A Successful Social Media Strategy Backed By Science

According to Harvard Business Review, most social media managers in charge of getting customers to click posts that will take them through to company websites have little strategy beyond a “spray and pray” approach—littering social media with content they hope will draw in customers.

But Harvard Business Review believes there’s a better way:

“By replacing rules-of-thumb and gut feeling with precise science rooted in biology, we believe social media scheduling can not only be more cost-efficient, but also be a strong part of content platforms’ profitability.”

A Successful Social Media Strategy Backed by Science

Harvard Business Review‘s research on circadian rhythms revealed that:

“Content platforms can enhance their profit payoffs by at least 8% simply by posting content following the biological responses of their audience’s sleep-wake cycles and targeting content types to when the audience is most naturally receptive to it.”

Chalk it up to human working memory—responsible for temporary storage and manipulation of information needed for our daily tasks—which is at its highest upon waking in the morning, at its lowest in the mid-afternoon, and moderate in the evening. When there’s a higher reservoir of working memory, individuals are more alert and feel compelled to seek information. Why is that important?

Because it means that consumers’ desire to engage with content will likely be highest in the morning hours, lowest during the afternoon, and moderate in the evening hours.

Interestingly, the brain prioritizes preferential information to stay efficient when working memory is more resource-deprived. So, when consumers are exposed to boosted content—which, according to law, must look different from non-boosted content—on social media, the working memory registers an external cue that it’s important information. This means that boosted content is more effective in the afternoon—when working memory is low—and less effective in the morning during hours of high working memory.

Consumer receptiveness to content eliciting deep cognitive processing is also affected by the availability of working memory. Harvard Business Review discovered that articles requiring deeper engagement with ideas were more frequently clicked on when working memory was high.

In the afternoon, when the working memory becomes resource-deprived, it inhibits any information that creates emotional responses which hinder the function of working memory, minimizing distraction from focal tasks and increasing attention of focal cognitive tasks. This results in higher engagement of posts demanding superior cognitive processing.

While the above research was based on newspaper and magazine content platforms like CNN, ESPN, National Geographic, and others, Harvard Business Review says many of the lessons they learned can be implemented by any organization.

Here are 4 key things to remember:

  1. Posting content in the morning results in higher engagement.
  2. Boosting posts is more effective when the target audience’s working memory is low.
  3. Assuming the target audience starts their day in the morning, it’s an ideal time to post content eliciting strong emotions (i.e., angry or worried), while “deep think” content performs better in the afternoon.
  4. Companies don’t need additional boosting funds to increase gross profits. Rearranging the posts to match the content preferences of the target audience should be sufficient.


In today’s competitive social media landscape, companies hoping to attract and engage the attention of their readers shouldn’t rely on “spray and pray” content scheduling methods.

“With a real strategy, built from an understanding of WHY consumers engage with a firm’s social media posts, content platforms have a chance at capturing more and more of that valuable attention and being able to monetize their digital content,” says Harvard Business Review.

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Also published on Medium.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.