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How Buffer Generated 2 Million+ Social Media Video Views in One Year

How Buffer Generated 2 Million+ Social Media Video Views in One Year

Generating social media video views is hard.

Getting people to interact with and share your videos on social media is even harder.

Today brands and marketers are competing with the BuzzFeeds, Business Insiders, and Viral Threads of the world - all with big budgets, professional videographers, and talented editors.

But the effectiveness of social video is hard to ignore and the stats are mind-blowing (here are a few daily numbers):

  • People watch more than 100 million hours of video on Facebook
  • YouTube brings in nearly 5 billion video views
  • Time spent watching video on Instagram is up more than 80% year over year

As social media and digital marketing strategist at Buffer, I had the opportunity to help generate more than 2,000,000 video views on social media in one year. Here’s how we did it and everything I learned in the process.

Successful Social Media Video is Emotional

There’s a good (and scientific) reason that animal, DIY, fashion, beauty, news and political videos fill our social media feeds. They make us feel something, which in turn, compels us to share the content with our friends and family.

In 2011, the New York Times published an intriguing article on the science behind why people share online. More than seven years later, the lessons learned in that research are still as relevant as ever. They found that the top 5 reasons why people share online is to:

  • Delight others with valuable & entertaining content
  • Identify and present ourselves to others
  • Foster relationships
  • Self-fulfillment
  • Spreading the word about issues, products, and brands

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that people share because they believe that the content reflects their identity (whether it’s true or not). Keep emotions in mind as we explore the ever-changing world of video marketing below.

Why Create Social Media Video

There are almost too many stats to count when it comes to why you should be creating video for social media. Including the video stats above, here are a few more of my favorites:

Before we got serious about video marketing at Buffer, we would post videos to social media ad-hoc, with no real strategy or understanding of what works.

Once we began to put some thought and effort into studying the video landscape and creating quality videos, that’s when we began to see the powerful effect that they could have on our social media marketing:

Social Media Video Strategy - Buffer

Looking back, it’s interesting to see there was a visible turning point in our results:

Social Media Video Strategy Update - Buffer

Our biggest takeaway since the change:

Video is one of the most compelling ways to reach your audience because video is the preferred way people consume information in 2018 and will be for the foreseeable future.

How We Created Successful Social Media Videos

Above all, we realized that in order to be successful with social media video, we had to experiment and iterate - a lot.

It’s nearly impossible to determine which topics and videos will perform better than others with 100% accuracy (even 50% accuracy). Many times, we thought the topics that would perform well, tanked, and the topics we thought would perform so-so, ended up being some of our best.

Since we couldn’t predict video success with 100% accuracy, we created a formula for producing quality videos, without overthinking it.

Here’s our formula.

1. Start With What Works

Remember, – video is not a whole new type of marketing  -  video is a way to amplify your existing marketing strategy.

In order to get a few quick wins, we turned to the content we knew was already performing well. For us at Buffer, that was our social media blog.

Social Media Video Strategy

We started by sorting our most visited blog posts from the previous 90 days in Google Analytics.

Then, we created an Excel spreadsheet to add our favorite topic ideas to the list based on our most popular posts.

From there, we dwindled down the list to topics that would “make sense” in video format and got to creating (more on our favorite tools later).

2. Consider Video Context

The wonderful thing about social media video is that if you do it right, the videos can produce results for your business long after they’ve been posted.

In looking at the many different paths we could take, we decided to focus on video topics that would (hopefully) be evergreen - as opposed to short-lived topics such as news.

Importance and Longevity - Social Media Video

Focusing on perpetual and important allowed us to embed these videos in our blog posts, send them in emails to customers, and even embed them on our website because we knew they wouldn’t “go out of style” anytime soon.

Plus, you can’t plan on a social media video going viral. It just happens.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t try!

In addition to creating evergreen videos for our various digital assets, we did try to produce something we thought might go viral every once in a while.

Meaning our social media video strategy consisted of perpetual and important topics 80% of the time, and swing-for-the-fences type video topics 20% of the time.

Who knew that our audience loved kinetics so much!

Note: Curated content is a great way to supplement your current video strategy.

3. Choose Your Video Topics Wisely

As I alluded to earlier, social media is supposed to be social.

As much as much as we’d love for audiences to want to hear about our product or our latest free ebook or our sales pitch as businesses, the fact is they don’t.

There is, however, a way to capture your audience’s attention by educating and/or entertaining them and then moving them (gently) through the customer lifecycle.

In a recent presentation I did with Animoto President and Co-founder, Jason Hsiao, we talked about this idea of creating awareness vs. converting customers.

Creating Awareness with Social Media VideoA big mistake I see brands making on social media is skipping right to the convert stage without effectively telling their brand story – I.e., the glue that makes people care.

Typically (unless you have a product that is flying off the shelf) you can’t gloss over the interactions, tiny moments, and trust building in-between awareness and conversion.

