Facebooking in Advance: Staying Ahead of the Game with Facebook’s Built-In Scheduler
Ever see the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer? There’s a brilliant scene where Ben Kingsley, as the chess teacher, dramatically sweeps all of the pieces off the chess board and onto the floor. He does that because he wants the young chess prodigy he’s coaching to learn how to visualize all the possibilities of the game ahead — without being limited by what the board looks like at the present moment.
Facebook marketing is a little like chess in that if you learn to think a few moves ahead — by planning out your postings strategically, in advance — you’ll wind up improving your game. Not by taking your audience’s bishop or backing their king into a corner, but by creating a better and more appealing mix of content, and then targeting the ideal time to post each piece of content.
Figure 1: Ben Kingsley wants you to look beyond the present moment and visualize your next few moves.
It used to be that if you wanted to schedule your Facebook postings in advance, you had to use a third-party application like Hootsuite. But these days, Facebook offers a built-in scheduler for official and business pages — which is not only convenient to use but offers a critically important advantage over posting to Facebook from a third-party app (which I’ll explain a little bit further on).
Unfortunately, the scheduler isn’t available for personal profiles at present — you can only use it with official pages (which are sometimes erroneously called “fan pages”). But I’m hoping that may change eventually. In the meantime, if you do have an official page for your business or creative endeavors on Facebook, the scheduler is a tool you should definitely embrace.
In this article, I’ll start by explaining the various benefits of using Facebook’s built-in scheduler (including why it gives you an edge over other scheduling tools), and then I’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how it works.
Timing Is Everything: Targeting the Right Moment for Each Post
Facebook is also a little bit like comedy in that a successful delivery depends on effective timing. You need to experiment with posting at different times during the morning, afternoon, and evening, to figure out when your specific audience is most attentive and responsive.
By the way, if you read blogs and news articles about Facebook strategy, you may see studies that claim to identify the perfect time of day (and the perfect days of the week) to post on Facebook. And many of these studies contradict each other. One might tell you that you should always post on weekday afternoons, especially Thursdays; another may tell you to only post on evenings or weekends, and to avoid Thursdays at all costs or terrible, terrible things will happen.
My advice is to ignore those studies. The problem is that they tend to lump together data from lots of different pages, all of which have different audiences with varying demographics. It’s like the old gag about the statistician who stands in a bucket of ice, puts his head into a hot oven, and says, “On the average, I feel fine.”
The truth is that every page has its own specific audience, and the ideal times for posting will vary depending on the composition of that audience. If your page is targeted to office workers who start early in the morning, you may need to catch them on their coffee break at 10:30am. On the other hand, one of my social media clients here in Chicago is a local nightclub called Late Bar that keeps people dancing till 4am on weeknights — and our audience of night owls will gladly interact with our Facebook postings at 1am.
Figure 2: The Facebook page for Late Bar in Chicago can reach its audience of night owls well past other people’s bedtime.
If you have an international following for your page, with fans located in various time zones around the world, you may find that some of them are awake and talking to you at pretty much any time of the day and night. Whereas if they’re localized in one particular country, state, or city, then you may want to take the local schedule into consideration.
So the only way to find out the best times of the day or night to do your posting is to experiment. Try posting different kinds of content at a variety of different hours for a while, and see when you tend to get the best response.
Fortunately, Facebook’s scheduler makes it easy to do that. And once you identify those sweet spots in the schedule, you can award them to your highest priority postings, and shift the less-important content to the less-premium timeslots. (Before you know it, you’ll be thinking like a network programmer: “Hmm, this particular hedgehog photo isn’t ready for prime time, but maybe it could work during the afternoon drive or the late night comedy slot.”)
Posting On Your Own Schedule
You may have a particular time of the day or evening when it’s most convenient for you to do your Facebook posting. Maybe it’s 6am, when you first wake up, or 3pm when you’ve gotten some of the day’s most pressing work and meetings behind you.
But if you publish all of your postings in the same window of time, day after day, you’ll miss out on big chunks of your audience.
Also, for your Facebook postings to get the best possible exposure in the News Feed, they need to be spaced out in time. If you post three or four items within the space of an hour or two, the odds are good that one or more of them will suffer as a result — they’ll be effectively competing with each other for prominence in the News Feed. (You might also annoy a few of your less-devoted fans if they see too many of your postings in a row, and cause them to hide you from their News Feed altogether.)
