A Guide to High Quality Social Media Sharing: What, When and How to Share

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gift in handsThe 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 (hey, that’s what your Buffer queue is for!), 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.

Facebook best times

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.
Google+ best times

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

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, accordingly to bit.ly.

pinterest best times

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.

LinkedIn best times

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.

Twitter link placement

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

Tweet length research

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.”
Facebook-customize

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.

Austin Kleon attribution 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.

What tips did I miss for the what, when and how of amazing sharing? Let me hear them in the comments!

 

Top Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight

About the Author

Courtney Seiter

Courtney creates content at Buffer, pets every dog she sees and collects vintage coats. She is often described as "perky."

  • Jan Minihane

    Good post again! A common question I get is ‘how often should I share’ – to which I always reply ‘it depends’ – on your objectives, on your audience’s appetite, on the type of business and on the site you are posting on etc etc :-)

    • Courtney Seiter

      So true! AND on how the network changes. What used to work on Facebook, for example, in regards to frequency, may not work anymore with its recent algorithm change. A lot of brands are finding that posting more frequently is a better fit now.

      • Jan Minihane

        Exactly, same as posting the same on multiple sites was cool a few years back, now it’s a no (on the whole) – repurpose maybe, exactly the same nooooo :-)

  • http://www.windycityparrot.com WindyCityParrot

    The misconception about posting at “the right time” is by doing so you assume that your fans will stop what they’re doing and look at your post. , Which is like saying I get the Chicago Tribune delivered at 5 AM, so I should set my alarm clock and begin to read it at 5:00 am

    Thus seeking specific times to post is actually counterproductive because that’s not how people use Facebook. They may get up in the morning and check it. Maybe check in at lunch on the smart phone and follow-up when they get home.

    That’s why having engaging content will cause them to scroll down and look at all of your recent unread (by them) posts regardless of the time they were deployed to Facebook – I’ve coined the term “the down line” to explain this phenomenon

    This is especially true if you have International fans

    IMO

    • Courtney Seiter

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! Like you, I tend to also be skeptical about most “best time to post” reports because the best data is the data you test for yourself and determine to be true. However, it definitely doesn’t hurt to fish where the fish are, as the saying goes. If you know your fans go to Facebook on their lunch break, why not time your content to meet them where they are?

  • LucidGal

    Courtney, why wouldn’t a FB page admin just look at the best posting times in the Insights? I manage several pages, and the peak times are very different between them. I try to do posts twice per day, and my banks have fans looking at their pages 8am/8pm, restaurant 4pm/9pm, others 11am/3pm, etc. Engagement is consistent across all days of the week. Point is: FB provides the data, why not use it?

    • Courtney Seiter

      Hey there, I absolutely agree with you. All the “best times” wisdom changes dramatically based on your business type (B2B or B2C), your fan base (local? international? big difference!) and many other factors. The best data is the data that’s specific to your brand.

      • LucidGal

        The pages are mostly B2C but are in very different industries. The Insights will tell you what’s specific to the brand (page).

  • ronellsmith

    One of the biggest complaints (right after “How does this work, again?”) I get from friends, co-workers and clients is “It’s impossible to judge the effectiveness of social media when I analyze the bottom line.” I totally disagree, but what I’ve come to know is the more familiar folks become with social media, the more easily the barriers to success fall away.

    RS

    • Courtney Seiter

      Great point, Ronell. It’s easy to fear or scoff at things that are foreign to us, like the people who write off Twitter as a place to post what you had for lunch. :) Often they come around once they understand it better!

  • hairahana

    Great article! thx!

    • Courtney Seiter

      Thank YOU!

  • http://www.petergmcdermott.com/ Peter G McDermott

    Timing seems a little off for Google+. Did the author change the time at the top of the navigation bar to her local time zone with the Timing+ tool? I didn’t notice it until after I started analyzing my results and they seemed way off.

    • Courtney Seiter

      Hey Peter, thanks for pointing this out on Google+. I have updated the screenshot!

      • http://www.petergmcdermott.com/ Peter G McDermott

        Thanks @courtneyseiter:disqus, I just thought the numbers looked off from what I saw. Thanks for updating! :)

  • http://www.alexisrodrigo.com/ Lexi-Web Copywriter

    It’s great to have these guidelines as starting points, but the optimal times really depend on our target audiences. For example, for B2B audience, weekends are probably not the best time to get reach and engagement.

    • Courtney Seiter

      You’re 100% right; I agree! The best solution is to test your own data.

  • http://thetecnica.com/ Devinder Maheshwari

    This is a brilliant post on what to share, when to share and how to share and that’s what social media is all about. Loved the post and I hope my followers would love to read this one, so, tweeting this one. :)

    • Courtney Seiter

      Thanks; glad you enjoyed!

  • Juan

    I just wanted to retrieve my photos from Google+and put on Facebook photos?

  • Josh Anderson

    most amazing article on sharing on social media from what time to how to what thank you!

  • LOVINGLY MADE LTD

    As a relative ‘newbie’ to social media, I found this article brilliant – so much so, I forwarded it to my 23 year old son, who found it just as interesting.
    Great useful information for a newcomer and for a smaller company too.
    Fab!

  • http://www.vindi.com.br/ Rodrigo Dantas

    Very Good!

    Rodrigo – http://www.vindi.com.br

  • http://workwithbarrycanada.com/ Barry Canada

    Hard to believe there was so much information in that tiny little package.. Great value ~ thanks!

  • Charles Johnston

    Great info, I always knew there were ‘peak’ times it is nice to have them detailed out. Will be hanging onto this one for reference and future blog exposure ideas.

  • Daniel Parker

    Nicely written.

  • Debra Qalo

    On Facebook – which button do you press to ‘seen by” – I don’t know how to do it as to who and how many have seen what I have posted.

  • http://www.storekrichardsoneducation.com S R Education

    Great post, many thanks for the insights, Courtney. May I ask, are the individual timings based on the US data? I am in the UK. Overall makes sense, except for Google+ and Twitter (in my experience Twitter is busiest during the week, from 6am-11pm; guess it also depends on your industry/niche/whom you follow. Agree with your advice on LinkedIn and FB – same in my experience. Thanks again.

  • http://redsagedigital.com Red Sage Digital

    Attribution always seems to be the difficult part when I’ve found something by going down the rabbit hole of the internet, so I run out of characters when giving HT and author credit. Thank goodness for link shortening!