The Ultimate Social Media Testing Guide


Creating and sharing months of social media content isn’t easy.

Between collaborating across teams, catering to different networks, finding great content and leveraging fun hashtag holidays, social publishing can become very time-consuming.

Add in the fact that social content should be tested to achieve top results and it becomes much more work.

How can you possibly do it all?

This guide will help any level social media marketer create and run brilliant social media tests, and answers questions like:

  • Why are your campaigns “working” or “not working”?
  • Which social networks drive the most value for the business?
  • Does our audience prefer images? Gifs? Videos? Plain text?
  • Why did this month’s engagement numbers blow last month’s engagement numbers out of the water?
  • How can you make better decisions in the future based on data instead of assumptions?

Identify Your Most Important KPI’s

Before you can test effectively, you have to know what you’re testing for.

Key performance indicators are metrics that indicate whether you are meeting your business objectives. Our metrics map will help you draw the line from the stage of the buyer’s journey you’re focusing on, to your social objectives, to your KPI’s, to the impact social activities have on your business.

Let’s talk through the social metrics map of a buyer in the awareness phase of the buyer’s journey.

To expand brand awareness, a social marketer needs to consistently push out relevant content to their brand’s target audience. The social marketer can measure progress by tracking how many impressions, how much reach, and what cost-per-impressions (for paid) looks like during a certain period.

These metrics are relevant for a business because they impact share of voice: how loud and known your brand is in relationship to your competitors.

It’s likely that you are choosing multiple stages of the buyer’s journey to target, but we recommend choosing one stage per testing cycle, so that you’re clear on what you are testing for and what it means for your business.

Know Your ABC’s

Now you know what metrics you are looking to increase. It’s time for ABC’s.

Your ABC’s are:

  • A. Channels
  • B. Times
  • C. Days

There are some general guidelines for the best times to post on social networks based on the industry you are in.

Best Times to Post on Facebook

Facebook still reigns supreme in social media with more than 1.4 billion daily active users. However, it’s also the top choice for social media advertising with 93% of marketers using the platform regularly.

What does that mean for your brand? It’s simply not easy reaching your customers anymore. In fact, with the newest updates to the Facebook algorithm, users see more posts from friends and family users instead of brands.

Brands still see organic engagement from users on Facebook, and with strategic planning, getting your content seen isn’t just a guessing game.

Best Times to Post on Instagram

More than 2 billion U.S. businesses currently use Instagram and many expect that number to rise.

Whether it’s highly engaging photos or breath-taking videos, Instagram the home of visual content. The only problem is, just like Facebook, it’s getting harder to organically appear in front of your followers. Instagram says more than 80% of users follow a business on the app–so why not make sure you’re reaching out to them in the best way possible?

If you’re still not convinced, our Sprout Social Q1 2017 Index found 67% of Gen Xers and 60% of millennials say they’re more likely to make a purchase from a brand they follow. Don’t sleep on the power of social media–especially Instagram.

Best Times to Post on Twitter

With more than 350,000 tweets sent every minute, driving Twitter engagement can feel like a needle in a haystack. Marketers have to be smarter about how and when to reach their core audience.

However, there’s still plenty of opportunity for brands on Twitter. In terms of organic posts, Twitter still has the one of the best chances to answer a question, comment or concern in real time–providing a much better brand experience.

Did you know that 35% of users will straight up boycott a brand if their social media message goes unanswered? That’s serious business for brands unresponsive on networks like Twitter. We recommend to always be available by listening, engaging and publishing at the right times.

Using ViralPost to Schedule & Publish at the Right Times

Our data team, much like many others out there, are constantly collecting data. And this information isn’t just used to put together amazing reports like you’ve read above. In fact, Sprout Social’s very own ViralPost works off this data regularly for our customers.

Sprout’s proprietary algorithm analyzes the publishing history of our customers and collects data on how and when their audiences engages with this. This is what makes Viral Post so unique–it allows users to find future times to post that work best specifically for their channels.

ViralPost is an opportunity for the data science team to not only make our customers’ social efforts more effective, but also easier. The algorithm can look at more messages, more engagements, and more factors over a far wider range of time than a person in order to pinpoint those ideal times to send a message and how those times change week to week.

Simply put, having publishing times is extremely handy, but why not use a tool that can publish during the suggested times? ViralPost works with actual customer data to give you the best opportunity.