On the other hand, if you took those same four postings and spread them out in time — maybe one in the morning, two in the afternoon, and one in the early evening — then you give them some breathing room. Each gets to live out its full life cycle in the News Feed, without stepping on any of the others.
I recommend spacing out your postings at least an hour apart, and preferably two hours or more depending on how much content you’ve got and how time-sensitive it is.
Using the scheduler, you can easily set up all your postings during that sweet spot in your day when you have time to do it — but schedule them to be posted at different times.
Of course, you won’t want to schedule 100% of your postings in advance. You’re always going to want to leave room in your content plan for breaking news and other time-sensitive postings that should go up ASAP — not to mention those brilliant little status updates that occur to you in the moment, and make your stream of content feel more spontaneous because there’s actual spontaneity there. But if you make sure that you have your basic daily postings planned out advance, you can always swap or bump a posting that’s less urgent for some iron that needs to be struck right now because it’s red-hot.
The Bird’s-Eye View: Looking Over Your Content Plan In Advance
Creating a really effective content plan for your Facebook page means doing some long-range planning. And one of the best benefits of scheduling your content in advance is that it allows you to step back and look at the big picture. When you see the postings you have planned for the week or the month ahead, you can make sure that you’ve got a lively and varied mix of content.
Also ask yourself what, if anything, is missing. Could you use a photo or three? An interesting and relevant article related to your page’s topic? A question designed to get your audience talking? Once you see the gaps you can fill them in.
And you can organize your postings so the batter isn’t lumpy — make sure that you don’t have too much of the same kind of thing in a row. If you’ve got a big event coming up on Saturday, for example, and want to post an announcement and a couple of reminders over the course of the week, you might do the announcement on Monday and the reminders on Wednesday and Friday — broken up by less promotional postings on Tuesday and Thursday. If your content plan for the week has two great photos, two links to interesting articles, and a couple of engaging status updates, you might want to mix them up instead of, say, posting both articles or both status updates on the same day.
Avoiding Traffic Jams by Creating a Content Queue
If there are multiple people who can post to your Facebook page, using the scheduler offers you a great system for making sure that you don’t wind up duplicating efforts by posting the same thing as someone else, or even posting at the same time as another admin. (After all, the last thing you want is for your own brilliant hedgehog photo meme to get upstaged by a fellow admin’s somewhat less inspired one.)
The easy solution is to make sure that all admins for the page are trained on how to use the scheduler. By checking the Activity Log for the page (which I’ll show you how to do a bit later in this article), you can see all the upcoming posts that have already been scheduled.
So if all admins agree to schedule their postings at least 10 minutes in advance — and check the Activity Log to see what else is coming up before they post — then traffic management becomes a snap. If you check the Activity Log when you’re about to post and see that someone else has a posting scheduled to roll out in the next few minutes, you can bump yours back by an hour or two. (Or ask the other admin for permission to bump theirs back, if yours is more time-sensitive.) If you’re planning to post a link to a new article about your company, and you see in the Activity Log that someone else already has a posting about it ready to go, that might save you some unnecessary time and effort.
And in all but the most extreme cases, the 10-minute minimum should allow you to get time-sensitive postings published fairly quickly, while still allowing other admins enough time to check the Activity Log and see your posting in the queue before they post something themselves that might overlap or conflict with it.
The Home-Court Advantage: Getting the Edge with EdgeRank
Using Facebook’s built-in scheduler may also give you a strategic advantage with EdgeRank, the proprietary set of algorithms that determine which postings get displayed to whom in Facebook’s News Feed. (See “Reaching Your Audience on Facebook: Understanding EdgeRank” for much more info on EdgeRank and how it works.)
Why? Because postings that originate from Facebook’s own scheduler tend to score better with EdgeRank, and are therefore displayed to more people, than postings that come from third-party apps like Hootsuite.
This may be because Facebook feels that if you’re taking the time to post content directly on Facebook, it’s more likely to be high-quality content that speaks directly to your audience. And on the flip side, if you’re blasting out the exact same posting across multiple networks, it’s likely to be a more generic message that’s less customized to Facebook and its audience — and it might even be downright spammy.
So if saving time is your only consideration, go ahead and send the same cookie-cutter status update to Facebook that you’re also posting on Twitter and LinkedIn and anything else you can hook up to Hootsuite.
