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more is more, but more is not always better

I saw a post in a Facebook group earlier today that's a good example of a phenomenon I see a lot: urging social media post frequency (most often framed as "consistency"; we'll get to that) without saying anything about post quality.

Y'all. Posting random baloney 5x/day is not a recipe for success.

If you can get out of your own way for a minute, you actually know this, because YOU don't follow the accounts that spam your feed with material in which you have no interest. You certainly don't go buy from them.

Yeah, other people don't do that, either.

So, what and how often should you post?

Like so many other questions in communications, the answer to each of these comes down to what I call the "x and y axes" of rhetoric: The people you are trying to reach, and the point you want to make to them.

Let's start by clarifying our terms:
  • frequency

  • consistency

  • content

  • ad

  • engagement

A lot of people are very sloppy in how they use these, either through ignorance or because they just don't care. As a result, plenty more people have no idea what the distinctions might be (it's much harder to infer meaning from usage when a word's referent is a moving target).

Frequency is the number of times you post within a given period. So, for instance, "twice per week," or "every other day," or, as the linked post recommended, "at least daily." That's easy enough, right?

But the linked post OP didn't say –– and, actually, most of the recommendations I see online do not say –– "frequency." She said "consistency" ... even though, from her sentence, it's pretty clear she meant "frequency." What's the difference?

Consistency is how well you maintain your posting frequency over a given period. So your posting frequency might be 3x/day ... but only on two days in a week. Or you might post daily for three weeks, and then not post again for another month. Consistency is the degree to which your account maintains a similar spacing between posts, so that your a account is visibly active at regular intervals.

Thinking of your posting habits in terms of consistency is how you avoid the "averaging" problem: If your average post frequency is 10 posts/week, but you make 8 of them on Tuesday, then your account has a real consistency problem. Consistency is "one post every three days" on the calendar, not "an average of one post every three days in the past six months."

Your post frequency absolutely should vary sometimes, in a way that consistency doesn't really describe –– for instance, if you are just launching a campaign to introduce a new product, you should be posting more frequently because you should be posting about that product ... but in most cases that should be in addition to, rather than a substitution for, your established posting schedule. So if your consistency is "one post every three days," then your baseline posting schedule continues and you add to it for the campaign; while the campaign is running, you post the same kind of thing you've been posting all along, at about the same rate you've been doing that, and in-between you also post about this new thing. When the campaign is over, your posting frequency returns to baseline.

Content is the stuff you post. This blog post is "content." Saturday's Instagram Reel was content. The Facebook post I made yesterday, sharing a link to a New Yorker article, was content. That last item bears a special mention: Usually we think of content in terms of "stuff" you produce yourself, but anything you are posting to your account is "content," as far as your followers are concerned (if you are sharing content originally by somebody else, link + credit!). Technically ads are, also, content ... but they are content that comes with some detractions.

You are almost certainly going to have ads mixed in with your other content. The important thing to keep in mind here is the ratio: The more ads you have, the more other stuff you need around them. Think of this as a buffer: If you are mixing Kool-Aid, and you add too much water, you don't go, "Well, this is some watery Kool-Aid"; you get out another pack of Grape and adjust so that the proportions rebalance.

Ads are posts telling people what you have to sell. That includes not just paid or "sponsored" posts, but product photos and "Hey guys I made this cool thing, wanna buy it?" and reminders about the link to your upcoming whatever. An ad is any post that advertises what you've got.

In general, these will be most effective if they are carefully tailored to the people you most expect to have whatever problem your product or service is offering to resolve. They can be aesthetically pleasing or informative or funny; they are still ads. People will only tolerate so many of them before they get tired of you, so use them judiciously.

Engagement may be the most-abused term in our line-up, and probably because it's one of those words that have specialized meanings in some settings –– in this case, Facebook "insights," which uses "engagements" to refer to any interaction a user has with your posts. So if somebody clicks a link you've shared, that's an engagement. If somebody navigates to your post from their timeline in order to read more than the preview snippet, that's an engagement. If somebody hits the like button or the share button, those are engagements. Outside Facebook, you'll sometimes see "engagement" used in this same user-post interaction kind of way, but more often it refers to your account's interactions with other users. Some of those happen by way of people taking actions on your posts, sure. But engagement in this sense would also cover your interactions with other users in the comments thread of your posts, and in the comment threads of other posts.