The Most Reliable Data Is Your Data

The most reliable way to get maximum ROI for your social activities is to look at the data specific to your own brand, and make optimizations accordingly. To do this, you need social analytics.

Come with a Fail Mentality

Not everything is going to work—even if you have access to social data and look at it on a regular basis. If you’re afraid to fail, you won’t try new things.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Come to your testing strategy with a fail mentality. The more curious and open you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

This is especially true when you’re investing in new strategies like video and Instagram Stories, but you will feel a lot safer when you’re regularly looking at the data and making the necessary adjustments.

Conduct a Social Audit

The four types of historical data that will lead marketers to their best year yet include performance per channel, content performance, audience engagement, and audience growth.

Check out our guide to social media audits if you’re new to the concept!

Performance per Channel

Data is a marketer’s best friend—the more informed we are about our marketing tactics, the better we can adjust our strategies to make bigger business impact. Simply Measured Social Analytics, showcased below, reveals some interesting insight into the engagement happening on each of our social profiles.

We can see which channel is driving the most engagement, identify peak days where engagement was high (and the days where engagement was low), and can track the growth of our audience to see if our content is gaining traction and attracting the right people. Social Analytics allows you to directly compare channels side-by-side, or you can filter out by specific channel.

Here’s what the data looks like, separated by channel, which is helpful if you aren’t looking to directly compare data between channels and instead are looking for trends within a single network.

Take, for instance, these three engagement charts: one for Twitter, one for Facebook, and one for Instagram. For each channel, we can quickly identify peak engagement days.

As you dive deeper into each channel’s performance, be sure to ask yourself:

  • Is one channel outperforming another channel—and if so, why?
  • What type of content are you sharing on each channel, and is it performing as you’d hoped?
  • Should you readjust your investment in each channel to align with how each channel is performing?

Audience Growth

You also want to be sure that, in addition to looking at specific content that performs well on each channel, you track your audience growth to see if you continue to attract and engage more people within your target audience. Social Analytics also enables you to track these numbers and directly compare each network.

At Simply Measured, we found that our Twitter audience is our fastest-growing audience, but we are having limited success growing our audience on other networks.

This forces us to ask, “Why?”

Why is Twitter gaining so much attention, and how can we readjust our other strategies to grow our audiences on other networks? Interestingly, we found that while we are posting quite a bit more on Twitter, engagement rates are highest on Facebook, which indicates that the type of content we are sharing on Facebook aligns well with the interests and needs of that particular audience.

As you look for trends in audience growth, be sure to ask yourself:

  • Is my actual audience the audience I am targeting?
  • Is there a community out there that I am not engaging that fits my ideal customer profile?
  • Which social channel is attracting more of my target audience, and why?

3 Final Thoughts

Your social and content marketing goals need to be crystal clear, and they should relay back to your overall business goals. Marketing is a business function that can be enhanced simply by working with other departments for a complete picture of how the business operates—and this translates into content and stories that we can share.

In light of new technology and enhanced marketing capabilities, don’t get lost in the “new and exciting.” Stay true to your brand. You don’t always have to follow the status quo if the strategies you create have established a strong presence for you. At the same time, don’t be afraid to take creative risks and explore possibilities with your content and social marketing campaigns.

And, finally, invest wisely. You want to be sure that the conversations you join are the RIGHT conversations to join. You want to be sure that you invest in the right channels—and continually re-evaluate the effectiveness of the various channels you use.

Choose Your Time Period Wisely and Consistently

Our social media manager came to me in a panicked state one day. “Our engagement is down, our reach is down, our impressions are down!” This was on our most active and effective social channel, which is Twitter.

We sat down to look at the data, of course. I asked our social media manager the following questions.

  • Which time period was she looking at? Was it a large enough time period to give us meaningful data?
  • What had happened immediately previous to that time period? Had any big campaigns, paid activities, or company events recently come to a close? • What did the data look like during the same time period in the previous month? Or, if the time period she was looking at was a month, what was the data for the entire previous month?
  • What did the data look like year-over-year for the time period? Is this a seasonal shift that we can expect?
  • What did other metrics look like? For instance, was our engagement down, but website traffic up? Which of these metrics is worth more to us right now as a business?

After going through an analysis based on my questions, we found that a big paid campaign had just ended around a major company event, and that we had also just ended a campaign strategy which had been successful at driving engagement in the past. By understanding what had happened, we got our peace of mind back and understood the total impact of what we were doing and had stopped doing.