But if you want maximum impact and exposure in Facebook’s News Feed, take the extra few minutes to tailor your posting to the Facebook audience, and post it directly to Facebook using the built-in scheduler. (And of course, in some cases it may be best post it in real time, if it’s urgent or if you’re posting it to a personal profile where the scheduling feature isn’t available.)
How to Set Up a Post with the Facebook Scheduler
Now that we’ve talked about why you should use Facebook’s built-in scheduling feature, let’s talk about how it works. Start by going to any business or official page on Facebook for which you’re currently an admin. Next, make sure you that you’re currently using the identity of the page itself, rather than your own identity as an individual.
There are two easy ways to check this. You can look at the Voice menu at the very top of the page, which will tell you whether you’re currently posting, commenting, and Liking as yourself or as the page. If it’s you, go ahead and click on “Change to [name of page]” so that you’re now speaking in the page’s voice.
Figure 3: The Voice menu shows you whether you’re communicating using your own identity at the moment, or in the voice of the page. Click on either your name or the page’s name to change which hat you’re currently wearing.
Alternatively, you can fully log in as the page by clicking the Edit Page button in the Admin Panel at the very top of the page, and choosing “Use Facebook as [name of page]” from the menu. Once you do that, you’ll be communicating in the voice of the page. (And as a bonus, the icons in the blue bar will show you notifications addressed to the page rather than to you as an individual, until you switch back to your own identity via the same menu.)
Figure 4: You can also log in as the page via the Edit Page menu in the admin panel.
Once you’ve made sure you’re posting in the page’s voice, head down to the publishing area to set up your post. Once you click in the “Write something ... “ field, you should see a little button with a clock icon on it appear in the lower-left corner.
Figure 5: Clicking in the “Write something ... “ field causes the clock button to appear in the lower-left corner.
Click the clock button, and you’ll begin to see a series of prompts to enter the date and time on which you’d like your posting to be published. The first control says “Add year,” and once you click that and choose a year from the menu (most likely the current year unless it’s either the end of December or you’re working very far in advance), an “add month” prompt will appear. Continue this process by adding a day, hour, and minute — as you set each parameter the next one will appear.
Figure 6: Controls appear one by one that allow you to specify the year, day, hour, and minute that you want your post to be published.
You should also notice that the Post button has changed to a Schedule button, since you’re working in advance. Once your post is all set up, and ready to go, click the Schedule button. You’ll see a confirmation message from Facebook letting you know that your post in now queued up for future publication to your page.
Figure 7: Success! Facebook lets you know that your upcoming post has been scheduled.
How to Check the Activity Log to See Your Upcoming Posts
Of course, you don’t have to take Facebook’s word for it. You can check to make sure your scheduled postings are queued up accurately any time you want by visiting your page’s Activity Log, where you can also change their scheduled posting times, edit them, or cancel them altogether if you choose to.
To check the Activity Log, head back up to the Admin Panel at the top, click the Edit Page button, and choose Use Activity Log from the menu.
Figure 8: Access the Activity Log via the Edit Page button.
Once you arrive at the Activity Log, you’ll see any future posts you’ve already queued in the Scheduled Posts area.
Figure 9: A scheduled post as it appears in the Activity Log.
Mouse over to the right-hand side of a scheduled post in the Activity Log, and you should see a downward pointing arrow appear. Click that, and from the menu you can choose to change the time of the posting, publish it immediately, or cancel it altogether. (Unfortunately, you can’t edit the text of the posting itself in the Activity Log. If you need to do that, you’ll have to cancel it, and then set it up again correctly from scratch. Editing posts is at the top of my Facebook feature wish list these days!)
Figure 10: The options in the arrow menu for a scheduled post.
As I mentioned earlier, if you get in the habit of scheduling all of your postings in advance, then looking over your queued-up posts in the Activity Log will give you an opportunity to make sure that they work not just on an individual basis — but as part of a well-rounded mix of content.
And somewhere, Ben Kingsley will be nodding ever so slightly in approval.
Dave Awl is the author of Facebook Me! from Peachpit Press. He currently teaches social media marketing classes, in addition to helping organizations large and small to successfully develop and maintain their social media presences. You can visit his website at Awlpoint.com for more info, and follow @DaveAwl on Twitter.