I don't think I can emphasize enough how important this non-technical, actually-interactional meaning of "engagement" is if you want to build a social media presence for your brand (whatever your brand is). It is absolutely critical, and it gets overlooked a lot.

If your "consistency" is only focused on "content," then you are missing a huge part of the social media picture. Take a look at the term "social media," for pity's sake –– it refers to any medium of communication that is social, that is to say, participatory. Managing your social media presence exclusively by curating your content is like going to a party and making a series of impromptu speeches instead of engaging (ha; get it?) in conversations.

Do you like people who talk at you? No? Then don't be one of them –– not even as your brand.

Let's get back to our question(s):

What should you post, and how often should you post it?

WHAT you should post is dependent on the industry you are in, the product or service (or, more likely, the range of products of services) you have, the audience you hope to reach, and how you would like for those people to see your brand.

If you have a business making homemade organic baby food, then posting a lot of information about infant care and a lot of pics or videos of Babies Being Cute will probably constitute a sound posting strategy. Posts about infant nutrition risks veering off into ad territory, since presumably everybody seeing your posts will know you are presenting the problem in order to sell your solution (think of the cereal ads that try to convince you it's absolutely crucial to get their product that has 100% of your daily value of whatever, like you have no other food sources in your cabinet). Product photos, on the other hand, carefully presented -- or videos of you actually in the process of making it -- are likely to fare pretty well even though they are technically ads, especially if you enthuse about the process a bit (in general, people hate being sold things but love seeing you excited about making things).

If you run an accounting service, a coherent content mix might consist of infographics about good bookkeeping practices, videos explaining elements of tax law that are commonly misunderstood, and sporadic reminders about important upcoming deadlines –– and your sole ad content may be a recurring graphic showing services offered and pitching why your office gives an especially good deal (you're efficient or you offer a personal touch or whatever).

HOW OFTEN you should post depends on the same basic set of factors, but let's see how they play out:

If you are, again, selling homemade organic baby food, you probably want to post new content to your account several times per week –– I'd like to say "every day," but in practice a frequency that you can turn into consistency is your best bet. For you that might be 2-3 times per week. Fine. Plan for them and be ready with content. Use a scheduler if you really have to (I don't like them, but that's a post for another day).

If you're the CPA, you probably won't post as much. Among other reasons, while a behind-the-scenes look at making baby food might be fun to watch, accounting is often confidential and only occasionally fun to watch. Those bookkeeping infographics? Maybe 2x/week. A video explainer on a point of tax law? Maybe every couple of weeks. Those reminders about deadlines are going to be tied to when the deadlines actually fall –– I'd aim for 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 week out, then a countdown. If you want to mix things up, everybody loves a picture of a cute work-ready coffee mug or a neatly-arranged desk.

BUT. Remember our discussion of engagement? Yeah. You DO NOT want to focus your entire strategy on posting.

I'm not sure there IS such a thing as an ideal ratio here, but as a starting point I'd say you need to interact, as your brand, with somebody, in your target audience, at least four times for every one time you post new content.

Ideally, you should make these interactions not just on your own posts, but on other people's and other brand's posts in other spaces –– in Facebook groups and Page timelines and wherever else you find them.

Engaging in this way is invaluable because it gives you a chance to be present and supportive and helpful and visible and part of a conversation, and because it expands the total (digital) area in which you can do that.

If you are engaging only on your own threads, then that beats no engagement with users at all, but it pretty much limits your choice of conversation partners to whoever shows up. Especially in the early days, when you are still trying to find your core audience, that doesn't give you much to work with.

If you are engaging on other users' posts, then your options for chatting are orders of magnitude greater ... and so are the potential audiences you can reach.

So! Time for a poll:

Which concept would you most like to see get its own follow-up explainer?

  • content

  • consistency

Give me a shout & let me know your questions!

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2 comentarios

Jessica Smith
Jessica Smith
28 jun 2022

How does one comment on someone else's brands without looking out of their own lane?

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Well, for instance, earlier today somebody I know is a freelancer followed me on Instagram. I followed her back and scoped out her profile. One of her posts had a neat graphic. I left a comment, which you can see here:

Note that I am not "commenting" in the way you'd leave comments on a student essay; I am not critiquing what she's up to (that WOULD be out of my lane!). I just liked her post and enthused about something she'd done in the graphic and some recent occasions on which I'd had fun using the same technique.

I'm not saying my comment is The One True Way to Do This. If you're being deliberate about it, usually you…

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