10 Content Marketing Lessons We Learned From Buffer’s AMA

Buffer, the company behind the social media scheduling app, runs one of the most successful and informative B2B marketing blogs on the Internet. Readers are drawn to Buffer’s articles—which generate thousands of shares each—because they offer a transparent look at how the Buffer team operates and develops an understanding of social media landscape.

Last week, several members of the Buffer team decided to pull back the curtain even further and invite readers to submit questions on a discussion thread. For one hour, Content Crafter Courtney Seiter, Happiness Hero Patrik Ward, Community Champion Nicole Miller, and Developer Tom Redman offered in-depth insights into how Buffer works and rocks the marketing world. They touched on everything from being a self-managed team and dividing into Task Forces to the future of their new Pablo app and content strategy.

The entire thread is worth a read, but in case you didn’t want to filter through it all, we’ve sifted out the top 10 nuggets of information from some of the best B2B marketers in the biz.

1. The benefits of having a virtual newsroom

Nicole: There are so many positives for us when it comes to having a remote team. Buffer has a history of being remote from the start, and now it allows us to hire amazing people from all over the globe. We have an array of tools that help keep us all connected. One drawback can be a lack of face-to-face time, but we are very fortunate to be able to go on retreats every five months and collaborate and bond in person.

Patrik: We’re also moving a lot faster now that we’ve adopted Task Forces (small, nimble teams of 3–4 people who assemble to complete a specific task and then dissolve), so there’s a lot going on at a given time.

2. Why transparency is so important to their team

Nicole: I’d say the biggest benefit (in my view!) of being a completely transparent company is the level of trust between the company and the community. Joel has said that the basis for transparency comes from being honest, and I believe our community knows and respects that.

Courtney: I would say that transparency almost becomes more important when things aren’t going well. When Buffer got hacked, transparency, in my mind, was the most crucial element of our response. And on a lesser scale, any time we face a challenge or obstacle, sharing it with others inevitably seems to surface people who have experience in that area and want to help us. It’s a really cool side effect of transparency!

3. Three tips for creating sticky content

Courtney: Lots of contextual links (not just to one’s own content). It’s pretty common to have a reader tell us, “I have 13 tabs open after reading that article!” If you’re working on what you want to be a really comprehensive, be-all, end-all piece, it makes sense to us to link out to the great work others have done.

Lots of informational visuals. We love visuals on the Buffer blogs, and specifically visuals that help a reader understand an element of the story very quickly or more in-depth. Charts, bits of infographics, lists, all those “extra” elements can offer context and continually draw the reader back in as she continues down the page.

Some very actionable examples of almost every tactic we describe. We want readers to leave a post of ours feeling like they have everything they need to go try these ideas on their own.

4. Why they use a team approach on social media

Tom: As most things at Buffer, this was a data-driven decision. A few months ago we did some customer research to determine what might be the best route here. We sought to find out if it felt best for our customers requiring support whether we had a single, dedicated team member work with them, even if it meant a bit longer between communications, or if they’d prefer to have potentially faster communication but with multiple people. We discovered through direct chats that most customers preferred the fastest response time, even if that meant chatting with a couple different team members, so that’s the route we took!

5. What content metrics they use

Courtney: We are not quite as metric-driven as we used to be, but we do look at a few elements.

  • Social shares: This is our sort of one-glance metric to let us know how well a post is spreading. Posts that are shared widely also are great candidates for syndication with some of the major publishers we work with, like Time, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur, so we look at those numbers from that perspective as well.
  • Click-throughs: My favorite Buffer metric! It’s always so interesting for us to see which social posts hit the mark and get lots of click-throughs and which ones we can workshop and try again in a different way.
  • Traffic: We check Google Analytics maybe once a week or so (maybe a little less?) to make sure we’re on target traffic-wise
  • Conversions: For this we turn to Looker, where we’ve got quite a few specific “Looks” that tell us things like which on-page CTA converts the best, which types of content convert the best, etc.

6. What their technology stack looks like

Tom: We use a lot of different tools and platforms, I’ll try to list off as many as I can think of. (Note: Tom listed 22 platforms. We’re including the first 10.)

  • Gmail with heavy filtering and labels, currently working on a unified Gmail extension to provide even more power and flexibility across the team (working name is BuffMail). Our transparent email means we all get a lot of mail, and as the team grows, we need to find new ways of managing it.
  • HipChat—we basically use this as our office. It’s used extensively every day!
  • Sqwiggle, for rapid video chats and to feel like we’re physically closer to each than we are. 🙂
  • Hackpad for product specs, getting advice, general thoughts, informal thoughts, formal thoughts, personal task tracking, just about anything you’d need to write down! We use Hackpad extensively.
  • Trello for organizing Task Forces, features, to-do’s, generally anything involving a list.
  • HelpScout for external email (support, hiring, etc.).
  • SparkCentral for Twitter support.
  • GitHub for code repositories, versioning, and, recently, issue-tracking.
  • Jenkins for automated builds, running tests, and deploys (we have Jenkins hooked into HipChat for convenient deploys).
  • Compose/MongoDB for database requirements.

7. What marketing automation they use

Tom: I believe we use MailChimp for our general mailing lists (Social, Open, Overflow blogs), and SendGrid for a number of transactional emails. We recently assembled a Task Force to review our transactional emails and I believe they changed some and added a few new ones! One example is the “hot tweet” email users now get when a tweet gets something like 10 times the average amount of reach.

8. How they’re beta-testing “smart” social technology

Patrik: We’ve recently started experimenting with a beta tool that analyzes your “best times to post” for each account and trying to take in as many factors as we can. I think that’s still pretty early and we’re really excited by the potential to make a feature like that super valuable, I’d be happy to turn that beta on for you if you might like to take it for a spin! On a related theme, we’ve started to look at making our content suggestions “smarter” by making them more aware of what you like sharing and then tailoring suggestions specifically to your interests. So I think there’s a lot we can do in the realm of smartly being available to help you with all aspects of social!

9. The future of their new Pablo app

Patrik: With Pablo, our main goal was to build a tool that made it easy to create awesome, engaging images quickly and in a way that fits with the overall Buffer experience. Canva is an amazing tool with a ton of options and features, I think I see Pablo as being an option for a lighter use where you might not need so many customizations. I’ve talked with customers who use Pablo for quick image generation and then turn to Canva or Photoshop when they need to create something a bit more involved, and I think it’s great that people choose the tools that fit them the best!

We’ve been very excited by the initial response to Pablo and while our early thinking was to keep it as a standalone product, we’ve started to change our minds and can definitely see the potential in having it integrated with Buffer more fully so that it can fit in with the natural flow better.

One thing that we’re working on now is offering the ability to paste a link into Pablo and have a list of images from that website suggested to easily create “teaser” images for any link, blog, or site.

10. What their content team is planning next

Courtney: Kevan and I talk about podcasting, doing more video, hosting webinars, all kinds of fun and different types of content we’d love to do. We are hiring right now and would love to grow the team so we can have a bit more bandwidth to explore these kinds of opportunities!


Image by Robert Kneschke

Get better at your job right now.

Read our weekly newsletter to master content marketing. It’s made for marketers, creators, and everyone in between.

Trending stories