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Talking Marketing with Leo Widrich of Buffer

John Doherty —  January 21, 2013
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On January 15th I had the great pleasure to get to do a video hangout with Leo Widrich, one of the main guys behind the well-loved social media tool Buffer. I reached out to Leo because I’ve been following him for a while on social media and reading his blog. I’ve been seeing Buffer’s awesome growth over the past year (I even became a paying member recently), so I was interested to get Leo’s take on marketing, especially content marketing.

Leo is a smart young marketer, and I was quite intrigued to hear that Buffer’s content strategy was heavily influenced last year by Rand Fishkin’s Content Marketing Manifesto talk¬†from last year’s SearchChurch meetup in Philadelphia. Leo said that since they took Rand’s advice to heart, their traffic to their content has quadrupled¬†and they have seen a lot of success. I was also intrigued at the end of the video how Leo talked about their strategy going forward in regards to content, but you’ll just have to listen to the whole thing to find that out :-)

Also, if you like this sort of format, my company is running Fireside Chats with Marketers in NYC as meetups this year. Sign up if you’re interested.

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John: To everyone watching this, you all know me, I’m John. But today I have with me Leo Widrich from Buffer. Leo is someone I’ve been following on Twitter for awhile, following on social media. He’s someone that I respect, respect what he’s doing. So I just did what I tell everyone what to do. I e-mailed him and said, “Hey, you want to hang out?” He was like, “Sure, no problem.”
So, Leo, you want to go ahead and introduce yourself, tell people who aren’t familiar with you who you are, what you do, and a little bit about Buffer.

Leo: Definitely. So as you already said, thanks so much for having me. I’m one of the co-founders of Buffer. My day-to-day job is I do BDM marketing, so I write a lot of content. I do a lot of integration stuff that Buffer has by our API. In short, Buffer helps you to post smarter to social media and never overwhelm your friends and followers on Twitter or Facebook. So you put everything you find interesting, blog posts, any piece of content into your queue, which is your buffer, and from there we post it to Twitter and Facebook, well spaced out over the day at a better time so more people can see it and read it. Yeah, that’s what Buffer does in short. Super excited to share some of the things that we’ve done over the last couple of years at Buffer. So, awesome.

John: Cool. So I want to talk about marketing and the way kind of you look at marketing and content, because that’s something that I’m pretty passionate about and I think has a lot to offer to the Internet and to a lot of companies, both B2C and B2B. But tell us a little bit about your story for a second. Why did you get involved in Buffer, and how did you get into marketing in the first place?

Leo: Definitely. So it’s kind of a not very traditional story. So the way I got started with Buffer was I was always interested in startups. I was in college. I went to school in the U.K.

John: Okay.

Leo: I played around with a couple of startup ideas, and I couldn’t code myself. So nothing really got traction or got off the ground. By that point, when I was in college and I studied for a business degree, I had already met Joel for some time, who founded Buffer and is my co-founder and we’re working together now. Joel had always encouraged me and said, “Do something. Just build stuff. Just do something.”

Then he built Buffer on the side, and we started chatting on Skype one day. Joel said, “Hey, I launched this yesterday and already someone started paying for it.” I was like, “Whoa,” and that was super exciting, and we kind of started chatting. Yeah, this validates it, but I think Buffer can get more users. I think it needs to switch to marketing. I kind of said to him, “Well, I can do that. I can do the marketing for you.” I didn’t know what I was talking about. I had no idea what marketing means. I was just this kid in college. I was super excited, “Yeah, I can do it. Don’t worry about it.”
Basically, from that moment, I just learned everything on the fly, learned what it means to market on Twitter, on Facebook, what it means to publish blog posts, what it means to get the word out there. Blogging was the key driver for sign-ups. The first 100,000 users Buffer got, that was through blogging, through guest blogging. That was the key for us at the very heart, and that’s how I got started. We then, from the U.K., moved to Silicon Valley. Half a year later raised the seed round from some great angels in the Valley, and I dropped out of college. My parents weren’t very happy about it.

