What, When, And How To Share On Social Media

When is the best time of day to share that hilarious video to your Facebook friends, or retweet an inspiring article for your followers? Every social outlet has its own sharing ecosystem. Here's what works for high-impact shares.

The currency of social media is the share.

We all want to be the go-to person with the latest news, the most intriguing viral content, or the best hidden gems followers wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Some people just have a knack for finding and crafting the perfect share. The rest of us have to work a little harder. Really, great social media sharing is a skill. And like all other skills, it requires a little strategy and a lot of practice to perfect.

While this post can’t help you with the practice, it can provide some strategy. Here’s a roadmap to quality social media sharing, including what to share, when to share it and how.

What to Share

Every day, all of us are inundated with lots of stuff—stuff to read and watch and see and think about. Probably too much stuff, honestly.

The average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day.

That means the biggest challenge of great sharing is to make sure your stuff is better than all that other stuff. Want to know if it is? Ask yourself these four simple questions.

1. Would your network thank you for it?
According to Ann Handley, Head of Content at MarketingProfs and author of Content Rules, this is a good place to start. Is the content so useful that your audience would thank you?

Beyond that, would your audience’s audience thank you? We’ve written before about the power of thinking beyond your audience to the next level of connectivity—it’s a great method for attracting a broad, engaged audience.

2. Does it make you say “Holy smokes”?
But “useful” is only one of the triggers that signals great content to share. It can also be so funny, so ridiculous, so rage-inducing that you simply must pass it on. What we’re looking for here is the “holy smokes” reaction, which Jason Falls explains.

You want your audience to think, “‘Holy smokes,’ this message is: incredible, sad, awesome, beautiful, intelligent, informative or some other declarative response. Ideally, they will think, “Holy smokes, I have to share that with my friends,” he explains.

3. Does it pass the Facebook test?
Think about how people in your audience share and what patterns you’ve observed to determine whether the content you’re considering will get traction.

Buzzfeed Chief Revenue Officer Andy Wiedlin says he urges the clients that Buzzfeed works with to produce sponsored content to think about how the content will play in the confines of Facebook.

“People share things that make them look clever and cool. They are building their own personal brands,” Wiedlin said. “We spend a lot less time thinking how to target and a lot more thinking what people are sharing.”

If you could see see it (and would want to) in your own Facebook feed, you’re on the right track.

4. Would you email it to a friend?
This important question comes from Buffer’s Leo Widrich, who uses it as a guiding principle for our own blog. He explains:

“It’s an extremely simple proposition. Yet, it has changed my writing completely. If I put myself into a reader’s head going through a post and seeing whether someone will say “Oh, this is interesting, John will really like this”, then I go ahead and publish it. … I will iterate, find more research, get more examples, until I can truly imagine this happening.”

When to Share

Now that you have a good feeling for what type of content to look out for, what’s the best day and time to share to each social network?

If you use Buffer, you’ve already got a jump on the answers for Twitter, thanks to Buffer’s partnerships with Tweriod and Followerwonk to help you find your optimal times.

Test your data
But anyone can determine their best times for a social network with a little experimenting. Study things like when the largest percentage of your audience is online—Facebook, for example, shows you this information for brand pages in your Facebook Insights under the “Posts” section.

You can also try posting the same content at different times of the day, at least an hour or so apart, and paying close attention to how many clicks each version gets. This post explains that experiment in greater detail, as well as a few more methods for finding your best times to post.

There’s also some conventional wisdom that we can use as a guide, though your experience may differ based on your particular industry and content.

For Facebook, focus on the end of the week
For Facebook, engagement rates tend to rise as the week goes on. They’re 18% higher on Thursdays and Fridays according to a BuddyMedia study.

Another study found that engagement was 32% higher on weekends.

Most studies indicate that the afternoon (experiment with the window between 1 and 4 p.m.) is the best time to post.

For Twitter, try off-peak times
On Twitter, swim against the stream to make your posts stand out by trying off-peak times—like weekends, when click-through rates tend to be highest.

As for timing, considering the rhythm of the day for your audience—times like lunch or before and after a meeting are when folks are likely to be taking a quick peek at Twitter, so try timing posts for the lunchtime period and for time just before or after the hour to take advantage of the post-meeting crowd.

For Google+, late morning weekdays
The Google+ crowd hits the site hardest on weekdays before noon.

You can also try the free tool Timing+, which analyzes your Google+ posts to see which times garner the best engagement.

For Pinterest, it’s all about Saturdays
The crafters, cooks and shoppers of Pinterest are busiest on the site late at night and on the weekends—particularly Saturday mornings, according to bit.ly.

For LinkedIn, before or after work
LinkedIn is all about work, so it makes sense that the best times to post here are weekdays, in the time just before or after work for the majority of your audience.

How to Share

Now we’ve got both our holy smokes, audience-will-thank-us content and the best information available about how to time it, all that remains is to share our great finds the right way. That means showing it off in the best light, creating a consistent style and attributing when we can.

Be consistent with post structure
Humans are creatures of habit, and we like to know what to expect. Help your content’s chances for success by creating a consistent style—i.e. if you pull a quote to share, always add quotation marks.

Research by Dan Zarrella reveals two more items worth being consistent with when it comes to Twitter: link placement and tweet length.

A link about 1/4 of the way through proved best for click-throughs.

And between 120 and 130 characters was the sweet spot for optimum tweet length.

Uncover the gem
Maybe it’s a great photo. It might be a staggering statistic. Or perhaps it’s the perfect quote. Whatever gives you that a-ha moment when you read a share-worthy piece of content is the element to emphasize when you share.

“I read every story looking for the nugget, the gem that will make most people interested in the piece,” says Callie Schweitzer, director of digital innovation at TIME. “It’s the best quote or the best turn of phrase that will draw people in. And I’ve seen great responses like: ‘Wow, I’d never read this but that really brought me in.’”

On Twitter, in-line images are a great opportunity to add another “hook” to your share. On Facebook, don’t forget you can edit multiple fields to take advantage of your quote, stat or other “gem.”

Develop a “type”
We’ve written previously about understanding your posts’ general types, which may include things like:

  • Links
  • Images
  • Quotes
  • Retweets
  • Questions or comments

You might like to share pictures most of the time, or your own questions and comments to encourage discussion. Whatever works for you, make it your staple type and the identify a few supporting types to back it up. Once you’ve built your staple, you’ll be able to focus in and become known specifically for that type of content.

Give credit to creators
When you can, give credit to both the content’s creator and the site where it originated, a la “by @LeoWid via @buffer.” You might have to trace back a few steps to find the content’s originator, but it’s worth it to give credit where credit is due.

It’s also nice to give a hat tip, or “HT,” to the person or pathway by which you found the content.

Here’s how Austin Kleon, author of the upcoming Show Your Work!, sums up attribution in one chart.

Not only is giving credit the right thing to do, it’s also a small gesture that can help build a bigger relationship in the future with the creators of the content you love.

This article originally appeared in Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

Courtney Seiter creates content at Buffer. Follow her on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Folkert Gorter]

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