If you’re looking to build trust, increase engagement, and generate views, here are the 4 social video topics we found work best:

1. Blog Posts

Start with what works (as we talked about before). Sort your most visited blog posts and/or website pages and create short video recaps that people can watch in 30 seconds - 2 minutes.

Free education is an incredible way to increase video views on social media.

2. Industry News

If you’re fresh our of ideas or don’t have a ton of current content to work with, creating videos around trending industry news topics will help to drive results on social media.

One of my favorite tools for finding the most popular topics right now is BuzzSumo. I simply enter the URL of my favorite industry-related websites and it shows me the most popular posts from the last 24 hours, week, month, and even year.

Note: It’s also how we generate episode ideas for the Buffer Podcast (now with more than 100 episodes and 1.1M downloads).

3. Inspiration

Remember when I mentioned that we do try to swing-for-the-fence once in a while with social media video?

Well, inspirational videos are the perfect way to, 1) blow your audience’s mind, and 2) experiment to see what type of content your audience might like.

These don’t have to be overly complicated or time-consuming either.

To find inspirational topics, all you have to do is look around you.

What’s trending on Twitter? What are the most successful videos on Facebook Pages to Watch? What keywords are people searching for on YouTube?

4. Hacks, Tips, & Tricks

My absolute favorite social media video topics (and the ones I enjoy watching myself) are in the hacks, tips, and tricks realm.

These types of videos allow you to both educate and entertain your audience at the same time, which is the perfect recipe for success.

For example, we were getting constant questions from our customers asking how we make customs GIFs for our website. Well, instead of writing the same answer 100 times or writing a blog post, we simply made a video.

What does your audience want to know? It’s up to you to teach them, otherwise someone else will.

Facebook recently released a really interesting guide on how to create videos for social media that generate views and drive sales. My biggest takeaway from the guide was this:

How to Create Social Media Video for FacebookWhich leads perfectly into best practices you can use to start creating video content that performs starting today.

Social Media Video Best Practices

Believe it or not, there are some scientific, data-backed ways to create better videos.

1. Create video for mobile consumption

Fun fact: More than 90% of Facebook and Instagram users access the social network from their mobile device, meaning that it’s time for us to start consider the implications of mobile and how we might evolve our social media video strategies moving forward.

Create Social Media Video for Mobile

In a recent study we conducted with Animoto, one stat really stood out to us: Square video (1:1) takes up 78% more real estate in a person’s mobile newsfeed than does landscape video (16:9).

We we looked at performance of square video vs. landscape video we found that square dramatically outperformed the latter.

Check out the stats from 10 tests, 60 variations, and more than $1,500 spent on advertising - square video garnered:

  • +70% engagement
  • 40% more views
  • 33% lower CPC
  • 41% higher CTR

A simple change such as video format can increase the performance of your videos in a big way.

2. Consider video length and captions

The other major factors to consider when optimizing your content for mobile are video length and caption length.

BuzzSumo found that the optimal video length on Facebook is anywhere between 30–120 seconds. In other words, your videos should be no longer than 2 minutes and should aim to capture the user’s attention within the first 1–3 seconds.

Optimal Social Media Video Length

Why?

Think about your own social media habits. Are you taking your time and scrolling slowly through the feed, or are you quickly passing by each piece of content until you find something that catches your attention?

If you want to perform a fun experiment, go out in public and watch people use Facebook and Instagram on their phones… it’s, well, awesome.

The quicker you can get someone to click on or engage with your content on mobile, the better. That often means keeping your captions short and sweet as to not distract users from your ultimate goal.

3. Create videos around popular topics

This one may seem irrelevant for your business, but I promise you that you can find something from this best practice. Here are the most popular video topics on Facebook by category:

Popular Social Media Video Topics

Buffer, as you may know, is a social media management platform in the SaaS space. At first glance, you may think we’d only post content around social media marketing.

That was true until we started to experiment with other topics and themes - a move that helped to skyrocket our social media video results.

By creating videos focused on things like tech, education, travel, and science, we were able to tap into the topics that people truly enjoy to interact with on social media.

Our biggest learnings from 2,000,000 social media video views

Before you go, I’d love to leave you with some final thoughts on creating great videos. Here they are completely unedited:

  • Tap into the wealth of Facebook data to understand your audience on a deep lever (Facebook Audience Insights and Pages to Watch are gold mines)
  • Don’t use the “Boost” button (target your content to customized audiences in Facebook Ads Manager -stick to general, broad targeting buckets as opposed to niche, granular interests)
  • Test a LOT. Iterate and improve constantly
  • Use concise messaging - assume the viewer is unaware of the video’s content (also assume they’re watching with the sound off)
  • Consumers have high expectations for right-here, right-now experiences on social media
  • Emotions are the most powerful video tool you have

Check out this entire article video style! I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Wistia CouchCon Conference where I discuss all of the topics above and more. See you there.