Yeah, everything from then kind of took its own course, and I’m super excited where we’re headed now. Buffer has about half a million users. We do about $1 million a year. So things have really worked out the way we imagined. We almost have nine people on the team. So that’s kind of the story from how it got started to quickly summarizing where we are today with Buffer.

John: Sure. So am I correct in understanding that you had never really blogged and stuff before you joined Buffer?

Leo: Yeah, that’s right. I’d never published anything online, yeah.

John: Wow. You’re kidding me. I found Buffer through your blog and Joel’s blog. I think I was trolling Hacker News one day and came across a post on Joel’s blog and was like, “Whoa, this is really good stuff,” and then I guess he linked to a post of yours. I was like, “This is really good stuff as well. Okay. Maybe I should listen to these guys, subscribe and read what’s going on.”

So why did you guys settle on content and blogging yourselves and guest blogging and all that? Because that’s one of the hardest things that I think a lot of marketers, especially SEOs have with their clients, getting them to blog, getting them to buy into the value of content. How do you think about content for marketing Buffer?

Leo: Definitely. I completely agree with you, and that’s something very similar that I see. Blogging is very hard to grasp at the start, where does the return come in and why don’t you buy a couple of ads. The way for us was very specific. So here’s how it happened. I said to Joel, “I can do the marketing. I’ll do the marketing.” So I sit down and I look around, “How do other startups market themselves? Oh, they get on TechCrunch, right? So you get on TechCrunch, you get a million users, and then you sell it for a couple million dollars and you go home.” At least that was my thinking at the time.

So I thought, “Okay. Well, I’ll e-mail TechCrunch, a bunch of other news sites and just say, ‘Hello, we are Buffer. We are doing this cool thing. You can post better to Twitter,’” and nothing, no response, no one was interested. I was like, “What’s going on? No one’s writing about us.” I tried again. “Let’s write to Mashable. Let’s write to the next one. Let’s write to this site and this.” Nothing went back. I said, “Okay. Let’s go to the smaller blogs and write to the smaller blogs.” Nothing, no one was interested in even writing a single line about what we did.

That was the realization for me. It was like, “Well, if all this power of marketing something lies with the writer, then maybe I need to become a writer myself. I need to create the content. I need to create interesting stuff because that drives people to read it, find it interesting, and then eventually sign up for what we do.”

That’s how we got started. We said, “Okay. Let’s set up the Buffer blog. Let’s write about interesting things that are in the social media space so people find it interesting and go out there and go to some bigger blogs that are already established and say, ‘Hey, here’s a great piece of content. Do you think this will be interesting for your readers?’” And that’s how it got started.

After we realized it’s working and maybe we can go into more detail on this later, but after we realized this is working, I think in the first nine months I wrote, I think, 350 articles, after awhile, every day like 3 to 4 articles. I’m just crunching them out because I know exactly how many people see it, how many people click through, how many people would eventually become Buffer paying users.

John: Okay. That’s awesome. I think that’s really interesting, and honestly, it’s one of the first companies I’ve ever head of that’s actually approached it that way. One of the interesting things, I think, about you guys is you’re in the social media space. Everyone that’s interested in social media is on social media. They’re on Facebook. They’re on Twitter, increasingly on Google+.

But the interesting thing about you guys is that you don’t really talk about social media that much in your content. You talk about peripheral topics. You talk about the psychology behind it. Why did you choose to do that instead of talking about social media? I haven’t seen any, “Five tips for posting your tweets on Twitter so you don’t overwhelm your friends.” I haven’t seen you guys publish any of that, which I think is just low-quality crap, but you guys don’t do that. Why not?

Leo: Very, very good question. That’s a brilliant question. From what you’re asking, I think a lot can be abstracted from that as well, which I think is also great. And I hope I can give an answer that helps with that. Here’s the thing. We did that at the start. So we published not as high quality, and we learned it. I didn’t know how to do it. I published these like, “Five ways to get more followers,” “Five things to do on Twitter to write better tweets,” and all this stuff, the whole spectrum, right?

John: Sure.

