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May 31, 2012
Prime Time for Social Media
Nielsen recently released State of the Media Advertising & Audiences. It got me thinking about timing and digital media. While time has been a critical planning factor in traditional media, digital marketers don’t think in terms of prime time, roadblocks, or time-triggered communications as much as their offline counterparts.

That strikes me as a missed opportunity, since timing is everything in life and in marketing. Perhaps the reason is a lack of data on behavior or the absence of consensus on digital, social, and mobile media use. And yet digital, mobile, and social media have distinct usage patterns.

The average American spends 60 hours a month online visiting 89 domains and 2646 unique pages by logging in an average of 57 times. Half use the Internet every day, and most of them are on Facebook. According to BuzzFeed, from a low point at 5 a.m., Internet traffic grows steadily until lunchtime. After a mealtime dip, volume grows modestly for another hour or two to a 4 p.m. daily peak, which declines slowly but steadily from mid to late evening.

Huge numbers of people wake up and check email. Loads of people buy stuff online at lunchtime or post Facebook status updates during their workday. By mid-afternoon, after school, there’s another activity spike, which then is echoed after dinner, 8 p.m. through midnight, as multi-tasking consumers watch prime-time TV with their smartphones, laptops, or tablets in hand, commenting or tweeting on plots, checking sports scores, posting to blogs or communities, or looking up or buying stuff they saw on TV. And many of us also make a last email or social media check before bed.

When you think of it this way, there are patterns worth testing and probably a substantial case for marketing at specific times to address specific offers and the persistent fear of missing out, now dubbed FOMO by the pundits. In some cases, consumers use different digital platforms at different times for different purposes, like tablets for TV or video viewing or smartphones for online banking and location-based check-ins.

Consider these data points:
  • Facebook’s most consistent spike is Wednesday at 3 p.m.
  • Facebook predictably spikes at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 p.m. daily
  • Facebook posts appearing before 9 a.m. get more comments and shares than others
  • Facebook posts at the top of the hour get more virility
  • Facebook posts on Saturday draw the most Likes
  • Most Facebook shares happen at noon
  • Facebook CTR’s top out on Tuesday and Wednesdays
  • Sunday is Facebook’s slowest day
  • Twitter has daily traffic peaks at noon, 4 p.m., and 11 p.m.
  • Lowest Twitter volume is at 7 a.m.
  • Peak tweet volume is Friday
  • Peak retweet days are Wednesday–Friday
  • Peak retweet time is 5 p.m.
  • Highest CTR on Twitter is at noon and 6 p.m.
  • Saturday morning is prime time for sharing on Pinterest
  • Email has the strongest CTR on Saturday and Sunday
  • Blogs draw the most comments on Saturday
  • Blog posts at 8 a.m. prompt the most clicks, views, and comments
  • Cisco says 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. are peak global Internet use times — 25% of all traffic
  • U.S. Internet use peaks at 11 p.m. ET
  • Peak mobile usage is at 5 p.m. daily with a secondary spike at 9 p.m.
  • Online gaming grows 60% after 2 p.m. and spikes between 8–11 p.m.
  • Game console use spikes Thursday evenings
  • Online video viewing peaks at midnight
  • IMing is constant throughout the day, but reaches 80% of peak at 10 a.m.
  • Sharing across networks peaks at 9:30 a.m.
  • Social media (all networks) peaks at 11 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday is the top sharing day
  • 75% of clicks occur within 1 day of posting
  • Most clicks occur 2 minutes after content is posted
  • 12% of all clicks come from mobile devices
According to Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at bit.ly, social media content follows a “burst and decay” pattern, with attention spiking within the first few hours of a post and then steadily decaying into a trough. Immediacy and “newness” are factors in influencing the relative reach and virility of posts. Posts degrade from birth, much like an atomic isotope. Bit.ly has tracked these patterns by network and pegs the shelf life of a post like this …

Twitter                         2.8 hours
Facebook                     3.1 hours
YouTube                      7 hours
StumbleUpon              > 7 hours
Tumblr                        >7 hours

These data points suggest a few testable media and messaging strategies either for optimizing digital engagement or integrating on and offline media and messaging.

Road Block. Align and synchronize digital and TV platforms to dominate either a high or low use period with a single message. Gaming, apps, and social media all have substantial traffic that overlaps TV prime time. Brands should leverage this confluence of platforms to maximize visibility and reach or to make a dramatic statement. Imagine a campaign that parses the messages across synchronized platforms in specific time frames so that consumers follow the message or collect the clues to solve a puzzle.

Sequence. Run media to optimize efficient reach across platforms and to be sure a sustaining weight of media and messaging carries through a day part or influences existing behavior at specific times of day. Imagine a sequence of messages that follow each other and tell a compelling brand story driving toward an offer across platforms through time.

Contra-Competitive Timing. Coined by Dan Zarella, this strategy says zig when they zag. Don’t try to break into high volume traffic time periods. Instead, buy fringe periods or slower periods to maximize reach and frequency against smaller but more carefully targeted or niche audiences. With all due respect to Zarella, this has been a TV buying strategy used with effect by insurgent brands for 50 years.

Inflection Points. Intercept customers and prospects when and where they are doing something they like. Position your brand and buy your media to intersect and complement the experience. Better yet, enhance the TV or online experience and win loyalty and customer advocacy. This, too, is an old TV buyer’s trick — run soup ads when it rains, run the dinner special from 5–7 p.m., or promote beer during the game.

We’ve just begun to scratch the surface in applying sophisticated media thinking and cross-platform integration to digital, social, and mobile platforms. Timing and usage are variables that should help us break down the silos and leverage old and emerging wisdom about media and consumers to dramatically improve digital brand communications. 

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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