mean?
TLDR: Post when your audience is likely to be online.
It’s a basic principle, but one that’s worth a refresher, particularly at a time where audience behavior is evolving. Maybe you had a handle on their activity back in ye olden days (a.k.a., March), but things change!
It’s just like that old “Do you know where your children are?” PSA, except replace “children” with “social media audience” and, uh, “where” with… “when,” I guess?
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the creation and execution of our big social media campaigns, keeping up with our social content calendar or monitoring our social analytics that we forget one of the biggest factors in success is just making sure that people see the cool thing you’ve spent so much time working on. You’re not just Photoshopping your CEO’s head into that butterfly meme for your own enjoyment, after all. (Well, not entirely, at least.)
Set yourself up for social media victory by premiering your works of art in front of the maximum amount of eyeballs possible.
That being said: what does it really mean to post at the “best time”?
The best time to post is unique to you and your goals.
While there are general recommendations available for the best time to post to Instagram, ultimately, each individual account is going to have its own unique audience behavior. They’re your special precious babies! It’s not going to do you much good to post, say, Tuesday mornings, if your special precious babies specifically don’t like to use Insta on weekdays.
The best time to post is likely going to change over time
Whatever your recommended posting times are today are going to fluctuate over time, as audience habits evolve or as your audience itself grows or changes. There’s also the fact that the Instagram algorithm is constantly being updated: that will impact who sees what (and when!) as well.
This is why Hootsuite’s Best Time to Publish tool will also suggest time slots that you haven’t used in the last 30 days so that you can shake up your posting times and test new tactics.
The bottom line? Even if you don’t use a recommended times tool like Hootsuite, commit to nothing! Post times will be a perpetually moving target, so learn to go with the flow and always be testing new times outside of your regular schedule.
The best time to post is going to vary by platform
This very-scientific test was just for Instagram, but each social media site will have its own unique user behaviors. And even within a platform, different types of posts may have distinct best practices for posting — for instance, engagement on Instagram Reels could be different from the posts you craft for the Instagram main feed.
Never stop learning and analyzing, whether with your own human brain (or with the help of predictive AI tools).
Want to test out Hootsuite’s scheduling tool and recommendation feature yourself? Give it a whirl with a free 30-day trial.