Leo: Over time we realized this only has limited reach. This kind of content spreads, this kind of content is interesting to some people, to newbies who don’t understand anything about Twitter and so forth, but it doesn’t go as far. I think the key turning point for the content we’re producing right now on the Buffer blog was when I read Rand Fishkin’s Marketing Manifesto, Content Marketing Manifesto.

John: The one from the meet-up in Philly earlier in the year? Is that it?

Leo: Yeah, exactly. That was a brilliant slideshow, and I looked over that and I was like, “Wow. We need to change something. He’s absolutely right.” Then he had this one slide where he said, “Who you should be writing for,” and he called it the “relevance field.” He said, “You should not be writing for people who are using your product right now. You should not be writing for people who could potentially use your product. You should be writing for people who could potentially know people that could potentially use your product.”

We started out here, at this point, and we had to get to here. So we kind of made a shift and said, “What’s interesting to someone, potentially, that would tell a friend about this piece of content who would then potentially also like Buffer?” So that’s how we thought. It was like, “Well, what about how our brains work when we do things online? How about psychology? How about more business, productivity, life hack related stuff, that just a broad audience can find interesting, can e-mail to a friend, and that friend might be like, ‘That’s an awesome piece of content. Thanks for e-mailing me, and, by the way, Buffer also looks super interesting. I’m going to check that out.’”

So that was the thinking for us, and that was a key realization that changed a lot of things for us where we realized writing content, at the core, is telling a story, telling a great story to people, and you need to hit the right nerves at the right people so that those who are really interested also in Buffer eventually look into it and maybe become interested. But at the core, providing a piece of content is a great story in an area of interest that your kind of segment, in a very broad sense, falls into.

John: Got you. So that was just last, what, April or May of 2012?

Leo: Yeah, exactly, yeah. Not that long ago, about like nine months, yeah.

John: Yeah. So what change have you seen in sign-ups, in your reach? Can you share, just off the top of your head, analytics data for your own stuff? What’s happened since you made that shift?

Leo: Definitely. The average spread per piece of content quadrupled since then.

The average spread per piece of content quadrupled since then.

John: Wow.

Leo: Originally, a piece of content we would write would get around 250 shares. That includes tweets, likes, +1′s and so forth. Right now, nearly every piece we produce gets over 1,000. So it went from 250 to 1,000, maybe 500 tweets and then 300 or 400 likes, a couple +1′s, a couple LinkedIn shares. So that was the core change right off the bat. This content would spread much further. People would find it a lot more interesting. Also, one thing that I realized recently, the time spent on site increased a lot purely because the content was better. People would read the whole post. They wouldn’t just skim, “What are these five tips?” and then leave again. So those two things really made the biggest, biggest difference.

You also talked about sign-ups, and the interesting thing was that we also quickly realized that directly trying to measure sign-ups coming through posts is not that smart, but can make you kind of a little bit short-sighted. So we tried to rather focus on brand awareness and kind of get people, when they see Buffer the second time around, to sort of hit that blog, they find it interesting, and then they see us again in the press. Then they see us in a video on the site. So we try to be more strategic about these other things and try to group press together after we had a couple of interesting blog posts and kind of follow through with the sign-ups through kind of the press release, and that’s worked really, really well.

When we got on TechCrunch or VentureBeat, after we’d written some of these blog posts, I know that causation and correlation is very important to distinguish, but at least some of the things we’ve found is that press sign-ups would be higher when our content would perform better. I’m not sure whether these guys are caused by each other, but that was just an interesting kind of trend that we also noticed.

John: Got you. So you’re saying that basically you published something that was really interesting or leading up to like an announcement per se, like a funding announcement or something like that. You would make sure to produce something you thought was going to be popular, something you put a lot of work into, a lot of data, that sort of thing, leading up to that. Dr. Pete wrote an post on SEOmoz awhile ago. He called it “priming the social pump.” So he was talking about social media, about before he launched something, tweeting out a couple things about it, building up to it, kind of building buzz, that sort of thing. You’re doing the same thing with content.

Leo: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s exactly it, yeah.

