I've been at this freelance thing for three years now, and so much has changed: our collective outlook on the workplace; shifting trust regarding both tech and media business practices; and the growing amount of discourse concerning how algorithms shape our real-world perceptions.
But no matter the temper of the cultural discussion, when professional folks find out what I do, their first question is, "So how often should I publish content?" My in-person answer is usually the digital strategist's classic dodge, "Well, it depends." I answer "it depends" because yes, it's complex, but also because the answer requires tedious triage that kills a good conversation.
Because despite the proliferation of platforms and their attendant recommender algorithms; regardless of the growing amount of content types and formats; and notwithstanding the neverending supply of creators spending hours on their phones throwing spaghetti posts, hoping for a viral hit; the answer is the same as it has been for publishing businesses for at least the past 150 years:
You should publish as often as it makes sense for your business model and your brand's integrity.
How does your business model affect your publishing frequency?
As content professionals, you likely know that publishing content on the internet for free does not automatically produce billion-dollar revenues. Digital publishing revenue comes from:
- Selling digital display ads based on pageviews/CPM model (and giving 1/3 to half of revenue generated to the ad tech company running your ads)
- Converting casual readers to paying subscribers, either for access to exclusive content or an active community (and spending much of your time asking casual users to convert)
- Selling exclusive conversion-focused premium digital ads on content geared for an audience of highly qualified subscribers (a niche media direct-response model that not nearly enough digital publishers use)
- Building a branded point of view through connected thought leadership to attract qualified leads or clients (then converting those clients to paying customers, which takes months)
- Building a regular relationship with your fans and users, who will then buy related products on the reg (aka the Glossier model, which can take years)
The first of these, display ads, is no different from daily newspaper models in the 1800s. It only requires eyeballs, cares little for the fact that audience members are people, and contributes to shitty user experiences across the web. Additionally, depending on your programmatic ad tech vendor, this model may or may not violate your users' privacy in different countries.
In a display ad-focused model, you should publish as frequently as possible, as much as possible, with no focus on quality because it's programmatic! Context and using the web as a medium don't matter. The money just keeps a'flowin, just like cryptocurrency, as long as you drive visitors to your website by one means or another. Growth hackers all day!
Other digital publishing revenue models are about relationship-building with audiences, communities and advertisers. For those, the answer to "how often" is: How can you make the most long-term brand impact with the highest quality connected content, produced consistently and sustainably?
For most businesses, the answer is almost never daily.
The arguments for daily+ publishing
If you spend all day online, you might believe that daily publishing is the ticket to great success, with users piling up every single day to drool upon and throw money at your content. In growth hacking forums and newsletters, obsessive market-watchers, bored-at-work types and trendhoppers advocate for daily posts because it's the content they consume most regularly.*
Ditto with audiences who primarily use rapid-consumption user-generated social media channels after work: daily makes sense in their heads because that's where "content" fits into their lives. They see content as a gap-filler that's only worth the time they've spent on it, rather than as a product of effort and creativity.
It's the focus-group-of-one phenomenon: many people believe that everyone else consumes media the same way they do. When all you watch is 24-hour cable news, you start to think that's how everyone enjoys consuming the news. If you spend all day shitposting and reading shitposts, you begin to think that shitposts are all there is.
Globally users only spend 5.1 hours monthly on Twitter and only 24 hours monthly on YouTube. Considering that we spend 7-8 hours daily on average online, social media content consumption is only a miniscule percentage of that daily time for most people.*
Media consumption habits vary widely based on life stage, profession, and lifestyle choices. Most people are online to complete specific tasks, like working, shopping or chatting with friends... not reading brand content on social media and especially not visiting your company's website content.