Before you go…

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6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar)

6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar)

Pixar is arguably one of the greatest storytellers of our generation.

Over the years, they’ve won 13 Academy Awards, 9 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammys.

Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to truly move an audience.

Luckily, storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a very young age. But there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.

I recently stumbled across Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling — here are the top six we can all learn from.

6 Rules for Great Storytelling

“Storytelling is the greatest technology that humans have ever created.” — Jon Westenberg

1. Great stories are universal

Great storytelling is about taking a piece of the human condition (so things like birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict) and conveying it in a unique situation.

Acclaimed Pixar director Pete Docter puts it perfectly:

“What you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to write about an event in your life that made you feel some particular way. And what you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to get the audience to have that same feeling.”

One way you can do this is to pull apart the stories you like.

Break down every little element about what you love about them. Those are real feelings you’re having and you have to recognize them in detail in order to tell a great story yourself.

In other words, self knowledge and awareness are at the the root of all great storytelling.

You are part of the human condition and people will relate to that.

2. Great stories have a clear structure and purpose

Part A (Structure)

One of my favorite ways to develop a compelling story is to use “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improvisor Kenn Adams.

Pixar has used this story structure to create so many films we know and love today.

It goes:

Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank]. One day [blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Until finally [bank].

The Story Spine — Emma Coats

Give the Story Spine a shot to help develop a truly unique story to tell.

Part B (Purpose)

As Pixar writes:

Why must you tell THIS story?

What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?

What greater purpose does this serve? What does it teach?

That’s the heart of really great storytelling.

By crafting a story that you are passionate to tell because it serves a real purpose, your stories will have bigger impact on the world.

I think that gets lost a lot of the time.

3. Great stories have a character to root for (an underdog)

Believe it or not, people want to root for you (the main character).

AND they love a good underdog.

This might seem straightforward but it’s worth keeping in mind anytime you’re creating a story.

Pixar explains that we as the audience admire a character for trying more than for their success. In other words, it’s more about the character’s journey than it is their actual destination.

When your character is battling against all odds, facing adversity, or their back is against the wall, well then, you have yourself the makings of great story.

In our modern society, for example, everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story. How many times has Forbes published an article about the fearless entreprenuer that dropped everything, almost failed dozens of times along the way, yet still managed to create a multi-million dollar business?

Give the people an unexpected hero to root for.

4. Great stories appeal to our deepest emotions

Psychologists generally agree that there are six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.

If you ever watched the Pixar move Inside Out, you’ll recognize these emotions as characters in the movie.

Pixar Inside Out Characters

The more you understand how/when your own emotional levers are pulled, the more you’ll appreciate how that works in other people (and the more you’ll be able to hone those emotions in your stories).

Consciously being to recognize these various emotions in yourself —and think about the “why”.

Why are you feeling a certain way? How might you be able to take the “why” behind your emotions and tell a story?

Continuously question yourself in order to understand your own emotional reactions to stories so that you can learn to tell more authentic stories that reach and move people where it counts.

5. Great stories are surprising and unexpected

We’ve all seen the classic “fairytale” storyline: a helpless princess in need and a charming prince swooping in to save the day.

Boring (and totally outdated).

What makes modern stories compelling are when our perceptions of reality are challenged or changed in some way.

Creators like Pixar and Walt Disney use animated movies as vehicles to address real-life phenomenons, issues, stereotypes, and norms.

Movies such as Brave, Coco, Tangled, and Moana help us to understand and reflect on big, human-centered topics that we might not otherwise take time out of our day to think about.

Pixar's Brave Character

Many times those topics or themes are surprising and unexpected, leaving the audience thinking about the story well after it is over.

If you’re stuck on coming up with something truly unique, Pixar recommends to get rid of the 1st thing that comes to mind — and then the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

Challenge yourself to dig deep.

6. Great stories are simple and focused

We as audiences know a good story when we see or hear one.

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where you had to keep asking yourself (or someone else) what was happening in the plot?

Not a great experience.

As creators, we naturally want to include as much information as possible in our stories. We want to pack the story full of characters and plot twists and dialogue.

And often times we might not even realize that we’re adding layers that don’t need to be there.

Pixar’s advice here is to “combine characters and hop over detours.”

While you as the creator may feel like you’re losing lots of valuable stuff, it’ll set you free in the end and will allow your audience to get lost in the narrative.

One way to find out if your story is easy to follow is to tell it to a friend or family member who has never heard it before. Watch their face as you read it and try to see where they pause and what questions they might have.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

22 Rules for Storytelling by Pixar

22 Rules for Storytelling by Pixar

6 Rules for Great Storytelling originally appeared on the Buffer Podcast:

Why Facebook’s News Feed Change To Show Less “Public Content” Is Actually a Good Thing

Why Facebook’s News Feed Change To Show Less “Public Content” Is Actually a Good Thing

When Mark Zuckerberg said that he wanted to “fix Facebook” in 2018, no one predicted that he would make such a big change so quickly.