John: Wow. Okay. One thing that a lot of people struggle with is measurement, and you hinted at it a little bit. You’re saying that you don’t really measure conversions based off of individual posts, which I think is really smart. I think it’s a great way to do it. How do you measure it? You talked about press and brand mentions and that sort of thing. How do you show that increase?

You do have to crunch the data. You have to show it to yourself. You have to show it to Joel. You have to show it to your team. You have to show it to your Board. But how do you measure like an increase in branded awareness and that sort of thing?

Leo: Definitely. So first of all, and I don’t want to emphasize this too much for various reasons, but we have seen an increase in sign- ups from the blog. So if I look into our Google Analytics, the biggest driver of traffic to Buffer is still the blog. There’s Twitter, there’s Facebook, and then there’s Buffer blog. So that’s definitely increased, and that used to be more in the fifth, sixth spot and that went to the third or the fourth spot after the big social networks. So we’ve definitely seen an increase there.

The other thing that I think that’s just been very interesting for us was that this idea of providing great content to then follow up with a piece with an announcement, that kind of strategy, we used it especially in connection with e-mail. Blogs were just something that we found to work extremely well. So we have two, three posts that had no mention of Buffer and then a big announcement, e-mailed it to all our users, and we’d link it back to the blog and just the familiarity of the blog and the sharing experience on the blog is already there. You shared all these other posts, and now that there’s this post about Buffer, you might as well share this one as well. So I think that’s kind of been the key and the core.

Definitely, definitely let me know if you have any questions because I think this is super important. We have definitely also scaled back on blogging. We have realized we want to keep the certain brand awareness of Buffer, but increasing sign-ups only goes so far, at least for Buffer. So we are a free tool. We want to get millions and millions of users, and we realized that there are other things we can do, for example, like building great iPhone apps, trying to get featured by Apple, and these kind of things which bring us hundreds of thousands of sign-ups a day if we do it right, and content was kind of not going to get us there.

At the same time, content, we wanted to keep it at a level so we are at a point where we try to maintain a level of brand awareness and maintain the level of content, not necessarily to expand on it, purely because we need a volume of sign-ups to make our business work, which is beyond the average.

At the same time, content, we wanted to keep it at a level so we are at a point where we try to maintain a level of brand awareness and maintain the level of content, not necessarily to expand on it, purely because we need a volume of sign-ups to make our business work, which is beyond the average. I see some SEOmoz or Hubspot, for these guys, I think it’s brilliant. I think for us we do it more for the brand. We do it more for this awareness level so we have actually scaled back on some of those things so I hope that kind of explains that. We didn’t see the kind of growth in the long run. We couldn’t see to get to 10 million users with just publishing more content on our blog purely from the numbers we looked into.

John: Sure, sure. Yeah, that’s an interesting thing because marketers are always looking for the silver bullet, right? They’re always looking. For awhile is was SEO. It was like, “Oh, we can just go build some directory links and all of the sudden we’re going to rank.” Then April 24th and the Penguin update came along and it’s like, “Oh, crap. We’re not ranking anymore.” Then it’s like, “OK. Content. Now content is the silver bullet and content’s going to save us.”

But it sounds like you have a more holistic approach to marketing. You’re not just an online marketer. The online part, obviously, is huge because you’re a tech startup but when did you start to realize that you needed to scale back the blogging a bit or at least get to a point where you can maintain it but then also focus on other things. What was kind of the catalyst for that?

Leo: Definitely. So we tried to always be very, very reflective. So we tried to use this 80/20 rule in marketing. So 80% of the time do what you think works and 20% of the time try out something new, do something you have not done. Do something you have not done. Do something you are not good at yet. We also tried to do that so even at the high prime when we did volume 24-7, we always tried to set apart a couple of hours where we try something else. We try to see where do other sign-ups come from, where do other sign-ups potentially come from?

So we tried to always be very, very reflective. So we tried to use this 80/20 rule in marketing. So 80% of the time do what you think works and 20% of the time try out something new, do something you have not done.

