SOCIAL media has become the necessary evil of the modern age for businesses and although everyone understands their enterprise should be on it, very few really know why.

There are now 3.96 billion people worldwide using social media – roughly 58 per cent of the global population – so you can understand why businesses with no presence must have a nagging sense of missing an opportunity.

I spoke to someone recently who opened an account in about 2019 and had posted once in the intervening years. “I knew we needed an account so I set one up. Do you think I should be posting more regularly?” they asked.

One post every five years is akin to putting your business card in a bottle, hurling it off the pier at Weston-super-Mare and then being baffled as to why the phone isn’t ringing.

Social media is an ongoing conversation with your audience so behaving like a Trappist monk at a sponsored silence is not going to have people beating a path to your door.

The best description of the various types of social media and what role they play was given to me by a colleague who used the burger analogy to illustrate how they work. It goes thus:

Facebook post: I like burgers.

Twitter post: I’ve just eaten a burger.

Instagram post: Here’s a picture of my burger.

Pinterest post: Here’s a burger recipe.

LinkedIn post: My skills include making burgers.

Social media is an ongoing conversation with your audience so behaving like a Trappist monk at a sponsored silence is not going to have people beating a path to your door

Businesses focus on four main platforms, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. I get asked a lot about what they should post, when and how often so here is my reasonably well tested cut out and keep guide.

Posts should be about you, sound like you and reflect what you do. If you make burgers (how long can I keep this analogy going?) then post about your burgers, how well they are selling, how much you like making them, how much your customers enjoy them and why they are better than other people’s. Will this increase your customer base? Probably not.

Then why are you doing it? Because it builds your brand, introduces your business to potential customers and helps mark you out from your fellow burger makers.

When should you post? You only have to stand on a railway platform or by a bus stop in the morning or wander about a lunchtime to answer that. Practically all of civilisation is scrolling at these peak times. The other peak is the one you don’t see but are probably taking part in. A study in the US found 40 per cent of people watch TV in the evening while mining social media for something more interesting.

Mind you, another study in the  US found that consuming social media while watching TV causes memory loss so maybe it doesn’t matter when you post.

Frequency of posting appears to have become accrued knowledge among a certain generation, a bit like those old boys who can tell you exactly when your carrots should be planted. There are many schools of thought but these appear to be the median estimates.

The web server firm HubSpot looked at Facebook stats of i13,500 customers and found businesses with more than 10,000 followers saw an increased number of responses when posting more than once per day but those with fewer followers actually put people off responding if they posted more than twice a day. It recommends posting on Facebook once a day.

Twitter is completely different, tweets are like bubbles, they fly for a short while, burst and are then forgotten (until someone digs them up again so be mindful of what you tweet).

If you want to get a marketing message out via Twitter you must keep reinforcing it over and again because it is such a busy medium. Expecting all your followers to see and engage with one post is back to the business card in a bottle again.

That doesn’t mean drowning your audience under a tidal wave of tweets every day. Social media agency Social Bakers carried out a study and found three tweets is the maximum before people stopped engaging.

LinkedIn itself recommends one post a day, Monday to Friday, on the grounds that no one looks at it at weekends. I’m not so sure this is accurate because busy people only have time to look at it at weekends.

Instagram is a visual medium and posting is therefore dependant on having something worthwhile to look at. Instagram recommends businesses trying to build an audience post twice a day but then limit it to once a day when you have that audience. Twice a day seems steep to me.

Thinking on how to use social media changes all the time and it is worth talking to a professional to get tailored advice. The important thing to remember is to behave like a you would at a party – don’t be a wallflower, don’t overshare and never do or say anything you’ll regret in the morning.