How to Know Exactly When to Post: Social Half-Life Explained

It’s 1 P.M. on a Wednesday and you’re reviewing how many retweets your 12:37 P.M. Tweet has received. How many more retweets should you expect? Perhaps even more important: how much longer will people be seeing the Tweet at all?

One of the concepts developed in our most recent Smart Social Report was Social Half-Life. That is, the median amount of time it takes for content to receive half of its engagement. This number (in minutes) isn't figured using average brand engagement totals, but rather the speed at which that engagement is reached over each content item's lifetime. Our first line of inquiry involved differentiating between Twitter and Instagram– what could content engagement speeds help us discover about how to better plan content strategies on each individual network?

The answers to those questions are as unique as each individual brand’s digital strategy, and can be unlocked inside the Smart Social Report: Volume 2.

But even after finishing the study, I kept wondering what else the dataset could uncover. So, let’s group the data differently. Instead of looking at Twitter and Instagram in aggregate I broke the data out into hourly buckets. Then, I further adjusted the Twitter data by posting time zone.

I did all of this to answer one simple question: does the time of day content is posted impact its social half-life?

Graph shows Twitter Performance of All Smart Social: Volume 2 Study Brands by hour

How to Keep Content Fresh

Twitter content has a short half-life no matter the time of day. Adding this context to how long content can be considered “fresh” will allow you to hit the right balance of posting frequency. Removing guesswork will help re-engage your follower base at the right cadence and maximize their attention.

How Should Content Be Distributed?

These hourly views also shed light on the times of day when higher or lower content volumes should be planned on. Traditionally, there have been broad guidelines around posting once in the morning and once in the afternoon– or even specific set-in-stone times.

This data refutes that type of mentality. Instead, it makes sense to post more frequently while engagement speeds are lower and then spread the content out further during slower periods.

Is it Working?

With social half-life in mind, you can discern if your content is likely to produce above- or below-average engagement more quickly than you can by simply waiting to until that content earns an average number of engagements. In other words, picture that same Tweet we mentioned earlier: Ten minutes have passed, and your tweet has two engagements. In twenty minutes you’ll have four, and depending on if that’s better or worse than your average, you’ll know whether or not you need to re-message. To employ social half-life, simply wait until your half-life time has passed and then double your engagement number to see where you’ll be in a given amount of time. If you’re not on track for average engagement and are pushing an important message, then this is a signal to either post again or consider new messaging that might resonate better with your followers.

This same strategy can be applied to Instagram, Facebook, and more. For more data-driven insights—and information on how half-lives generally compare across brands on Instagram and Twitter, for example—download the Smart Social Report: Volume Two.

Jason Smith's picture

Jason Smith

Jason Smith is a Senior Analyst at Spredfast and works to find the underlying story the data is trying to tell. When he isn’t breaking APIs and making charts he can be found playing music around Austin. Follow him on Twitter for general nonsense and various complaints.