Right now it’s very, very diverse so my week, if I work for a week, it’s actually themed. For example, maybe that’s interesting, so on Monday, I work on the Buffer button. For example, 10,000 sites have a Buffer button next to a tweet button and I worked with various publishers, I look into the data. We found, for example, if you have the Buffer button on your blog, it increase the amount of shares you get and that kind of thing.

On Tuesday, I do BD work with our API partners. I do this kind of thing. On Wednesday right now is my blogging day. So I have one day of the week, which is 20% of my work time is now blogging and then there’s a couple of other things that I do that now have to do with hiring, going to the team and more like product-related stuff.

The realization, to come back to your question, was when we just kind of felt like we hit a peak. We felt like, “OK. We’ve been written up by every tech news site. We’ve guest posted and blogged on every site and now we’re kind of established there. People naturally engage with us, naturally follow our blog, naturally tweet what we post, so we can scale back a bit on the guest blogging and focus on only producing content on our own blog that’s great content, that’s super interesting.” We got better at producing content and that’s kind of what led to this, OK, the guest posting time fell away from the kind of time that I spent on marketing and that’s only just producing our own content and that went into but we also realized, “Well, let’s just release one killer piece of content every week,” and that’s kind of led to the decision to kind of scale back on some of these things.

John: Got you. Do you feel like all the content you’ve produced and your blog is pretty well read, Joel’s blog is well read. I submitted something from Joel’s blog to Hacker News about a month ago and it instantly shot to number two. I was like, “OK. People like his stuff.” But do you feel like that sort of thing and kind of building, I know Joel has written about this a little bit but I don’t think I’ve heard your take about it. Do you think that building up your personal brand, like people know you’re producing good content, that you’re a good guy, that you’re smart, that you think about stuff, do you feel like building that and building your different social profiles, your social followings, that sort of thing, has that helped you with kind of making the shift from content to other points of marketing? Has it gotten you more buy-in with people, like people more willing to talk with you because they can look and say, “Oh, this guy has 10,000 followers on Twitter. I might want to pay attention to what he’s doing”?

Leo: Definitely. I completely agree with that and that’s why I try to encourage people to build their own personal brand on the side. It’s this idea, it’s this quote from Jim Rowland which is, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your startup, on your company.” For instance, try to improve yourself, try to become a better person yourself first. That’s the kind of thing we try to do.

Buffer getting some exposure and Buffer is kind of getting well- known. Buffer is this rocket ship so Joel wrote a blog post about this, which I think is a great terminology. Buffer is this rocket ship taking off and we, as the founders, the needs of the company need to cling onto that rocket ship as it takes off so we can get some of the exposure and that’s what we tried to do. All the experiences we have, all the things we learned through Buffer just say like, “Hey, we can just also put this on our personal brand, put this onto a personal blog, onto a personal Twitter, onto a personal Facebook, share it with people, share it with people who are interested and that’s made a big, big difference.

So like you say, like if I tweet someone and they look that, “Wow, OK, this guy’s not that small,” the conversion rate or just like the funnel decreases. Instead of getting an introduction or first engaging with them for a couple weeks, I can just, bam, send this e-mail and they go, “Well, I’ve seen you around. I’ve seen your blog. I’ve seen you on Twitter.” I always hope that people go out and build their own personal brand and also, most importantly, all this marketing part aside, all this making your job easier, it’s more for like it will help you. It’s this Tim Ferriss quote of, “Writing is the best, fastest way to improve your thinking.” So if you just write, if you put stuff out there, put on your personal, put on your Twitter, then you will just become smarter. You just learn to reflect better. You just understand better what you want, what you try to do and all these other things, like when you we went to (?), when we went to do all these other parts, it became a lot easier because we had a presence.

John: Interesting. So I think it’s interesting what you said about you’re producing stuff through Buffer, you’re producing stuff around but then also using your personal profiles to push it out. Now your person profiles are now being pulled along by Buffer because, obviously, it’s a good product. I use it. I’m a paying member. I use it on all the different sites that I run. I think it’s great but you’re producing stuff that you’re proud of, I think, is the interesting thing. You’re not afraid to tweet out stuff that you think is interesting. It doesn’t come across as self-promotional.

