Social media poses so many questions. Where do you post? When do you post? What do you post? How do you post it, and how often? Why? There are answers. And here I will collate for you the common wisdom of when, what, where, why, how and who you should post to on different social media platforms.

Where You Post

The most obvious answer to this would seem to be Facebook. It has nearly 2 billion active users. Although WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and QQ have between 1.2 and 0.868 billion users, they are harder to target with social marketing messaging – mostly being one on one messaging services. Instagram (now part of Facebook) has 600 million users, and Twitter has 319. LinkedIn has ‘only’ 106 million.

The true answer is more complicated, however. Post where it’s most likely to get the attention of your target audience. If you have a B2B focus, the 106 million users in LinkedIn will probably be more useful than Facebook’s 2 billion. You should also think about posting on multiple platforms – but remember to adapt your message. If you know who you are targeting, then you will know if you need to focus your attention outside Facebook.

When You Post

Facebook activity is highest at 3 pm (as is Instagram), although there are other peaks at 11 am and 8 pm. There is a sharp drop-off in engagement after 8 pm, which doesn’t start to rise again until after 9 am.

Engagement is fairly high between the hours of 11 am and 8 pm – so if you can’t hit the sweet spot of 3 pm, try and post within that time range. 3 pm is also the best time to get clicks, while other studies have found 1 pm is the best time for shares. Just because 3 pm is the average peak time doesn’t mean it’s your peak time – test to see what works for you.

Some sources claim that Wednesday is the best day of the week to post, while others say Thursday and Friday are the best days to post, with engagement falling 3.5% on other days. Using a tool like Facebook Karma can help pinpoint the best time to post for your brand and audience

On Twitter, it is better to post on weekends and Wednesdays if you are trying to reach customers, with weekdays better for B2B. On LinkedIn, it’s best to post 7 am to 8 am, or 5 pm to 6 pm – just before and after work hours. The best time for clicks and shares is between 10 – 11 am.

With all these trends, the best thing to do is to use your common sense and apply some logic. The 3 pm hour may be the peak, but that may be because it’s the time when kids are let out of school, and the teen demographic is very active on social media. And don’t forget – it’s always 3 pm somewhere in the world; what time is it where your audience is located? Think about your target audience, research their habits and post at a time most likely to get their attention.

How You Post

Think about how you are writing your posts. People scroll through their feeds quickly, so they are more likely to stop and read what you have to say if it’s shorter. Among retail brands, posts with 80 characters or less get 66% more engagement. It’s not just about brevity – to write a post that short, it means that the message you are putting out to your audience is clear and concise.

You may also want to think about asking questions. Posts that pose a direct question are 100% more likely to get more comments than a standard quote. If you are linking to something like a blog, make sure you have a like box (of Facebook Comments plugin) at the end of your article, so it’s easy for people to recommend your content.

Images are more likely to get attention that just plain text. Images with bold colours and filters get more attention. Pictures with people and animals in them get even more attention. Galleries get more attention than that – and videos get the most reach (although there is good engagement with 360 photos and questionnaire posts – depending on your industry). Match your image to your message – and make it as interesting as the idea you are putting forward.

If you’re posting on Facebook, don’t forget to tag photos (and retag another 50 friends after a couple of days). A tagged photo turns up in someone’s stream and is more likely to make them comment on your post. If people do comment, respond. Social media is all about making friendly connections – and people want to see that there are real people behind your company.

What To Post

If you’re a business – try and keep a lid on your promotional content. For every offer or product you’re trying to sell, it’s recommended that you have four other pieces of content – an 80% – 20% split. This can be sharing of relevant news, live events, pictures of work in progress or information about your products or industry.

It will still add to your branding, and can focus on being entertaining and informative – which is what people are on the Internet for. Entertaining and educating people on all your social media channels will make them more receptive when you sell to them.

When you do sell, offer an exclusive discount if you can. 42% of people on Facebook become a fan so they can access an exclusive discount – that’s second only to people supporting a brand they’re already a fan of as a reason to like your business page. That means special offers the best way to turn interested people into fans (and customers).

As a bonus, 27% become a fan to share their interests, 20% become a fan because their friends already are and 15% join because a friend recommended a brand. An exclusive offer on social media can have a beneficial knock-on effect for gaining fans.

How Often You Post

Don’t just post for the sake of it. Posting five times a day may seem to be a way to keep audiences engaged, but they can feel bombarded. Posting 1 to 2 times a day gets 40% more engagement than posting 5 times a day. Posting 1 to 4 times a week gets 71% more engagement that 5 posts a day. However much you post, you need to be consistent – feeds that aren’t regularly updated will lead to people losing interest.

Make sure you have something worthwhile, entertaining or valuable to share. If you can do that five times a day, great – but it’s unlikely, and that’s reflected in the statistics. Better to have a piece of really good content every day than one piece of OK content and four feed fillers. Although likes and follows are important – it’s engagement which really leads to conversion. People engage when the content is more entertaining, and not lost in the middle of mediocrity.

Why You Post

We’ve looked at the where, when, what and how – but perhaps the biggest question remains: why should you post? In mercenary terms, you post to grow your business… But what does that mean? Obviously, it takes money to grow a business – and converting is the best way to monetise social media. Conversion is at the bottom of the sales funnel – and it’s important not to forget the steps that lead there on social media.

Growing your business means growing your reputation. Social media’s real strength is in growing brand awareness and trust. People are more likely to trust a recommendation from another user than almost any other metric. Social media is the new word of mouth – it’s how people hear about brands and start to trust them. After awareness comes interest, and after people know about you – you have to put content in front of them which makes them interested in your brand.

After that, they reach a decision – whether it’s to click through to your website, like your page or leave a comment. After that, it’s easier to lead them into the action of buying, or signing up… or whatever your objective is. There’s space to do that on social media too – but to properly grow your business with social media, you need to attract, interest, and lead them to a decision first. Too many people just try to skip to the end of the funnel.

Change The Way You Post, Today

There are no hard and fast rules based on data. There are trends, and there are averages, but at the end of the day – what works for your business is what works for your business. Split test. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong that you can easily correct.

There are a couple of rules you can live by with social media. Be genuine. Make a real connection with your audience, and they will become your customers. Entertain them and solve their problems, and they will come back to you time and time again. Be flexible and ready to adapt to new trends and data as they come along and your company will grow along with your social media following.