Experiment: Can posting time improve your engagement on Instagram?

The hottest social media trend this fall? Complain about less engagement on Instagram than usual (especially if you haven’t tried Reels yet).

Before we go all-in on conspiracy theories “was I banned in the shadows”, it’s important to note that there are many different reasons why social media managers may experience a small drop. One plausible explanation? As the restrictions of COVID eased in the fall of 2021, people began to use social media in different ways.

With that in mind: now seems like the perfect time to experiment changing the time of posting. It’s an easy way to potentially improve engagement, but powerful. So, for my next trick, I’ll take a look at whether using Hootsuite’s recommended time feature for posting your posts on Instagram improves engagement, as opposed to posting in any old time when I like it.

And if that fails? Well, I guess it’s back to sympathy with the community banned in the shadows.

Come on!

Hypothesis: Posting when your audience is online can improve your Instagram engagement rate

Timing is a small but important component of successful social media campaigns. If your audience is online, they are more likely to see what you posted: easy!

Understanding when that is, of course, is a whole other story. You can manually comb through your Instagram analytics and insights to collect those numbers, but tools like Hootsuite’s recommended publishing time automate the process.

For this experiment, we will take the wisdom of the Hoot-bot to heart and put it to the test.


My usual method of posting on Instagram is “whenever I want”, so in order to start this great experiment, I continued to do just that. I prepared a handful of beautiful wedding photos to post on the Instagram account of the wedding magazine I work for (we have about 10,000 followers) and scattered them over the course of a week in a deeply unmethodical way.

Wednesday afternoon? Of course, that was right! 8:35 on Thursday? Why the hell not! Let’s call it “intuitive publishing”. (Patented!)

Time to post on Instagram Hootsuite Planner

Week after that I posted another selection of beautiful wedding photos (with similar themes, for the needs of the science-control group), but this time I listened to Hootsuite’s advice on the best times to publish.

If you use your account regularly enough, posting recommendations will be available when you click “Schedule” while using the “Write” tool.

Hootsuite Compose a schedule publication using the recommended times

Otherwise, you will find some suggestions on the Analytics tab. You can select time recommendations for each network in the upper left drop-down menu.

Hootsuite Analytics is the best days and time to post

Hootsuite bases these suggestions on when your followers are likely to be on a particular social network and when your account has garnered the most engagement and reviews in the past.

It’s math (or … science?), Not intuition in the slightest. So: did Hoot-bot or my female inner powers know best?

What happened when I posted at the recommended time

Okay, trying out this experiment over the holidays, though, wasn’t the best move, in a scientific sense. In general, social media usage habits are largely at odds with normal behavior, so accurately predicting how people will behave based on recent actions doesn’t work very perfectly.

Regardless: Hootsuite’s recommended time continued to help my posts get better, with more impressions, comments and likes on average than my method of posting to throw an arrow on the wall last week.

I saw increase in the number of impressions by 30%., from 2,200 the previous week to 2,900 during the week of the Hootsuite recommendation. The same, my post with the best performance this week got 30% more likes than the post with the best performance of the previous week.

Not bad at all.

Reach and Impressions Hootsuite Analytics posts on Instagram

Yes, this is a shameless attachment for our tool. But it also proves an important principle: publishing when your audience is online makes a difference. And the habits of your audience may have changed this fall.

But if you haven’t noticed, it’s okay! Here we all learn and grow together. It is important that this is an opportunity to return your engagement to where you want it.

What do the results mean?

TLDR: Post when your audience is likely to be online.

It’s a basic principle, but it’s worth refreshing, especially at a time when audience behavior is evolving. You may have had control over their activities in the old days (aka, March), but things are changing!

It’s just like the old “Do you know where your kids are?” PSA, other than replacing “kids” with “social media audiences” and, uh, “where” with “when”, I guess?

Sometimes we are so preoccupied with creating and running our big social media campaigns, tracking our social content calendar, or tracking our social analytics that we forget that one of the biggest success factors is just making sure people see the cool thing you’ve spent so much time working on. Don’t just photoshop your CEO’s head into that butterfly meme for yourself own enjoyment, after all. (well, not completely, least.)

Prepare to win on social media by premiere your artwork in front of the maximum possible amount of eyes.

Besides: what does it really mean to publish in the “best time”?

The best time to publish is unique to you and your goals.

While general recommendations for the best time to post on Instagram are available, in the end, each individual account will have its own unique audience behavior. They are your special precious babies! It won’t help you post, say, on a Tuesday morning, if your special precious babies don’t particularly like to use Insta on weekdays.

Explore when your audience is especially online using your Instagram Insights or use automated scheduling tools like Hootsuite for referrals.

chart of average impressions for posts over the last 30 days

The best time to publish will probably change over time

Whatever your recommended publishing times today will change over time, as audience habits evolve, or as your audience grows or changes itself. There is also the fact that the Instagram algorithm is constantly updated: it will also affect who sees what (and when!).

That’s why Hootsuite’s Best Time to Publish tool will also suggest terms you haven’t used in the last 30 days, so you can shake up the publishing time and test new tactics.

Conclusion? Even if you don’t use the recommended time tool like Hootsuite, don’t dedicate yourself to anything! Posting times will be a constant goal, so learn to keep up and always test new times outside of your regular schedule.

The best time to publish depends on the platform

This very scientific test was only for Instagram, but each social network will have its own unique user behavior. Even within the platform, different types of posts may have different best practices for posting – for example, engaging on Instagram Reels may differ from the posts you create for the main Instagram feed.

Never stop learning and analyzing, either with your own human brain (or with the help of predictive AI tools).

Want to try Hootsuite’s scheduling tool and referral feature yourself? Have fun with a free 30-day trial.

Get started

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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