Anything you write, anything you produce, you’re willing to send out to your whole social following, which is something a lot of companies don’t get. They try to fill a void but it’s not really something that’s interesting to them. It’s not something that they’re passionate about. Then they’ll post and their employees are like, “I don’t really want to post that at all on my own social stuff because I’ll be spamming my social followers.”

Leo: Yeah, the point you’re making right there, I think that’s a brilliant way to gauge whether the content you’re producing is the right content. If you’re employees are not going to share it, something is wrong. It’s not real. Like, what’s going on? You want to look into it. So I think it’s a great point you’re making.

John: I think that kind of takes us to the last question that I e-mailed you about that I wanted to talk about where we’re talking about producing stuff that you’re proud of and stuff that you’re going to enjoy sharing. You’re writing stuff that you would read anyways if someone else wrote it, you would read it, you would share it. I think the same way about products. I ran a company for a year when I was living in Switzerland a few years ago. I was very inexperienced, for sure, but was just trying to make a difference and trying to push forward and you guys, even though you’re young as well and this is your first time running a startup, first time really doing marketing, you’re also being really transparent about it and you’re trying to build something that people are going to love.

But one topic I’ve been really interested in recently, one that I’ve heard a lot about, especially being in the tech scene here in New York City, is the topic of growth hacking, building in these, I call them “viral levers”, building these things that make the product stickier but often will . . . Before I even get into that question, what’s your take on growth hacking and on building these things into your product that are going to, hopefully, build the number of subscribers you have?

Leo: Definitely. So growth hacking, I think, is a super exciting concept. I think Andrew Chan wrote this brilliant post kind of introducing or putting all the thoughts together that a lot of marketers had at the time.

John: Yeah, it was a phenomenal post.

Leo: Yeah, yeah. And for us, the thing that it changed for us is the scale. It kind of requires you to say, “Think bigger. What can you do? What can you engineer? What can you look into to capture a user first in any kind of sign-up?” So I think growth hacking is super smart and is a great thing to do. The key thing that we, for example, have done, which you could call a growth hack or you don’t, is that we realized that support, making users happy, is an incredible way you can trigger viral sharing, trigger tweets from people, trigger people saying, “Wow.”

So for example, we worked with the response time that we give when you send an e-mail. We have 60% of all e-mails we get, and we get like 150 a day for customer support, we respond within one hour. If you get an e-mail back within one hour, then the chances that you go out there and say, “Wow. I just had the most amazing experience from the Buffer team e-mailing me back within like an hour or two,” I think that was something that will hit us, like, “Wow. This is crazy.” If we scale that, and if you get 1,000 and we get thousands of tweet a day just about why people love us, I think that was a great way for us to expand the presence and also we get consistently sign-ups through that. So that was kind of a great, great thing for us to kind of experiment with.

The other thing in terms of growth hacking is mobile, that we’ve kind of tried. So Android and the other thing right now that we are experimenting with is the new Blackberry 10 is coming out and a lot of people kind of think Blackberry’s dead and Blackberry’s down. We just pushed something live, like a Blackberry app in the market and overnight we got just 200 sign- ups from there and it’s not even launched. So I think this is kind of going to hopefully be a growth hack that we can look back to and be like, “We spent one day doing this, converting our Android app to a Blackberry app (which is super easy to do) and the sign-ups work out really well.” So those are the two kind of examples that we have found to work.

I think the reason we discovered these things is because of the mindset to be like, look at your users, look at your user base, how do they interact with you and how can you change something slightly and see if you get a spike.

John: Got you. Have you seen the same sort of effect from the e-mails that you guys send out? When your Buffer e-mail’s out and you send out an e-mail, have you guys seen that that has increased people coming back to Buffer, having more stop in? I mean, I get an e- mail and I’m like, “Oh, crap, that’s empty. I need to go load it up. I need to go make sure I have stuff there that I’m going to share out during the day if I’m super busy.” Do you guys see that with a lot of people?

