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How does content “go viral” through social networks?

28 May, 12 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

You may (or may not) have noticed that having blogged every Friday for over 2 years, there was a distinct lack of activity on the BMJ Web Development blog last week. Was I out enjoying the sunshine? Absolutely not. I was in the office researching the best time to disseminate blog posts on social media networks, of course.

Bit.ly, the URL shortening service with link tracking, published a blog exploring how content  “goes viral” through social networks. They track metrics “like the main type of content being shared on a network, the geographic locations of the people sharing and viewing the content, and how the popularity of the network has risen and fallen compared to other networks”. All of which places them in a strong position to analyse how day and time affects the eventual amount of attention an update will receive. Please note that the times below are all EST.

Twitter

  • Post 9am-3pm, Monday -Thursday
  • Especially post 1-3pm, Monday – Thursday
  • Avoid posting after 3pm on Friday and at all on weekends

Facebook

  • Post 1-4pm during the week
  • Best to post midweek 1-3pm
  • The very best time is Wednesday at 3pm
  • Avoid posting between 8pm and 8am during the week
  • Avoid posting on weekends

It’s important to note that what Bitly studied is click-throughs in the 24 hours after the post, so the best time to post something isn’t necessarily when traffic is peaking. Posting when there are many people active does help raise the average number of clicks but it in no way guarantees the optimal amount of attention, as there is more competition for people’s attention.

Another caveat is that these figures largely reflect US ‘waking hours’, so for those dealing with non-US audiences, adjusting these peak times to suit your own timezone should prove effective. And if you’re targetting a worldwide audience, the best option is to post multiple updates to reach each timezone at the optimal time.

Ultimately, each audience is different and the best way to ascertain the best publishing time is to experiment and analyse usage. In the spirit of experimentation, this blog will be updated on Wednesday next week and that’s not just because we have bank holidays in the UK on Monday and Tuesday.

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