12 days into the new year, Zuckerberg and company dropped what might be the biggest Facebook News Feed update in years (particularly for brands).

Quite understandably, the future of Facebook for marketers and brands is uncertain.

Here’s what’s happening with the Facebook News Feed and why I think it’s a good thing for both Facebook and for brands long-term.

Facebook News Feed Changes

This isn’t the first time Facebook has made a big change to the News Feed to focus on friends and family over brand content.

This time around, however, it feels a bit more real.

In the January 11th press release from Adam Mosseri — Facebook’s Head of News Feed — wrote one line that will most certainly impact how we approach Facebook marketing from here on out.

“We will prioritize posts from friends and family over public content, consistent with our News Feed values

Instead, Facebook will begin to focus on prioritizing posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.

Notice the words “between people” there.

Facebook News Feed Change - Brining The World Closer Together

The Facebook algorithm will attempt to predict which posts users might be most likely to interact with friends about, and show those higher in the news feed.

Posts that spark conversations, shares, reactions, and comments will be the holy grail of content on Facebook moving forward.

On the other end of the spectrum, public content (content from publisher and business Pages) may see their reach, video watch time, and referral traffic decrease.

A dim outlook for brands and businesses, until Adam writes,

“Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect”

In other words, Pages creating content (posts) that people engage with and share with their friends will not be negatively impacted.

While Pages creating content that people don’t engage with will see the biggest decreases in results.

Which leads me to my extremely (and quite possibly irrationally) positive outlook on this new Facebook News Feed change.

Why Showing Less “Public Content” Is A Good Thing

This isn’t the end for brands. In fact, it’s just the beginning of a huge opportunity.

Working for Buffer, a social media SaaS company, and being in social media for more than six years, I truly want to see brands succeed on social media.

When brands win, it’s a win for everyone.

New products are in the hands of consumers. Information is shared. Great content helps to inspire action.

Facebook News Feed Change - A Look at the Algorithm

An Opportunity to Stand Out

Now, more than ever, brands are going to have a real opportunity to stand out on social media.

Facebook is specifically saying — we’ll reward you if you create content that people actively, not passively engage with — actively meaning commenting, reacting, and sharing.

While brands that are not creating this sort of content, will see their numbers decrease.

An Opportunity to Up Your Game

How do you create content that people actively engage with?

You must carefully and thoughtfully consider everything you are creating for social media.

Ask yourself: Will this make people want to react, comment, and share?

One important thing to keep in mind is that a lot of brand content is really good. Facebook will not stop showing their content in the news feed.

Emulate those brands’ strategies. Figure out what’s working for them.

What are other brands creating that is allowing them to thrive in this Facebook environment?

An Opportunity to Experiment

All that’s left is content. But that’s all there ever was!

Brands will succeed by accepting this Facebook News Feed change and tackle it head on through the willingness to experiment with new content.

In the press release, Mosseri writes,

“Live videos get six times as many interactions as regular videos, on average. Many creators who post videos on Facebook prompt discussion among their followers”

We’ve talked about Facebook video a lot on the Buffer Podcast and it has never been more important than now. Honing in on your video skills will allow your content to stand out. Plus, it’s a great way to spark conversation.

Mosseri also mentioned the importance and impact of Facebook Groups — stating that, in Groups, people often interact around public content.

Groups are going to be a important factor moving forward in your Facebook marketing strategy.

Thoughts?

I’d love to hear what you think about the latest change to the Facebook News Feed.

Am I being too optimistic here?

Or, is this a major opportunity afoot? What do you think brands can do to help tackle these challenges head on?

Enjoy this type of content? Subscribe to my newsletter Thinker here!

3 Ways We Increased Weekly Podcast Downloads by 109% in Two Months

3 Ways We Increased Weekly Podcast Downloads by 109% in Two Months

Nothing makes a podcaster happier than to see the below trend line in Libsyn.

Today Buffer’s podcast, The Science of Social Media, is generating more than 12,350 downloads per week, with that number steadily growing (huge shout-out to all of our awesome listeners!)

But it wasn’t always this way.

As you can see on the left side of the chart, we hit an all-time ‘weekly download’ low in early June of this year. 5,900.

Buffer Podcast Download Insights

Which isn’t poor by any means! Though seeing as how we were averaging roughly 9,500 downloads per week for ten months straight it was a tough pill to swallow. Something had to change.

My co-host Hailley and I threw everything we thought we knew about podcasting out the window and started from scratch.

Here are the 4 strategies we went all in on to turn the fate of the Buffer podcast around.

