In a recent workshop, a marketer raised a question about the best times to schedule and publish content marketing:
Q. Based on the platform (YouTube, Website, Twitter, etc.), what is the appropriate schedule of content to be pushed out to keep consumers engaged? What are best practices for each of these platforms when it comes to publishing schedules?”
A. Thanks to Jissan Cherian of GlaxoSmithKline for this tough question. I wish there were a really simple answer for this question (as others suggest), but there’s not.
That’s because this question is deeply particular to your business and your customers’ information habits.
When it comes to optimal publishing times, one size does not fit all brands. Since your customers are different from other brands’ customers, the best publishing schedules differ too.
You can’t just copy someone else’s schedule, because their buyers won’t behave the same ways that your buyers do.
Here’s a way you can find the best times to schedule and publish content marketing. As you set your editorial schedule, keep your eye on developing 3 good content habits:
1.) Make and keep an appointment with your readers.
2.) Find a sustainable cadence for content that you can maintain.
3.) Use analytics and other tools to optimize your posting schedule.
1.) Make an appointment with your readers.
To make an appointment with readers, you need to know where they are and when. When do your buyers look for relevant content, on which kind of device, and on which websites, news or social media?
Choose the times and places that work best for your readers, buyers, prospects and customers.
Start with input from your buyer persona research. Add other customer research and analytics you have available.
Ask questions that help you identify buyers’ trigger points, so you can see how the buyers’ triggers relate to the calendar and clock. For example:
• Do customers buy based on a technology refresh cycle? For example, PC buyers may delay buying until a new generation of computers comes out – then decide.
• Do triggers prompt buyers to act at a certain time on the calendar or clock? Many people start to buy Christmas gifts right after Thanksgiving. On the other hand, technology buyers may kick the tires on a new product at a trade show, then decide a few months after the show.
• Are prospects more likely to research or buy your product on certain days or at a certain times of the day? For example, people search for coffee shops more in the morning, and for sleep remedies more in the evening.
• Do weather-related triggers matter? Campbell Soup runs more ads when the weather turns cold, because that’s when buyers crave soup.
As you do buyer persona research, ask broadly about your buyers’ information habits:
• Do buyers read news in the morning? On paper, or online?
• Do buyers watch TV in the evening? Do they also use multiple screens – a tablet, a smartphone?
• Do buyers read social media and email during the day – on a PC or on a mobile?
• Do buyer commute by car – and listen to radio or pass by certain billboards each day? Do they travel by train or bus, where they see the content and ads in the station?
Answers to these questions will lead you to the best times to schedule and publish content marketing.
Remember that buyers are habitual – they go where they always go for information. It’s easier to meet them where they are in their usual haunts, rather than to trying to move them to a place and time of your choosing.
To illustrate this point, Andrew Davis offers two models of the buyers’ universe – the Ptolemaic and the Galilean models. In the Ptolemaic model, your brand website is the center of the universe:
In the Galilean model, search is the center of the universe. And your website? It’s way the heck out there in outer space.
Marketers often use one mental model or the other to think about buyers’ information habits. Of course, the Galilean model better reflects actual buyer behaviors.
Buyers probably don’t go to your website for information first – instead they go to search, news media, e-commerce sites or social media. What content will they find there? Will yours pop up when they want it?
Find out all you can about what buyers search for, their exact search terms and the times of day they’re likeliest to search. Remember, your buyers differ from others’ people’s buyers, so don’t accept others’ findings at face value.
Email analytics may tell you if you are publishing too often or too infrequently. Pay attention and stay inside the guard rails:
• If you publish too infrequently, you may have a hard time attracting subscribers to your email. When readers don’t know how often your content will come, they’re much likelier to ignore it and less likely to subscribe.
• If you publish too often, you may see the number of email unsubscribes rise. People may choose “publish too frequently” as the reason they unsubscribed. You also may see lower open rates and click-through rates.
In short, make an appointment with your readers. Keep it religiously.
For example, this blog has published on Wednesdays since 2014. As a result, here is my readers’ social sharing behavior:
Readers share my content on Wednesdays, mostly through LinkedIn and Twitter. Other days of the week – not so much.
