Calculating when to post on Instagram is something that many content marketers struggle with but it's actually quite simple if you know what to look for.
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For this guide, we'll be using Iconosquare analytics, which isn't free but it may as well be with how cheap it is. Unfortunately, they aren't paying me to do this post, it's actually just one of those tools I can't seem to live without. It does most of the work, all we're going to do here is apply a little marketing insight to the analytics they offer.
First off, I want to say that anyone who says or quotes some statistic saying "the best times to post on Instagram are x" is full of shit. Those are generalized, over-arching averages that don't reflect your personal following. You may post at those times and find them to be accurate, but that just means your average follower is active in those times. It doesn't always work that way, though. Taking a look at your specific set of followers will allow you to figure out when to post on Instagram optimally. Let's begin.
The Best Times to Post on Instagram (According to Iconosquare)
"The dark rounds indicates when you usually post media (repartition by hour horizontally, and by days vertically). The light grey rounds shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light grey rounds are the best times for you to post."
That's what they want you to think. The reality here is that the set of data they're pooling from is too small to give definitive answers. First off, Iconosquare starts recording data on your account from the moment you sign up (since it needs your account permissions), so you're missing retroactive data.
Secondly, all it does is take the day of week and time you posted content and averages out the total number of likes and comments you got on each post. This means that if you've only ever posted once in any of these one hour time slots, your stats will reflect this. If you've posted twice in a one hour time period over the course of 2 weeks and no other times that day, it will tell you you'll gett the most likes in at that time. I'm simplifying things here a bit since I obviously don't know their secret sauce, but that's the basic concept at play. Small data set means inaccurate scheduling.
I'm a beta user of Pro Iconosquare, which gives you different analytics dashboards and more filters to play around with. The updated version of best times to post on Instagram reveal that my theory on how they calculate scheduling to be flawed. The best time to post is Thursdays at 10 am and the time I post the most media is also Thursdays at 10 am? Bullshit. Data sets given to Iconosquare are only accurate if your posting frequency reflects a full schedule. Note that the differences between posting times in Iconosquare and Pro Iconosquare are due to browser timezone settings, they aren't completely different schedules.
When You'll Get the Most Comments on Instagram
Media lifespan is something that's more of a secondary or tertiary factor when calculating when to post on Instagram. It's just something to keep in the back of your mind that doesn't necessarily play a big role in overall engagement.
See those bumps? That's when actual, real people are commenting on my posts. The immediate spike when I post is likely allocated to bots that latch onto hashtags and any real followers I have that are online at the time of posting. Noting the time difference between the two bumps I have is important in understanding where in the world my followers are. The 12 hour gap indicates to me that my following is split between both sides of the world - North America and Asia.
Figure out how much content you can push in a week.
At a bare minimum, you should be doing 5 posts a week. You have other shit to do as a business owner (I'd hope). If you're really putting some time and effort into growing your following, step your game the fuck up. Daily? Go for more. 2 or 3 posts a day should suffice if you've got under 5k followers, but once you're past that, you can justify posting 5 posts or more daily.
For this example, we'll use my average posting habits: 2-3 photos a day. Let's take a look at that Iconosquare schedule again to figure out when exactly I should publish. I've placed check marks where I'd post for the week with the intention of improving my data set and also going for guaranteed-ish results. The deeper the red, the more likes I'll receive. If you hover over these boxes in Pro Iconosquare, you get exact figures and how many posts they've calculated from, which is a pretty cool feature for a data-driven approach to scheduling. Transparency, I can dig it.
Notice anything odd about the times I've chosen? Those check marks that are halfway between suggest times mean that I'm testing just outside of times that are proven to have strong engagement. By doing this on a weekly basis, you're building up a better database for Iconosquare to work off of and you'll get a more optimized schedule over time. It's also worth noting that you should be realistic about when you're going to publish. Instagram API doesn't allow you to schedule posts through 3rd party tools at the time of writing this; you can only get reminder notifications to publish (through HootSuite for example). I actually wake up at 6 am everyday so it's realistic for me to post then.
Nothing more to it than that - at least until you have lots of data to work with. I'll do a sequel article when I reach 5,000 followers late June 2016.