We 180’d our show format

We’ve had the privilege of welcoming some amazing guests to the show over the past year. Guests like NASA, NatGeo, First Round, Marie Forleo, Rand Fishkin, Ryan Holiday, Mari Smith, Noah Kagan, Jay Baer, and lots more.

Buffer Podcast Guests

They were a huge part of helping to make our show so successful off the bat and a big reason why we are here today.

When we made the decision to move away from typical guest interviews it wasn’t an easy one.

We looked around the podcast industry and realized that tons of shows (and I mean TONS) follow the interview format. And most of these show’s descriptions include something along the lines of:

“Strategies from the biggest and brightest influencers in __[insert topic here]__”

The difficulty was that there were only so many “big names” that we could get to come on the show.

Week in and week out we’d spend several hours pitching guests, writing sample questions, waiting for approval from PR, scheduling interview time, stressing over tiny details, and trying to make the interview perfect. And when we looked 6–12 months out into the future, we knew that the big-name-list would soon run dry.

That’s when we began experimenting with what we called “Bonusodes” and “Minisodes.” Bonusodes and Minisodes were quick (10–15 minute) episodes where Hailley and I discussed social media and marketing strategy.

The ironic part is that these types of episodes only started because we ran out of big-name guests for the week. Little did we know they would eventually help to turn the show around.

As for the guest interviews, we decided that we’d only run them if we made each interview dramatically different than what you might here on other podcasts.

We began to turn the interviews into stories. We interjected, added commentary, took the best parts and mixed them together into a cohesive, easy-listening episode. NPR-style.

Of course, this meant more time recording, more time producing and editing, and more time finding just the right story to tell. But it also meant a new and unique experience for our listeners. That’s our top priority.

If you’re interested in hearing a few of our new interviews, check out:

Branden Harvey — Using Social Media for Good

Paul Jarvis — On Entrepreneurship

Ryan Holiday — Creating Perennial Sellers

Now that we had a new format, we needed ideas. And good ones at that.

We’re repurposing top Buffer Blog content

As we began transitioning to full-time Minisode production in April-May of 2017, we chose episode topics that we thought would be interesting.

Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t.

When they didn’t work it halted growth of the show. That’s no good when you only have one shot per week.

We needed a proven method of generating episode topics that would increase downloads week over week.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Buffer Podcast Episode Ideas

The Buffer Blog is one of the most prolific blogs in the social media industry with more than 1.5 million monthly visitors — AND we have all of the back-end data!

Instead of guessing what topics would work on the podcast, we went into Google Analytics and sorted our blog content by the most page views over the previous 30 days (see chart above).

Viola!

Hundreds of podcast episode ideas at our fingertips sorted by what people are searching for online. Taking this approach has led to more podcast downloads per episode, more reviews, and a higher popularity rating on iTunes.

We’re advertising on Facebook

Once we started to see a slight increase in week-over-week growth to the show, it was time to take the podcast to the next level.

Having a solid backlog of quality episodes allowed us to justify the investment because we knew if someone clicked through to the podcast that they would have a much higher chance of subscribing and listening to additional episodes.

Cue the snowball effect❄️

Facebook Ads have been a huge source of growth.

Here’s how we did it:

Buffer Facebook Advertising Strategy

  1. We set up a Custom Audience targeting all traffic to the Buffer Blog and Buffer.com knowing that brand awareness would increase our CTR and decrease our CPC.
  2. Next we added an additional targeting filter to only deliver ads to iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices and linked directly to the episode on iTunes (rather than the show notes or podcast landing page). This reduced the friction of going from podcast ad >> podcast subscriber.
  3. We chose the most popular episodes from the podcast and started there — $10 per day using the “Post Traffic” campaign option in Facebook. We keep a close eye on CPC and whenever it creeps above $0.25–0.30 we shut it off and start a new add.

We’ve spent a total of $922 over the last two months which has resulted in nearly 4,000 direct clicks to the podcast.

This applies to everything

As I wrote this article I realized that the above strategies apply to much more than just podcasting.

We’ve taken this re-thinking approach and applied it to social media, blog writing, partnerships, videos, design and more.

If something is not working, it’s alright!

It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

It doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job.

And it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t change.

180 your ideas!

Repurpose and curate awesome content. Advertise. Do something wild like completely change the format your audience has come to know and love.

How I Approach Digital Marketing at Buffer as a TOFU Marketer

How I Approach Digital Marketing at Buffer as a TOFU Marketer

One of the most exciting things about working at a startup or small company is that every employee wears multiple hats.

That means at any moment I might be working on our next social media campaign, writing content for the blog, interviewing a guest for our next podcast episode, hosting a workshop, streaming Live, or editing a video in Adobe Premier.

It can also mean, though, that more formal strategies and long-term thinking take a back seat to shipping projects today. After all, if we sat around and thought about it too long we might never ship anything at all!