But here’s my main point: make sure that, for all testing strategies and social analysis, you are being consistent and wise about your time periods. Whenever testing, make sure you’re giving yourself a long enough period for the data to be reliable. Look at the data for:

  • Entire campaign vs. entire campaign: Or strategy vs. strategy. Choose equal time periods to deploy each campaign or employ each strategy, so that you are comparing apples to apples. For instance, test a new strategy on Instagram Stories one week and another strategy the next week.
  • Week vs. Week: If you’re testing for a longer time period, make sure you are understanding how each strategy or campaign unfolded on a week-over-week basis.
  • Month vs. Month: Same as above.
  • Year-Over-Year: How does this time period compare to the same time period in the previous year?

Remember that data—information—requires context. Don’t just look at the data for the time period you’re focused on. To get the complete picture, look at the data that came before and after.

Test Your Messages (And More)

Sprout Social offers content labeling, which enables you to test the following categories easily, and make better decisions moving forward.

What Describes Your Campaign?

First you have to choose the main category of your campaign, so that you’re able to easily search for the posts involved and look at their data in aggregate.

  • #Hashtag: Is there a hashtag that is the key identifier of your campaign? Is there a hashtag for a previous campaign you can test against?
  • Event Name: Is there an event you are building out content around? Are there two events you would like to test against one another?
  • Phrase: Is there a phrase or key message you would like to test against another phrase or key message, to find out which resonates most with your audience?
  • Content Topic/Themes: Is there a content topic or theme that you want to test against another content topic or theme? For instance, does Trader Joe’s content including recipes perform better or worse than their content which lays out the attributes of a given product?
  • Timeframe: You can easily test different timeframes against one another. For instance, does it make more sense to put paid behind a retail holiday in the winter or summer, based on your engagement and traffic results?
  • Persona: We’re all about persona-based social media strategies here at Simply Measured. Once you’ve used social media listening to find out who your social personas are and what they care about, you can make test different content targeted at different personas.
  • Influencers: Does one influencer perform better for your brand than another influencer? Test your influencers against one another to understand where you should be making the biggest investment.
  • Keep track of when influencers are posting and what engagement they are driving
  • Get a feel for what type of content influencers are posting and how you can better align your social strategies
  • Measure your brand performance vs. your influencer performance

Test Before You Pay

Use testing to understand your social signals. Where should your brand be investing more resources? On which social channels, with which influencers, in which strategies, in which events? Where will you get the most ROI?

Consider non-paid social testing periods your “trial runs,” helping you choose:

  • Which products to feature on paid social
  • Which messages to put at the forefront of paid social
  • Which events to put paid social behind
  • Which influencers to partner with on paid efforts

This will ensure you’re using your financial resources as responsibly as possible.

Test Your Videos

Your video testing strategy should focus on the following questions:

  • Which social channel is most successful for video based on the metrics/KPI’s you identified way back in step 1? For instance, does Instagram perform better than Facebook for video views?
  • How do metrics vary based on what is featured in the video?
  • How do metrics vary based on video length?
  • How does your Instagram Stories data over a given period compare to more “traditional” social video channels?

Growth Testing vs. Totals Testing

What does success look like to you? Usually it’s the biggest number, whether that’s engagement, views, impression, reach, share-of-voice, web traffic, etc.

But in focusing on totals, are you ignoring growth?

For instance, your total audience size on Twitter may be higher, but your percentage audience growth on Instagram might be higher. Audience size, in particular, helps you understand which specific actions are directly correlating to expanded brand awareness.

Running tests with both a “growth mindset” and “totals mindset” is important, because it helps you identify emerging channels and channels you should throw more weight behind.

Influencer Testing

When you are testing influencers, you will want to do this in three categories:

  • How do your influencers stack up against one another? Which influencers drive the best results?
  • How do your influencer campaigns/activities stack up against one another? Which influencer campaigns/activities stack up against one another.
  • How do the results of your competitors’ influencer campaigns compare to yours? This is also a great way to get inspired for your next campaign or influencer outreach.


We hope you are walking away from this guide thinking about your social strategy in a more strategic way, and excited to test your content and campaigns rather than dreading it.

Once you’ve begun a regular testing cadence, you’ll be able to answer questions for both your team and your boss that you never could before. You’ll know your target audience inside and out, and be an aficionado on which themes, products, and messaging are going to work… and what’s not worth your time.

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