Post every X hours – the over simplification of Facebook guidelines

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January 19, 2012 by dannybishopcreative

If you follow me on twitter you would have noticed recently a discussion taking place about how often your brand should post updates to Facebook.

This came about thanks to an article on Tech Crunch titled “Study: Facebook pages shouldn’t post more than 1x every 3 hours.”

Facebook Engagement Lifetime - source: Techcrunch

Facebook Engagement Lifetime - source: Techcrunch

“The study found that the average post lifetime was 3 hours and 7 minutes, while the median post lifetime is 2 hours and 56 minutes. After a post’s death, it only receive a trickle of engagement and there’s little lost by posting again.”

When this article first started to be linked from Twitter I thought it important to point out that there are some problems with the information being used to draw a conclusion about how often you should post.

The first is due to the data. The study was drawn from 500+ pages averaging 140,000 fans. But what sort of companies were they? Were they 500 FMCG companies? 500 brown goods manufacturers? The numbers (500 companies @ 140,000 followers) show they didn’t use many (any?) high profile sporting teams in the data gathered – FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and the Los Angeles Lakers combined would account for more than the 70M fans covered in the study.

Without understanding the brands involved it becomes very dangerous to read anything meaningful from the data. Sporting clubs regularly post multiple updates in the space of a few hours, whereas FMCG brands post far less often (Coca Cola’s Facebook page was updated just 3 times over the first 20 days of 2012.)

Why is that important? Imagine you post once a day. The engagement graph you’ll see will probably be close to that of the graph you would see if you post every two days. Both would likely see a ramp up in likes and comments that plateaus after several hours. The two day graph might possibly look a little different if your fans are located in just one timezone.

However, if you post every hour, your engagement graph would look very different to the one-per-day graph. Why? Because visitors on Facebook probably aren’t going to like every one of your posts if there are 23 new updates since they logged in yesterday morning. Let’s say – to be the devil’s advocate – you post updates every three hours. Chances are your graph would look almost identical to the one above.  The new post kills engagement with the previous post. In fact, if you posted every 2 hours your graph would still probably look very much like the one above.

If you did post every hour, chances are the graph would look markedly different. But the graph doesn’t show us what that graph might look like.

“Every hour? Madness!” I hear you cry.

For some organisations a Facebook update every hour would be complete overkill and most likely lead to people un-liking in droves. But there are occasions where every hour is actually less than the ideal.

If you’re in charge of an AFL club’s facebook page (and I have been in the past) then providing updates 5-6 times over 2.5 hours is not uncommon. A post prior to the game revving the fans up, a post as the game starts reminding them where they can engage online and posts at quarter, half, three quarter and full time are common.

The engagement graphs for these posts would look nothing like the graph above. They would have hundreds, sometimes thousands of likes within the first 15-20 minutes and plateau very quickly – apart from the final score update.

These game-day posts are the ones that receive the most engagement from fans. If you were to use this data you might draw the conclusion that posting every 20 minutes is the sweet-spot for Facebook updates. It’s an error of logic known as “affirming the consequent“.

So how often should you post updates to Facebook? Lots during games and bugger all the rest of the week? A couple of times a day and a few extra at the match? Will they stand a few product plugs if you slip them in with good news?

In an ideal world you could run A/B tests with different post regularity and map the likes to draw a conclusion.  In reality that’s impossible (or close enough to it with the tools we currently have at our disposal).

The only way is to truly understand the people connected to your brand on Facebook and watch how they interact with you.  They will tell you if you’re clogging their stream, either by complaining in the comments, not liking your updates or un-liking your brand. So listen and keep an eye on your Facebook analytics! Be engaged with your fans, learn how often they want you to update and they will be engaged with you!

Now that’s not headline grabbing like “Post every 1x 3 hours”, but it’s the truth.

If you’re looking for a simplified version, for big sporting clubs two to four times a day is probably about right, with the exception of game day where pre-grame, half and full time are the minimum you should be providing updates. (If you’re a swimming club, athletics club, tennis club or similar then the rules will be different. 30 tennis matches today? Don’t post the results of each of them individually! ) If you need to update more than that you should be using twitter!

Also be careful how many sponsor/commercial posts you include.  If you’re only updating twice a day and one of those is a commercial update you’ll soon find fans dropping off.  The sweet spot for ratio of news to commercial updates is something that’s even harder to judge, but I will explore in another post soon.

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