But this year we’re taking a more strategic approach to our marketing at Buffer. We’re planning out content weeks in advance and making sure it aligns with our various business objectives.

In other words, we’re growing up.

Each teammate is responsible for delivering content or assets within a certain time frame for his or her role on the team. Whether it’s PR, Community, Social, Content, Growth, Email, or Data, we’re all focusing on working together.

This year, I’ve had the privilege to take on an expanded role: Top-of-the-Funnel (TOFU) Marketer. Essentially it means that a lot my day is based around getting as many people (potential customers) into the top of our marketing funnel as I can through digital and offline content.

To do so, I needed a strategy.

What processes should I prioritize? Which marketing activities will drive the most growth? Which ones won’t? How will I know if it’s working?

And so I put together what I’m calling my Digital (TOFU) Marketing Strategy for 2017. It’s based on the incredible work of Brian Balfour and other professionals who have written about digital and growth marketing in great detail.

I’m still learning as I go and this strategy is nowhere near perfect (plus, it’s changing every day), but I thought it might be useful to share it with you all.

Here it is in its entirety. I hope you enjoy!

What is Buffer’s vision? Why do we exist?

To give people a greater voice on social media and to create a workplace of the future.

What is TOFU Marketing?

The main goal of TOFU Marketing is to attract more quality customers to a product or service.

(Quality is key when deploying TOFU marketing strategies. 4,000 leads doesn’t necessarily equate to 4,000 long-term customers ((or even 4 for that matter))

And it doesn’t stop there.

On small teams, TOFU marketers also need to take into consideration the entirety of the marketing funnel. In other words, once we get the customers in the door, where do they go? Do they stick around? Purchase more products? Leave a review? Tell their friends?

In that light, TOFU marketers take on the roll of what we might today call a Growth Marketer.

“Finance owns the flow of cash in and out of a company. Growth owns the flow of customers in and out of a product.” — Andy Johns, VP of Growth, Wealthfront

Where does TOFU Marketing fit into the Buffer vision?

In order to give people a greater voice on social media they must:

  • Know about our product
  • Decide that our product is the best fit for their job to be done
  • Understand how to use our product to the fullest

I am approaching TOFU marketing as a delicate balance between traditional awareness + acquisition marketing and retention + revenue + referral marketing. (See chart below Growth vs. Marketing vs. Product)

This equates to creating content and prioritizing marketing activities that not only look to attract a large amount of new customers, but also to guide customers along the marketing funnel in a cohesive and strategic manner.

[In my current TOFU-focused role, many of the activities will be geared towards awareness + acquisition. However, understanding and implementing MOFU & BOFU marketing processes is important in the success of retention + revenue + referral. This may come in different forms such as email marketing campaigns, “how-to” videos, targeted Facebook Ads, growth experiments, and more.]

Growth vs. Marketing vs. Product (via Brian Balfour)

Note: These are generalizations. Implementation of growth strategies within companies can vary widely.

Growth Marketing Matrix

We are in the unique position at Buffer to be able to move quickly between growth and marketing. This allows us to conduct data-driven experiments, while also thoughtfully planning campaigns that will help to drive overall brand awareness and product conversions.

Much of our marketing success depends on the process of seamlessly integrating our growth goals with awareness + acquisition goals. It also depends deeply on the ability to deploy a fast, data-driven process to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

For example: We might test 4 to 5 different email sets (headlines, subject lines, audience, images, wording, length, CTA, etc) on any given day while working within the framework of our overall email marketing campaign. That email marketing campaign would be within the framework of our overall email goals such as blog traffic, open rate, CTR, etc.

Data from the 4 to 5 various email sets must quickly be measured, analyzed, and reported so that we can work the learnings back into our next email campaign.

Another example: We might experiment with 3 different video lengths and topics on Facebook while working within the framework of our overall Facebook marketing strategy. Our Facebook marketing strategy would fit within our overall social media strategy which is to educate, entertain, and drive traffic to Buffer assets.

Data from the different video lengths and topics must quickly be measured, analyzed, and reported so that we can work the learnings back into our next Facebook video.

Choosing Our Customer Acquisition Channels

Marketing Tactics Matrix - In a Perfect World

Customer Acquisition Channel Priority Matrix

From Brian Balfour’s “5 Steps to Choosing Customer Acquisition Channels”

  • Cost — The upfront and ongoing cost to acquire users in this channel
  • Targeting — The depth of ability to target different audiences
  • Control — The control you have over turning the channel on/off at will
  • Input Time — The upfront time required to start running experiments with this channel
  • Output Time — The time it takes to start getting data around your experiments
  • Scale — The size/reach of the channel

The chart above shows the top 6 marketing channels that fall under our marketing growth strategy. In a perfect world, the channels would look like this:

Targeting — High, Cost — Low, Input Time — Low, Output Time — Low, Control — High, Scale — High

Operating under this framework will help to prioritize marketing channels in order of importance. It’s crucial to remember, though, that this is only meant to be the beginning. At this point we have a hypothesis about a customer acquisition channel. We’ll benefit from setting up and running a number of experiments to prove out the viability of the channel in relation to overall growth goals.