A client with different customers in a different business sees a different pattern. These readers share content mostly on LinkedIn, on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays:
Do you know on which days of the week your content performs best? Find out when your readers are most active, so you can deliver content when they’re engaged and likely to interact with it.
2. Find a sustainable cadence for content, and maintain it.
Find a pace for content creation that you can sustain forever. To prove you can sustain it forever, sketch out a content editorial calendar for the next 12 months.
If you find that you can’t populate a year’s worth of content ideas on an editorial calendar, you’re probably spreading yourself and your content too thin.
One of the most successful pieces of content marketing ever is The Guinness Book of World’s Records. It’s been published annually for decades. That’s the cadence its audience expects.
Be smart. Publish fantastic content infrequently rather than publishing mediocre content too often.
Focus on consistency and quality first – frequency second. Set a pace that you can keep consistently, while always maintaining the highest quality of content.
Is there a yearly rhythm to your business? The marketers at See’s Candies in San Francisco have identified 18 holidays that trigger chocolate buying. They gear their content around these holidays, which are chocolate-buying events.
Can you find a similar rhythm to the year in your business?
Content marketing is always a marathon, not a sprint. It’s forever. It’s not just a campaign.
When you start up a new content venture, it’s tempting for marketers to use all your best content ideas right as you come out of the gate. Don’t fall into that trap!
The problem: after a great initial launch, two or three months later your content cupboard lies bare. Worse, you’ve now set higher expectations with your audience – who expects you to keep up the pace you may not be able to sustain.
Andy Crestodina wisely advises considering certain questions when you decide on a blog publishing schedule:
• How long is your sales cycle? Some sales happen in a day. In telecom equipment, sales can take 6 to 24 months from start to finish.
• How long is your buying interval? Do people buy your product once a year, twice a year, once a week? Publish more frequently than the buying interval to stay top of mind.
• What fits with your marketing and business goals? Publishing frequency depends on exactly what you’re trying to achieve: awareness, consideration, lead generation, sales?
Here are more of Andy’s ideas about how often you should blog.
Set minimum goals, then commit to always meet them. For example, you may decide to:
• Tweet 4 times a day.
• Update LinkedIn twice a day.
• Update Facebook and Instagram daily.
• Blog once a week.
• Send an email once a month.
• Issue a new video every two months.
• Publish your magazine once a quarter.
Do you need to implement this many tactics? No, you don’t!
As the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) advises, it’s best to start building one platform, make it as strong as you can, then expand out from your first success. Start here:
Many marketers are simplifying their content marketing. For example, CMI studies show that B2B marketers used an average of 12 tactics a year ago, but they only use 8 today.
Smart marketers are using one-third fewer tactics! They’ve wisely chosen a pace they can sustain.
It’s smart to focus on a few tactics that work well, rather than too many tactics implemented unevenly.
Capture your cadence in a calendar. Whatever your schedule you set, once it’s set, maintain that frequency. Keep your date with your customers.
3. Use tools to help optimize your schedule.
For example, I use a tool called Buffer to solve the problem of what time of day to post on social media.
Based on the behaviors of people in my networks, Buffer automatically chooses the optimal times of day to post for me:
• 4 times a day on Twitter, at 8:50 a.m., 10:09 a.m., 12:28 p.m. and 4:09 p.m.
• Twice a day on LinkedIn, at 8:48 a.m. and 6:21 p.m.
There are many similar tools that enable you to identify the best times of day to post based on your unique network. By the way, these optimal times drift and shift over the months, so you may need to update them quarterly.
Use your analytics tools to find out more about when to reach your audience. For example, ask:
• When are your emails most read? Does higher email performance correlate with a certain day of the week or a certain time of the day?
• When are your posts most shared?
• Which of your posts are most popular, most shared, most read and most liked?
• Which pages and posts lead to conversions?
• When people don’t find the next thing they need, from which page do they abandon the website?
All of these data will give you crucial clues about the best times to schedule.
Gather all your analytics into one place. Invite your team to review them with you. Hypothesize individually about what is driving the trends. Then get together to discuss your competing hypotheses.
You can test hypotheses by doing A/B tests, quick course changes, experiments and maneuvers to help you find what works best. Apply analytics to help you solve the problem of when and where to find your audience.
Here’s a great infographic on blogging frequency and other blogging practices from Barry Feldman and Andy Crestodina.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.