Leo: Yeah. I think that’s always a key retention part into Buffer, like a key feature people love, this idea of being reminded. We’ve always seen this less as a growth hack, more as a way to build a stronger habit. So the idea we always had was if you use a product and if I can make it a habit that you use that product, I think you’re much less likely to ever stop using it, right?

John: Totally.

Leo: So if you’re in the flow, so you fill up your Buffer this morning and after two days you get the empty e-mail and then you fill it up again and then you get the empty e-mail again and all of the sudden this cycle emerges and people don’t even notice but every two days, they get the e-mail, they fill it up again, they get the e-mail, they fill it up again and all of the sudden they expect the e-mail, they crave the e-mail, they look forward to it like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll go in and fill it up again.” So that was more of the idea of creating this habit loop that we also plan on reinforcing and just to make it easier for someone to be like, “Oh, yeah, we look forward to this. My Buffer is always full. I share great stuff. My followers and friends love it.” So that was more like this. Really focus on retention through building a habit.

John: So eventually what happens probably also is that people will, they don’t even see the e-mails anymore because they’ve just gotten used to using Buffer. They’re online. They’re reading blogs. They’re just continually adding stuff. The e-mails stop coming but, like you said, it’s become a habit.

Leo: Exactly, yeah.

John: Interesting, interesting. So what I was going to ask about when I asked the first question about growth hacking is sometimes people will build in these levers that is kind of like they’ll do stuff where they, for example, automatically have a check box, a check, when you sign up and if you don’t uncheck that, they will e-mail everyone in your LinkedIn contact list, which a company did that to me about a month ago and I was like, “You know what? Screw these guys. I am unsubscribing right now. I am not happy about this.” Have you guys done anything like that that you look back and you were like, “That wasn’t such a good idea. That didn’t really help us build our brand, didn’t help make us more fans.”

Leo: Yeah, definitely. So we screwed up many times. We just tried lots and lots of things so that’s a very good point that you make. I personally always believe that growth hacking always needs to be related. You can’t just separate. It needs to be related to your user base. Like a growth hack for the one company is completely different to the next one, just like spamming all your Facebook friends, spam all your LinkedIn contacts. I don’t think that’s a valid growth hack anymore. That’s something within maybe like a couple years ago when BD did it or Social Cam or something like that.
These guys are smart because they went and studied them before like that or something like that but I don’t think a very good thing to do anymore because there’s no value related to it. Just inviting everyone? Where’s the value? Where’s the underlying core position that you give someone to . . . You might reach a lot of people but I don’t think it’s connected to your product. For us, if you give someone support and someone shouts about you, that’s value. Somebody’s like, “This guy, he’s not being forced, it’s just this loop that these guys kind of figured out.”

John: It’s vouching for you.

Leo: Sorry?

John: It’s someone vouching for you. It’s not just sending out an e-mail, it’s someone actually recommending you.

Leo: Exactly. And we, for example, we tried automatic DMs on Twitter for awhile, which didn’t work at all and really turned people off and we quickly turned them off and that was one example we found. We had like a referral program at Buffer so you can invite some friends and you’ve got extra slots in your queue. We had that at some point quite prominent and the wording was very spammy, like, “Do this and we’ll give you this.” So we tried some of these things and it didn’t quite work for us and it didn’t work to the Buffer brand. We want to be super transparent. We want to really give this feeling of positivity and that didn’t connect well together so those were the (?) for us. But that doesn’t mean that for some companies, this is exactly the thing that works because I put that particular company out because it’s like a one-fits-all solution for spamming friends.

John: Yeah. I totally agree. I think it’s interesting you mention stuff like Social Cam and Vidi, DM’s, that sort of thing. They were kind of groundbreaking but now some people are starting to get content blind where there’s just so much content out there that people aren’t even reading it anymore. I’m starting to get notification blind where I used to go onto sites, you’ll go onto Facebook, go onto my e-mail where Google+ is now and the notifications show up and the first thing I’d do would be check notifications. Now, today I was checking my e-mail and then I’d been in it for 10 minutes and I realized I had three notifications from Google+ that I hadn’t even noticed. So people are starting to get kind of blind to that.
I’d be interested, what do you think is kind of the next thing beyond notifications? Have you been thinking about anything that companies might leverage?