Building a Process for Growth, Not Tactics

“Tactics first is putting the cart before the horse. You need a process that will help you build a scalable, predictable, and repeatable growth machine.”
— Brian Balfour

What the TOFU process may look like at Buffer:

  1. Setting BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) against the areas we’d like to grow in
  2. Continually feed the machine with new ideas and experiments
  3. Measure experiment data (did it work or fail?)
  4. Sharing our learnings with team and iterating on experiment process/implementation

Digital (TOFU) Marketing in Action

Social Media

One of the biggest strengths of social media is its ability to drive a huge amount of word-of-mouth marketing in a short amount of time.

It’s also a great tool for providing educational & entertaining resources that are timely, easy-to-digest, and unique to individual platforms.

Due to the changing landscape of social media algorithms and a decline in organic reach across the board, every piece of content that we put out on social should have a purpose. Those purposes are as follows:

  1. Provide value (education or entertainment) unique to the channel its shared on
  2. Provide content so valuable/relatable that people are moved to share it with their network
  3. Humanize the Buffer brand through authentic and transparent learnings

Email

As organic reach on social media continues to drop and social platforms move to more “closed” environments, it’s important for companies and brands to have “owned marketing assets” of their own.

A blog is one great example and another is a company’s email list.

Our email newsletter (and list) will serve as an important peripheral marketing channel with a focus on driving additional traffic to our blog outside of organic search and social media.

Email strategy and success will focus on three factors:

  1. Quality and segmentation of our subscribers
  2. Efficient and data-backed A/B tests
  3. Valuable, unique, and interesting content delivered consistently

Not only is email a great way to “push” out information to our current and potential customers, but it’s also a great way to “pull” knowledge about our customer database and enrich our insights into content preferences and demographic information.

(We also might consider running email drip campaigns — leading subscribers to certain pieces of MOFU or BOFU content aimed at converting customers at certain stages of their journey)

Video

Data from 2016 points to the fact that video is one of the best ways to reach our audience on social media and provide value to current and potential Buffer customers.

Video content will be one of our content cornerstones with a focus on marketing thought-leadership, social media education, company culture, and entertainment.

3 key factors that will help lead to video success:

  1. Consistency across all major video sharing platforms (daily video is optimal)
  2. Topic research, headline optimization, and thoughtful delivery of content
  3. Creativeness and willingness to think outside of the box

Due to the nature of video, we will be extra diligent in tracking the success of our video marketing efforts. What’s working? What’s not? Can we deliver video content in more effective and efficient ways?

think with Google put together a great chart on various video KPIs that we might measure in relation to each marketing goal:

think with Google - Video Marketing Success

Key Questions to Ask with Video Marketing Campaigns:

  • Question #1: What is your marketing goal for this campaign?
  • Question #2: What are the KPIs for that marketing goal?
  • Question #3: What are the best video analytics to measure your KPIs?
  • Question #4: How will you optimize for engagement?

Different Video Platform Opportunities Based on Previous Successes:

  • Pre-Recorded Video
  • Facebook & Instagram Live
  • YouTube Webinars
  • SkillShare Classes
  • Instagram Stories
  • Snapchat

Content

Content, when thought about under the umbrella of “Growth Strategy” has many facets. Growth content is optimized for SEO, has all of the parts required for social shareability (uniqueness, great headline, valuable), is optimized for click-throughs and email subscribers, and much more.

In this particular case, I am referring to content as a means to increase awareness. Therefore, content developed under Growth will focus more on virality (created and optimized for sharing across networks).

We will achieve virality through the following best-practices:

  • Thorough topic research on current, trending topics using a tool like BuzzSumo
  • Partnering with peer companies, brands, and influencers to leverage audiences
  • Creating unique content assets for each social media channel (80% promotion rule)

Podcast

One highly “personal” TOFU content marketing strategy that has seen exponential growth over the past several years is podcasting. Audio content presents us with the opportunity to reach new customers where and when they want to be reached.

The Science of Social Media has received more than 250,000 downloads in just about 6 months since its release. Since being featured on Apple’s News & Noteworthy, numbers have leveled out to around 6,500–9,500 downloads per episode.

In order to grow both our core subscribers as well reach a significant amount of new listeners to the podcast, we will focus on the following activities:

  • Identifying and securing quality podcast guests on a weekly basis (with a full backlog)
  • Examining trends in our data and in the industry to formulate successful topics and headlines
  • Experiment with and perfect show format to find “what works” with our audience
  • Utilize essential marketing tactics to ensure maximum episode promotion
  • Social media sharing (us and our guests)
  • Email newsletter (us and our guests)
  • Show notes optimized for SEO

Facebook Ads

Facebook Advertising works in a variety of Growth Marketing situations — from collecting emails to directly driving sales of product. In most cases, however, Facebook Ads are effectively used as a supplemental marketing strategy with the goal of amplifying the various content pieces we’re creating.

