A strange thing happened as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. And, quite frankly, I am floored that I didn't see it coming, as my own behavior should have been a leading indicator.
For those of you who don't know, I'm the author of IMPACT's email newsletter, THE LATEST, which publishes on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Prior to this global crisis, we saw a clear pattern in the email marketing benchmark data of when we should be publishing, depending on the day of the week — typically, sending our email in the mornings and early afternoons yielded the best results.
After the outbreak hit, however, the vast majority of in-office working professionals started working from home full-time. On top of that, many also didn't leave home once they were "off the clock" due to mandated shelter-in-place orders from state and local governments.
In short, we were (and still are) homebound almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How coronavirus impacted our marketing
As a result, we saw open rates skyrocket virtually overnight, a clear sign that more people were on their phones or in front of their computers checking their email because, well, what else were they going to do, right?
Moreover, sending our email newsletter out in the evening — previously a "no no" time for emails — also led to boosts in our open rates, between 5% and 9%, varying by issue.
In short, all of the rules that I had sworn by, based on more than two years of data, suddenly no longer applied.
I felt like such a doofus, because the reason was obvious. Our routines are completely out of whack; a fact I should have realized as one of my favorite things to tell friends when they ask how I'm doing is:
"Well, let's put it this way — I spend most of the time feeling like the past eight weeks is just one long day. And my commute now consists of shifting from the right side of my couch to the left. So, you know, things are going great."
Bottom line, my story is not unique.
The effect of coronavirus on audience behavior has been drastic, because people are at home more, outside of their routines, and more likely to engage with branded content online during what were otherwise off-hours.
How social media behavior has evolved
Here's the thing though. What I am seeing currently with our email newsletter is only the tip of the iceberg.
What's surprising, however, is that the trends aren't what you might expect, as consumers and marketers alike have struggled to find a balance between work and home life, now that most people are trapped at home.
Keep in mind that the data that follows — which is based on monitored behavior in March and April of this year — will most assuredly continue to evolve, as our quarantine response shifts, shelter-in-place mandates change and (potentially, at some point) lift , and so on.
Best times to post on Facebook during COVID-19
On Facebook, the optimal times have greatly expanded, in light of coronavirus. Prior to the pandemic, narrow windows on Wednesday (in the morning and early afternoon) were considered best. Now, with heavy emphasis on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, mornings are best, with 11 a.m. also showing engagement potential during weekdays.
Best time to post on Instagram during COVID-19
Before coronavirus, marketers saw the best engagement during brief windows on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Now, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday mornings perform best for marketers on Instagram, as well as a sliver of engagement opportunity on Tuesday afternoons.
Best time to post on LinkedIn during COVID-19
It used to be that marketers had the best chance of engagement on LinkedIn during scattered windows on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday morning, and Friday late morning. Now, thanks to coronavirus, marketers have expanded engagement windows on Wednesday morning, Wednesday midday, Thursday morning, and Friday morning.
Best times to post on Twitter during COVID-19
Finally, according to Sprout Social, marketers can now look beyond the small slivers of engagement on Wednesday and Friday morning, as coronavirus has significantly widened the Twitter audience engagement window to include a large period early on Friday mornings.
This report is a great reminder to never base your marketing on assumptions
Again, I should have seen this behavioral shift coming, given how drastically all of our lives have been impacted by the pandemic.
However, had I acknowledged a shift was likely, I don't think I would have ever correctly guessed how, when, and where audience engagement windows on social media would expand and contract, in response to coronavirus.
So, while it is a certainty that engagement windows will continue to shift (and/or snapback) as our routines and habits adapt, and (eventually) the pandemic passes, you must always remember to test your audience and listen to the data, when it is available.
Whether you're looking at your email marketing, social media, or other brand awareness and lead generation efforts, your assumption of how your audience will react to changes, both big and small, may not always be right.
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