HOME
          
LATEST STORY
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 29, 2011, 4:30 p.m.

Tweet late, email early, and don’t forget about Saturday: Using data to develop a social media strategy

Tweet more, and embrace the weekends.

That’s according to Dan Zarrella, a social media researcher (with 33,000 followers himself). Zarrella works for HubSpot, mining data on hundreds of millions of tweets, blog posts, and email newsletters to help marketers find trends. News organizations should pay attention, too.

Zarrella says the right Twitter strategy depends in part on what your goals are. Want to accumulate as many followers as possible? Then tweet a lot: Twitter’s A-listers — those with the most followers — tweet an average of 22 times a day, and more tweets generally lead to more followers. But if your goal is to drive more traffic to your site, you should show a little more restraint; accounts that share two or more links an hour show a dramatically lower clickthrough rate than those who share no more than one.

It’s an inexact science, but at least it’s an attempt at science where so much social media strategy is driven by intuition. (Zarrella complains about the the “unicorns and rainbows” strategy: “Love your customers, hug your followers, engage in the conversations. It sounds like good advice, and it’s hard to disagree with,” he says. “But generally, it’s not based in anything substantial.”)

After collecting more than two years of data, Zarrella shared his findings Tuesday in a webinar called “The Science of Timing.” That science is less about when and more about when not — what he calls “contra-competitive timing.” The trick is to reach people when the noise of the crowd has died down.

It turns out that time is often the afternoons, when blogs and news sites are slower, and the weekend, when they’re all but asleep.

Retweet activity is highest late in the work day, between 2 and 5 p.m., and the sweet spot (tweet spot?) is 4 p.m., Zarrella’s analysis found. Late in the week is most retweetable, too. Zarrella created TweetWhen to tell Twitter users what time days and times yield the most retweets. (Our @niemanlab tweets get the most retweets around 9 p.m. and on Saturdays. Go figure. That’s our hour-by-hour chart up top.)

On weekend mornings, when most news sites see substantial drops in pageviews, Twitter clickthroughs spike, he says. Comment activity also jumps dramatically: Users have more time and attention to devote to content on the weekend, even if the content isn’t fresh, and fewer distractions compete for attention. On Facebook, Zarrella says, the effect is even more pronounced: Facebook participation on weekdays is infinitesimal in comparison. (He thinks it might be because so many companies block Facebook at the workplace.) Facebook does not reward frequent posting in the same way Twitter does, however, and it’s much easier to flood (and annoy) Facebook fans than Twitter followers. Postings on Facebook also tend to “stick around” longer, re-emerging when people post a comment or like.

Not only does Zarrella recommend tweeting more — he recommends tweeting the same links two or three times a day. Don’t bother calling it a “rerun” or apologizing to people who might have seen it before. Simply wait a few hours and change up the language. Only a fraction of your followers will see it the first time. Even an organization with thousands of followers won’t reach most of its audience most of the time. (As an experiment, social media star Guy Kawasaki once repeated the same tweet every day for nine days, and found the clickthrough rate remained high each time.)

Zarrella recently performed a similar deep dive into data for email newsletters, working with MailChimp to analyze 9.5 billion messages. A lot of the same lessons apply, he says: Email more, and embrace the weekends.

Most people who unsubscribe do so after receiving their first email. Send 30 emails a month or send five — it makes little difference, he found. (“Unsubscribers are doing you a favor,” he says — they don’t want to hear from you anyway.) The most important time to reach subscribers is right away, especially in the first couple of days after signup. The average click rate for the average user drops to almost nothing after four months. Like with blogs and social media, readers are more likely to open an email newsletter and click links on weekends. For all days of the week, early-morning hours (between 4 and 7 a.m.) are the best times to reach readers — before they get caught up in their to-do list for the day.

Here are the slides from Zarrella’s webinar:

The Science of Timing
View more presentations from HubSpot Internet Marketing

POSTED     March 29, 2011, 4:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
“Nobody has to read you. You have to earn that. You have to respect people’s attention.”
Come work for Nieman Lab
We have an opening for a staff writer in our Cambridge newsroom.
The newsonomics of telling your audience what they should do
At WNYC, a public radio station is getting more aggressive about telling people what to do: go vote, get more sleep, stay healthy. What happens when a news outlet starts talking about behavior change?
What to read next
686
tweets
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
496Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
389Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
At least in certain contexts, WhatsApp is a truly major traffic driver — bigger even than Facebook. Should there be a WhatsApp button on your news site?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
San Francisco Chronicle
Foreign Policy
Daily Mail
NPR
PBS NewsHour
The Fiscal Times
Associated Press
Sports Illustrated
The Dish
Drudge Report
DocumentCloud
The Huffington Post