Companies need to ensure their social-media content is relevant, timely, and well-written. When users are on social platforms, their priority is rarely your content. For that reason, your content must be well-designed in order to grab (and keep) users’ attention.
Our findings come from 3 rounds of research with 96 users over the past 11 years. In the most recent study, we recruited 23 participants and used usability testing, cognitive-mapping activities, and diary studies to understand how people engage with companies on social media and inform our Social Media User Experience report. In this article, we share three insights from the new edition of this report.
Avoid Posting Too Frequently
Too many social media posts from one company overwhelm the user’s feeds and can create a negative perception of the brand. This information pollution can cause users to tune out your posts. For a lot of people, social media is primarily a hub for connecting with friends and family, and, even though brands have a presence, they shouldn’t take over the entire social experience. One participant mirrored this sentiment when she unfollowed several companies on social media and said, “they were posting too much […] I was missing out on things that were more important to me and I don’t really want to be inundated with that stuff.”
Perhaps the largest impact of posting too frequently is unfollowing the account. During our study, we asked participants if they had recently unfollowed brands and why. Posting too frequently was the most common reason cited for unfollowing a company on social media.
“There were a couple of companies that posted too much. Every time I opened my feed it was like 5 or 6 posts.”
“At first, I thought their tweets and responses were very funny but then they got annoying, and I saw too many of their tweets on my page, so I unfollowed them.”
“I like [Starbucks] but I don’t want to hear every single hour what happened in their company. They post too much, like once an hour. That’s too much.”
How often should a company post on social media? The answer to this question depends on your industry, target audience, and social platform. As a general rule of thumb, for most companies, posting 5 to 8 times per week is appropriate. Here are some considerations to help you decide how often to post:
- Consider how quickly the information in your industry is changing. News and media companies may post several times a day as long as they’re posting different stories that are perceived as engaging and relevant to their audiences. In contrast, for a government agency, content isn’t as time-sensitive so it can often be spread out over time (as opposed to posting it several times on one day).
- Different platforms have different expectations for posting frequency. On Instagram, there’s an unwritten rule that individuals post only once per day (stories excluded), but that mentality doesn’t exist on Twitter. In general:
- Stick with the once-a-day rule for feed content on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok.
- You can post at most 6–8 times in 24 hours on ephemeral channels like Instagram Stories and Snapchat.
- On Twitter, it’s okay to tweet between 2–6 times a day, with live tweeting during an event having upwards of 15–20 tweets.
- Use analytics to inform your posting strategy. Rely on post analytics to tell you when your followers are most active and how their engagement changes with different frequencies and post timings.
More posts don’t always equal more engagement. Aim to post often enough to remain top of mind to your loyal followers but prioritize quality over quantity. Each new post should have a clear purpose to maintain the perception that you’re providing helpful content instead of blasting your followers with spam.
Experiment with Interactive Platform Features to Foster Engagement
Interactive social-media posts such as polls, quizzes, and questions can serve as a break from other content types. There’s room for creativity when it comes to interactive posts, but keep them relevant to users’ reason for following you.
Users tend to like interactive posts when they can help them show their preferences. For example, an NBA poll received over 5,600 responses, which is a significant engagement. A participant who rated the tweet as a 7 out of 7 (signaling his high interest in the content of the post) voted for his favorite team and said, “I am a serious NBA fan and follow them on all social platforms. I’m grateful of all updates, especially considering I get busy at times and miss so much of the action. GO Bucks!!”
Similarly, making users feel like they have a say can increase the likelihood of interaction. For example, a participant who enjoyed playing video games “liked” an Xbox post asking users to vote for the name of a game character. “I’d probably vote for Ori,” he said. In this case, giving users an opportunity to contribute to something they care about (namely, the design of a popular game) rewarded Xbox with over 71,000 votes — that’s a lot of reach for one tweet!
Interactive components can help people learn about your products and services. For example, a participant loved the WebMD stories a lot because they were interactive and informative. She wrote, “I had so much fun on this page. It made me 😁 happy and looking forward to learning! The story had true or false questions and allowed you to guess then swipe up to learn if you’re right. That was so fun, and I got to learn more on their homepage. I was expecting this page to be stiff and boring since it’s medical-related. I have been pleasantly surprised. I would come back to this page some time to learn more random health info.” The company, which focuses on health and well-being, appropriately used interactive elements to provide valuable information in an engaging way.
However, interactive posts don’t work for every situation and every user. The following are some factors to consider as you craft interactive posts on social media.
- Make the interaction as easy as possible. 1-click polls or swiping up to see related information requires little effort, but the more interaction you’re asking for, the higher the abandonment rate will be. As the participant who voted for the name of a video-game character said, “If it’s too much engagement, like more than 2–3 clicks, I wouldn’t do that. It’s just like with the GIF — if you click on it and it takes you to another place, you’d say no.”
- Keep users’ motivations in mind. Why do users follow you on social media? Is it to show their fandom, get informed with the latest news, get a discount, or perhaps learn about a specific industry? Use that motivation to ensure that your posts are relevant. For instance, one participant in our study followed his health-insurance provider on Twitter, hoping to find helpful information about deductibles and copays. Instead, it posted content like this poll below, asking users what methods they use to reduce stress.
The participant rated this post as 1 (i.e., not interested) out of 7 saying, “Aetna (my insurance) keeps posting these annoying holiday stress [polls]. I know there’s a big focus on mental health and mental well-being, but I find these types of tweets unnecessary and silly. I wish they would tweet more about how to lower deductibles and copays. This tweet is not relevant to me.” Over a 5-month span, the company posted once about copays and zero times about deductibles, which failed to meet this user’s expectations.
- Balance the amount of interactive and non-interactive content. Interactive posts look cool, but not all people like them. Though many study participants liked polls, some didn’t. A participant said, “I really don’t like them. I see so many of them, and I just don’t care. I get why they’re doing them. Companies are trying to get people to interact, but I look the other way when I see these polls.” Balancing different types of content based on your target audience is also crucial.
Include Explicit and Relevant Calls to Action in Posts
When users see something they like on social media, they may want to further engage with that content and possibly act on it. Explicit calls to action point users in the right direction and facilitate further interaction. When done right, they’re a win–win: users get to see more of the content they want and companies get to show users everything they’ve got.
Your social media posts should provide a call to action anytime there’s more information available elsewhere. For instance, during a usability session, a participant was looking for home décor on Target’s Instagram. She tapped through Target’s story and found a post about a new spring collection. The story included instructions to Swipe up to explore the new spring collection. The participant was interested in the content, so she swiped up and was taken to Target’s website.
Call to actions must not be only relevant but also clear and with strong information scent. For instance, LinkedIn Learning failed to provide an explicit call to action to its Twitter audience. Although its tweet did include a relevant link to a course, the link was embedded in the story text and it did not stand out enough. The post could have been improved if the company had used a button with an invitation to sign up for the course.
When determining whether a call to action should be present in your post, consider, what behavior you want to see from users and what relevant additional information you have to share. Do you want customers to make a purchase, browse, get inspired or informed? The answer to this question can help you focus on the appropriate action (and interface copy) to implement.
Full Research Report
Our report, Social Media User Experience, includes 50 guidelines and is available for download.