This article describes our quest for the best time to post on Instagram. If there is the best time to post, how should we find it? Which data do we have available to make our analysis? Also, check out our additional article our the best time to post on Instagram.
We’ve analyzed 554,492 posts on Instagram, all were posted in 2016 by a group of 7,855 Instagram accounts. For each post, we’ve been given the engagement (=likes + comments), the filter used, the exact date and time (GMT) it was posted, the caption, tags and type of post.
We do not know the exact geographic distribution of the accounts, but we do see that all continents are represented. 11.8% of all posts contain location information. Figure 1 is a histogram showing the average distribution of these posts per hour.
We would like to find out what’s the best time to post on Instagram based on these data. Unfortunately, we can’t find out the exact times each account’s followers are viewing or engaging with each individual post.
We can see however how many likes and comments each post has and we can see its exact posting time.
Total engagement per hour
Based on this information – looking at figure 2, showing the sum of all engagements per hour of posting – we see a similar pattern.
Does this mean that the best time to post would be around 19:00 GMT? Let’s look closer.
The sum of engagement on each point in time could be calculated by
Total number of posts x Average engagement per post
It is obvious that the total sum of engagements for any hour is proportional to the number of posts during this hour. Therefore, it is not necessarily correct to say that posting around 19:00 would give my post a higher engagement than posting around 9:00 GMT for example. We should compensate for the fact that many postings were done around 19:00. Furthermore, we should exclude the effect of each user’s location and time zone. How could we do this?
Our next step was to analyze the standardized* engagement (likes + comments) for each individual post.
Why standardize? If we both want to compare the engagement of my posts (I have 46 followers and I live in The Netherlands) with those of Selena Gomez (101 million followers and I assume she lives in the USA), and we would like to find out what’s the relative best time to post on Instagram across each of our (Selena’s and mine) audiences, we need to standardize all of our posts.
* Standardisation of engagement: per user we’ve calculated the average number of engagements and the standard deviation. To obtain the standardized number we subtracted the average from each observation and divided the result by the standard deviation:
Standardised Engagement = (Engagement per post – average engagement per user) / user’s engagement standard deviation
With standardized data, the mean for each individual user is zero and its standard deviation is one. As a result, Selena’s engagement and mine can be compared, apples to apples!
Figure 3 shows the distribution of the standardized engagement for 550,201 posts after we removed 4,291 (0,77%) outliers from the dataset.
Excluding the outliers, all observations are within the interval between -3 and 3.5.
Even though each individual’s average engagement is zero, we see that the overall average standardized engagement is -0.036. The overall standard deviation of our standardized engagement observations is 0,889 and – as the figure shows – the distribution has some skewness amounting to 0.936.
What’s the best time to post on Instagram?
Let’s have a look at the relative performance of average standardized posting times during the day. We considered all standardized observations and plotted the average engagement per hour of posting. This graph is telling a different story.
As compared to the absolute engagement numbers, the average standard engagement per posting time shows an inverse picture. Whereas 19:00 (GMT) is an optimal time in absolute numbers, after standardizing the engagement numbers we see that between 4:00 and 6:00 (GMT) seems to be an optimal time interval.
Does this make any sense?
One could say that at the optimal posting time based on standardized engagement, competition is lower. After all, the absolute number of posts around 5:00 (GMT) is lower, so each individual post has a higher probability of being visible in a user’s Instagram feed.
If you think our analysis doesn’t make any sense or we should take a different approach, feel free to comment and discuss!
To find the best time to post on Instagram to get maximal visibility and engagement we performed an analysis on over 550,000 Instagram posts, all posted in 2016.
The most posting activity is around 18:00 (GMT) and posts from around 19:00 (GMT) generate the highest absolute numbers of engagement. We should, however, make use of standardization techniques to correct for differences between account profiles, thus making all posts comparable.
After standardizing the engagement per post:
(Engagement per post – average engagement per user) / (user’s engagement standard deviation)
and plotting the average standardized engagement per post against the posting time, we see on average that posts around 5:00 (GMT) perform best.
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