The science of when to post on social media
Post ‘virtue’ content (e.g. educational) on social media in the morning for higher engagement. Post ‘vice’ content (e.g. entertainment, memes, shopping) towards the evening.
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And make sure you choose the right time to post, using today’s insight.
Information on social media takes two main forms:
‘Virtue’ content, such as financial markets news or the latest research in marketing
‘Vice’ content, such as celebrity gossip or fun memes
When is the best time to post either type of content to make it as successful as possible?
Timing is crucial, since around 50% of engagement happens within the first hour of posting, on Twitter.
An analysis by Rutgers School of Business researchers of 7,604,530 Twitter likes, 139,151 Twitter follows, and a lab experiment, show us.
People engage more with virtuous content in the morning and vice content in the evening
Impacted metrics: Engagement | Organic reach
Channels: Social media
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: December 2021
Post your content on social media at different times depending on what it is.
Morning time is best for educational or value-adding content (e.g. how-to SEO guides, business news).
Evening time or late afternoon is best for content that gives immediate gratification (e.g. a flash sale, fun memes, tasty-looking food, entertainment).
You will receive higher engagement.
In the morning, people engage more on social media (likes, follows, clickthroughs) with virtue content, content that gives long-term knowledge benefits (e.g. business or science news).
In the evening, people engage more with vice content, content that gives immediate gratification (e.g. celebrity gossip, food, sales of fashion products).
The effect also applies on weekends and for topics that don’t relate to work (e.g. interesting science). It goes beyond people reading business news in the morning and relaxing when they check out of work.
For example, in an analysis of Tweets of The Boston Globe, Tweets that were posted:
Before 4:13pm received more likes if they were about ‘virtue’ topics (Business, Nation, World)
After 4:13pm received more likes if they were about ‘vice’ topics (Lifestyle, Magazine, Marijuana)
(Twitter likes of content for virtue-oriented, educational media (e.g. Adweek) vs vice-oriented, entertainment media (e.g. Us weekly) changed as the day passed - Click to zoom in)
🧠 Why it works
There are two main reasons for which we consume information:
For the immediate pleasure of satisfying our curiosity, such as watching a TV drama
To learn something that may help us in the future, such as how to answer job interview questions
Our self-control declines during the day, particularly on hot days. Evidence is mixed about why this happens. For example, it could be due to general tiredness, because we have less glucose in our brain, or because we used up our willpower earlier in the day.
When self-control is lower, we look for immediate, impulsive, gratification rather than long-term benefits. For example, we order a tasty burger instead of the salad we know would be better for us.
Note: this seems to be the main reason for this effect, but there could be other, unknown, reasons.
The study focused exclusively on Twitter. However, the effect should extend to other social media platforms and possibly to other channels as well (e.g. email).
🏢 Companies using this
Based on an analysis by the researchers, companies do not appear to post virtue vs vice content at different times of the day.
In other studies, researchers found that magazines like The Economist and Forbes are the type of virtue content people mostly consume in the morning - while People and Entertainment Weekly are vice content.
⚡ Steps to implement
Break your content into two categories: virtue and vice. For example, content that educates your audience about the space your product is in is virtue content. Content such as a joke or something that offers an immediate reward (e.g. a sweepstake) is vice-related.
Plan or program your social postings. Post virtue content in the morning time of where most of your audience is located. Post vice content in the afternoon or evening.
You can experiment with extending this to different channels, such as email. Send an educational newsletter (like Ariyh) in the morning. Send an entertainment-focused one in the late afternoon.
🔍 Study type
Online experiment and market observation (of 7,743,681 Twitter likes or follows of various news outlets between September 2017 and May 2020). United States and India
Tweets We Like Aren’t Alike: Time of Day Affects Engagement with Vice and Virtue Tweets. Journal of Consumer Research (December 2021).
Ozum Zor. Rutgers School of Business - Camden, Rutgers University
Kihyun (Hannah) Kim. Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University
Ashwani Monga. Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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