It is very important for us not to use Facebook Advertising as a crutch, but as an amplification tool. In other words, our Facebook marketing and growth strategy will look to maximize organic reach before using ads to promote our content even further.

Our promotion strategy will look to boost the following types of content:

  • Content with a high engagement ratio (engagement / reach total * 100)
  • New or important product/company announcements
  • Videos with a high video view ration (video views / reach total * 100)
  • Partner/curated content that has organically reached more than 20,000 people

Summary

As mentioned in the beginning:

The main goal of TOFU Marketing is to attract more customers to a product or service.

Though there are dozens of different TOFU marketing strategies for businesses and brands, ours will focus on the testing and optimization of 6 main activities:

  • Social
  • Video
  • Email
  • Blog Content
  • Podcast
  • Facebook Advertising

We will look to strike the delicate balance between traditional awareness + acquisition marketing and retention + revenue + referral marketing. This allows us to conduct data-driven experiments, while also thoughtfully planning campaigns that will help to drive overall brand awareness and product conversions.

What Running 700 Miles in 2016 Taught Me About Business

What Running 700 Miles in 2016 Taught Me About Business

700 miles out on the open road.

At heart, I’m a running purist. No headphones. No waistband for water bottles. No activity monitor or GPS tracker.

When I get thirsty I usually just pop into someone’s yard for a drink from their hose!

Just my trusty Asics Trainers and a $10 Casio watch for pace.

700 miles. At seven minutes per mile, that equates to roughly 4,900 minutes, 81.6 hours, or 3.4 days.

That’s a lot of time to think.

One of the secrets to running is the ability to lose yourself in positive thought. Brainstorming, reflecting, strategizing, and conjuring up crazy ideas while endorphins are going strong is one way to keep the mind from thinking negative, self-deflating thoughts.

Successful runs happen when the “I’m tired, thirsty, hurting, angry, frustrated, not-good-enough” thoughts are pushed aside for more productive thinking.

Which is why:

Running is a lot like business.

It rewards those who put the work in day in and day out. Those who know and love the process just as much as the results. Those who can block out the negative, learn from mistakes, and keep pushing forward.

When I set out on a 10-mile run, my thoughts aren’t on the 10th mile. They’re on pace, form, technique, and getting stronger with every stride. When the run is over, I’m already thinking about the next one.

What can I do next time to increase my average mile time? How was my breathing? Could I have hit another hill or pushed myself harder during the challenging parts?

The 3 most valuable business lessons I’ve learned from running

Going Where Others Are Afraid To Go

There are millions of great runners around the world. Each one has their strengths, weaknesses, and unique way of approaching the sport.

But what separates the good from the great?

Great runners are deliberate.

They’re willing to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to train because they have a full-time job and a family to take care of. They stretch, eat, and recover with purpose. Everything great runners do is calculated.

Same goes for business.

Whether they’re pursuing a new career path or a new marketing channel, great business people are deliberate about their actions. They’ve done the research, thought of all possible scenarios, and considered the consequences of their actions.

Deliberate action is a part of their DNA.

So much so that when they decide to take a chance on something that seems crazy to everyone else, they know deep down that they’ve had their ears to the streets for months and that it’s a good move.

Overcoming Negative Thoughts

One of the biggest business lessons I’ve learned from running is just how harmful negativity can be for career growth and business success.

Imposter Syndrome is a one form of negativity that surfaces in all different types of people and situations. If you’ve ever experienced this before, you know how hard it can be to overcome.

Self-doubt and a lack of confidence are closely related to Imposter Syndrome and can have dramatic consequences on overall well-being and business success.

To overcome negative thoughts I suggest a two-step approach:

  1. Recognize that they exist and that they are passing thoughts
  2. Realize that you are where you are because you deserve it

If you’ve put in the hard work (trained) and are successful, it’s not because of luck or because of chance. It’s because you’ve earned it.

By addressing your negative thoughts directly, over time you will develop a sort of internal confidence. Negative thoughts will start to creep in and you’ll kick them right out.

Achieving Measurable Progress in Reasonable Time

To get to that next level, we all have to push ourselves to be better. To work harder.

If you want to be a great runner, at some point you’re going to have to train outside of your limits. Turning that 8-mile run into a 10-mile run is what helps you get stronger so that you can achieve new milestones.

In the business world, we tend to get stuck in our daily routines. But at some point, if we want to change the results, we’re going to have to step outside of our comfort zones.

Reading, taking online classes, asking questions, experimenting, measuring new data, and just flat-out doing are the best ways to take control of your outcome.