Leo: That’s a great question. I think so. So personally, I think what we try to do, what we see that happens is a lot of things coming back to basics. I think having great e-mail lists is killer.

John: Noah Kagan thought that. He says that is his one metric, building a big e-mail list that people like and people convert off of.

Leo: Exactly. I think a lot of people started to realize that. Also, scaling back on at least these super fancy e-mails, just nice header and pictures and super well-designed. It’s almost like a website in your e-mail inbox. We just scaled back to plaintext and just a personal message to be like, “Hey, this is what we’ve been up to. Here’s a link to the blog post. Check it out.” And that’s what give us the most click-throughs because that’s what gives us the most responses.

So trying to really understand that everybody wants to follow a story. Everybody wants to listen to a story. If you can tell a great story, people will listen to you. I think just coming back to that has given us one of the biggest boosts or kept us super- stable in the brand awareness and that’s what I think often is what it takes, just come back to basics. Like, “Hey, have you thought about just writing a great e-mail newsletter to all your users which is super personal and people can even reply to?” It’s a super simple, I think, that can have a massive impact that people love. But I think more of these kind of things I see.

John: Got you. I love that. I think that that’s awesome. I think that’s a great place to kind of wrap this whole thing up. That kind of encapsulates everything we’ve been talking about where you learn by experience but a lot of times, getting back to basics, the basics are basics for a reason, right? They’re the things that work. That’s awesome.

So last question: What’s next? What’s next for Buffer? What are you excited about, if you can share anything?

Leo: Definitely. So at Buffer, we are working on a bunch of new integrations. We hope that Google+ and Pinterest will open up their API’s pretty soon because we have a lot of people wanting to also add updates to their Buffer for these sites. So those are going to be some big things we’re working on. The other thing is we want to really look into the pictures, the way pictures and visuals get shared on social media right now. So we’ll send images to Facebook in a new way in a kind of like a Pinterest style way. That’s something that we’re super excited about. We’re having some prototypes running and we’re also trying to do something the same with the mobile phones so we’re not quite sure how this will work, something like maybe an Instagram style to Facebook or something like that but more like visual but interesting content that you find super useful.

For example, one thing that I’ve been testing myself personally is putting your personal quotes over nice, Instagram pictures you’ve taken and posting those to Facebook and having them spread really far. So something around this kind of visual because I think 2013 is all going to be around the visualization of social media and it’s not enough to just put a picture out there. You need to provide value on top of that so this is going to be the key.

John: Got you. Very cool. I think one thing that I would love to see that I’ve been frustrated with as a content creator and content publisher, I published a post about it last week that I call “The Future of Cross-Platform Publishing” is what I called it. But basically, it was like I’d love a way to when you publish a post, when you publish a piece of content to them, customize what you’re automatically posting to Facebook, automatically posting to Twitter, right there within your . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’ll e-mail you some ideas or something and be like, “Hey, you should get Buffer going on this sort of thing.” I know you have a big pipeline.

Leo: No, I like that idea.

John: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of stuff you guys can do with all your integrations and stuff. It’s cool. I’m excited to see what you guys come out with and what you guys dream up.

Leo: Definitely, definitely.

John: Cool. Well, Leo, I really appreciate your time. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. If you’re ever in New York City, please hit me up. Beers are on me.

Leo: Awesome. Thanks so much. Thanks so much for having me, John. If anyone has any follow-up questions after seeing this, hit me up on Twitter. It’s @LeoWid or just drop me an e-mail leo@bufferapp.com. I’d love to help with whatever. If you’re producing content and you’ve any questions, (?) any questions you guys have.

John: Fantastic. Appreciate it, man. Have a good one.

Leo: Thanks.


Have any questions for Leo? Leave them in the comments!

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

7 responses to Talking Marketing with Leo Widrich of Buffer

  1. Really awesome interview, and to hear that inspiration came from the roots of SEOmoz, that goes to show that the content being produced is truly great!

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