Time – the most important strategic insight you need to power social media

Around this time most communicators are thinking about how to balance their typically competing priorities and limited resources to deliver the best results for the business.

Given that in the last months:

  1. The most powerful leaders in the world tweeted personally and/or using online armies; and
  2. usurped planned media in favour of live broadcasts on social media; or
  3. that Washington asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to reassure powers-that-be his news feed didn’t favour one political view over another; and
  4. said CEO did a backflip from refusing to call Facebook a news company and downplaying the impact of fake news to acknowledging its superpower (yep on Facebook live) and creating tools to help manage it; and
  5. that in US senate hearings planned, social media-driven fake news and disinformation campaigns were cited as a security threat; and
  6. that a counter disinformation bill on broadcast and digital media cleared the US senate; and
  7. that 4 billion are online and 2.3 billion are on social media; and
  8. that 22% of the world’s total population uses Facebook and growing; and
  9. the spend on consumer tech/media industry will grow by around 500 billion in the next few years; and
  10. 90% of marketers say social media is critical for business

I hope we don’t have to revisit old arguments to convince head honchos that social media is important for business.

It is and its influence will continue to morph and grow in the coming year.

Back it. Fund it.

The bigger challenge is staying abreast of the avalanche of information on new and evolving platforms and ‘who goes where’ data and trends, enough to drive any level-headed professional into frenzied overwhelm and analysis paralysis.

From my perspective that can be simplified by looking through three deeply human lenses:

  1. Purpose – what matters to me?
  2. Privacy – how can I stay connected without being invaded?
  3. Time – the focus of this piece.


  1. How much do we have of it?
  2. How do we use it?
  3. What do we want to do with it?

Importantly, can insights into those give your business a strategic edge?

How much do we have of it?

The average person now spends more time on technology and media than work and play.

You may find it alarming or exciting, from a business perspective it means almost half of every day you can reach people through tech or media. There are other ways that remain important, but that’s the carve up of the time pie.

And although there are still only 24 hours in a day, our attention is highly multitasked, which means we have 31 activity hours in that same period.

In other words, we are layering time.


By listening to a podcast on lunch break, for example, you layer:

  1. Work
  2. Eating
  3. An educational or entertainment opportunity.

You might watch a video on the tram or listen to an audiobook on the commute.

Time is so valuable that billion-dollar businesses like Buzzfeed or Vice are being built around the ability to capture just a minute of attention.

Because time spent on video and social media continues to increase everywhere around the world, the number of multitasking moments will too.

You must break into that heavily layered and highly prized space to deliver your message.

Time explains trends

You can explain almost every social trend through the time lens.

For example, we’re increasingly seeing the rise and integration into marketing of API services like ZapierPiesynch or Automate.io to ‘hypertarget’ ads to audience.

Dave Chaffey gives a great consumer example of how Vauxhall Motors partnered with Twitter to hypertarget football fans by sending personalised videos to them via direct messages (DMs) from players in the Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales national teams, thanking them for their ongoing support.

In a time-strained day, only messages that are hyper relevant find a way in.

Pick your time

Let’s face it, no one is sitting on the train wondering if they will hear from their bank or energy company or have a problem with the internet today. Even if they’re thinking about a new pair of shoes, it’s likely to be about colour or style rather than a particular brand (unless they’re a fan).

On the whole, your brand doesn’t matter unless you have something a person wants at a particular point in time, or they have a problem with you or you can insert yourselves into their lives by adding value to them based on their interests and priorities.

You do that when you solve a deeper human problem for them with content that slides into an available layer.

Audio is a great way to do that because people spend four hours a day on radio, music, podcasts, audiobooks because they can engage while walking, working, cooking, cleaning.

Umpqua Bank research identified money as the #1 stress for people but also that they did not know how to manage or like to speak about it. In response, Umpqua developed a podcast Made to Grow with Su-Chin Pak to educate people about finance. As Trevor Young says, this allowed them to form a deeper connection with their customers beyond immediate or transactional needs.

Data shows that podcast users tend to be wealthier and more educated, so if that’s an audience that matters to you then audio may be a good option this year.


Video is the most popular online activity (six hours a day) so live or pre-recorded video could be very effective but remember that unlike audio it requires full attention, great for the train, but not driving.

How do we use it?

We’re overwhelmed with choice. We may think it’s a great and creates freedom but it’s the opposite. Too much choice paralyses us, it’s tiring.

To cope we do what we have always done – narrow them down. We reach out, explore, experience, develop preferences, shrink back, settle in.

For example, although people visit around 100 websites a month, half their time is spent between only five of those.

We see similar trends around the use of apps or social media platforms.

The average smartphone user has 27 apps and spends 80% of time on five.


Diagram source.

Once we log in we want to stay put. We don’t want to click a link and head off somewhere else in cyberspace only to have to think about how to get back to where we and our friends were. No time.


  1. Who you want to reach (audience) in granular detail;
  2. Where to find them.

If it sounds Marketing 101 then that’s because it is.

The key questions — why, who, what, where and how — remain as ever. People have not changed.

But distribution has and is dominated by huge companies that control access to it. Google. Facebook. LinkedIn. As Michael Stelzner says if you want content to be seen you will need to house it inside companies that control distribution and who will increasingly incentivize content creators not to link to off-site content.

Tools have changed too. Snapchat? APIs? Virtual reality? Audio? Video? Live streaming? What’s your priority? What’s your mix? Do you really want an information booth that costs $250,000 a year and gets 1 visitor a day? Or a brochure?

If clicking a link to your website is enough to drive a frazzled, post work, in-the-middle-of-cooking-with-the-right-hand thumb-scrolling-with-the-left parent into despair then don’t spend your limited resources to drag them away. Pay. Service up the goodies in their feed. Make it tempting enough to stop that thumb.

But if your business needs a blog for visibility and search and your audience benefits from a long form post then do that. In such cases, a second of a soundless video on Facebook is a waste of time while 15 minutes on a whitepaper in your content hub is not.

What do we want to do with it? 

 Once you’ve got someone’s time attention you need to know what they want to do with it.

Mostly they want something that delights (relaxes) or improves them.

Entertain. Educate. Whatever it is, make it about them and not you.

Once you’ve got attention you also want to keep it.

How to do that will vary depending on who they are, what they want and what you want from them, but I doubt anyone wants to be bored by templated, thinly veiled marketing moonlighting as real information or better-call-Saul TV ads lifted holus-bolus and plonked online.

  • Visual content
  • Photographs
  • Live streams
  • Podcasts
  • User-generated content

Create content that is interesting. Be relevant. Cut through.

Make the most of your time this year by helping your customers to create time for you.