Social media apps on a smart phone screenPlenty has been written about what to post on your business social media platforms, but this could be the first time someone conducted a serious study about when to post on social media.

Three academics from Harvard University—Assistant professor Vamsi K. Kanuri, professor Shrihari Sridhar and Ph.D student Yixing Chen—show that posting the right content following the circadian rhythms of the target audience can increase engagement and, ultimately, profitability beyond what they call the “spray and pray” approach.

“Human working memory exhibits inherent variation across time of day and is highest when we wake up in the morning, lowest in mid-afternoon, and moderate in the evening,” they write. “Higher availability of working memory makes individuals alert and feel the need to seek information. This means that consumers’ desire to engage with content will likely be highest in the morning, lowest in the afternoon, and moderate in the evening.”

The academics aim is to give social media managers more to go on than just gut feelings. They note that a social media manager tasked with posting 10 stories in a day and with a budget to promote four of those stories can schedule the posts in over 7 trillion ways.

Some of their broad conclusions:

  • All else equal, posting content in the morning results in higher engagement.
  • Boosting posts is most effective when the target audience is experiencing low working memory.
  • Assuming the majority of the audience start their day in the morning, it is ideal to post content conveying high-arousal emotion (i.e., angry or worried) in the morning and “deep think” content in the afternoon.
  • A firm does not need additional boosting budget to increase gross profits. Simply rearranging the posts to match content preferences of target audience can do the trick.
  • Increasing boosting budget does not necessarily increase gross profits. There is a tipping point where additional spending results in only marginal increases in gross profits.


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