How Buffer Wins Twitter Every Single Wednesday

When Nicole Miller was hired by social media management startup Buffer last April, she remembers being tasked with focusing on one particular objective: Show Buffer’s customers and fans just how much the company values their feedback and support.

Of course, the company was already doing that. In fact, a big part of Buffer’s success to this point has been its innate ability to build, manage, and grow a vibrant community of super-loyal users and followers. Its customers are some of the most loyal in the competitive social media management space, and its business service (geared toward helping smaller and medium-sized companies better manager social publishing) has been a huge success.

That said, the challenge for Buffer — as for many SaaS companies during periods of hyper-growth — is finding a way to cultivate, manage, leverage, and grow that incredible community at scale. After all, it’s one thing for Buffer co-founders Leo Widrich and Joel Gascoigne to encourage customers to email them directly with questions or feedback during the startup phase. It’s quite another when there are thousands of customers to interact with and not enough time in the day to engage all of them.

Buffer has managed to combat this challenge by dedicating a full 25 percent of its team to customer support. In its monthly “Happiness Report” it shares stats on how many customers it helps and how many conversations it has with users (along with other data).

“Customer focus and appreciation is really woven into the fabric of what Buffer is,” Miller says. “If we can find a new, different, or better way to engage with our customers and give a voice to our community, then we’re willing to give it a shot.”

“We recognize that 1-to-1 communication with every customer at scale is tough, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.”

— Nicole Miller, Community Champion, Buffer


Community as Competitive Advantage: The Story Behind #Bufferchat

That’s just one of the reasons Buffer hired Miller (her official title is “Community Champion”), and it’s a big reason why Widrich encouraged her to create what the company now calls #bufferchat, a weekly Twitter chat series that focuses on people, topics, issues, or challenges its community cares about.

The seed of the idea came from Widrich’s experience hosting a similar Twitter chat series about social media tools in 2011, and Miller officially launched it by hosting the first #bufferchat in June of 2014. Initially, Miller didn’t have huge expectations, anticipating maybe 40 or 50 participants. But after the first chat, that changed.

Today, #bufferchats draw around 320 participants and 3,000 tweets, and Miller says the upward trend of growth week-to-week continues to amaze her. For a terrific in-depth recap of a recent #bufferchat session with Oli Gardner from UnBounce, click here.

“Every time I think that we’ve had our highest attendance ever and our best engagement ever and nothing is going to compare to this, the next week it’s even higher,” Miller says. “We can’t take all the credit for that. So much of that growth is a credit to our community and their willingness to spread the word for us.”

Are Twitter Chats Right for Your Business?

Possibly. But Miller warns against approaching this type of community engagement haphazardly. To be effective, Miller says companies need a few things in place first and must consider how and why they’re going to host one.

To help with that, here are four tips Miller says helped her build #bufferchat into what it is today:

Tip #1: Lay the Groundwork to Build Your Community First

While most companies won’t ever achieve the kind of social following Buffer has (the business has 310,000 followers on Twitter alone), Miller says it’s critical to for businesses to define what success looks like for them before trying to launch into a social chat. That might seem like obvious advice, but many marketers and community builders tend to put the cart before the horse.

“It’s not about having a huge following or thousands of participants,” Miller says. “It’s about understanding your goals and making sure your community is open to participating. Some small chats are really successful because they’re highly engaging, while others require larger numbers to spark discussion. Regardless, one fundamental rule of chats always exists: Providing value is paramount.”

Tip #2: Be Flexible — and Empower the Community

With the first few #bufferchats, Miller didn’t schedule guests, chose broad topics, and experimented with different days and times. Eventually, she settled on hosting the chats every Wednesday at 9am PT / Noon ET — a time that would allow all U.S. and European customers to participate — and she began to promote specific topics and guests. Early on, however, Miller recommends remaining flexible and lean, and allowing the community to dictate the structure.

“Even today, we select topics based on whatever is of interest to us at the time or whatever we see or hear our community talking about,” Miller says. “We might have a topic picked out one day, and then change it the next based on feedback we receive from the community. Most of the topics revolve around what we do — social media, productivity, etc. — but it ebbs and flows. Sometimes, we don’t have a guest or a topic because we’ve found the Buffer community likes having an open forum to discuss whatever’s on their mind.”

Miller also suggests empowering your community to self-organize. A great example of this with Buffer is the chat it hosted during the company’s semi-annual retreat in Australia. Because the chat time happened in the middle of the night in Australia, Miller teed up the community with a few discussion topics and allowed participants to take it from there. When she and the rest of the Buffer team woke up, they weren’t shocked to find that the community had run and self-moderated the chat entirely on its own.

Tip #3: Show Some Love for Your Super Fans and Power Users

One of the most unique (and powerful) things Miller does to promote and celebrate #bufferchats is send out surprise packages and handwritten thank-you notes to chat participants. The gifts aren’t elaborate (typically they include some Buffer swag), but they’re incredibly impactful.

“It’s fun for us because we get to recognize and personally thank people for taking an hour out of their week and spending it with us,” Miller says. “Joel and Leo had started out writing handwritten thank you notes to some of the early customers of Buffer, and when I was hired that was something I wanted to do — to resurrect that habit. Honestly, we’re just genuinely grateful for every supporter of Buffer. It doesn’t even have to be a customer.”

Miller also makes sure to recognize #bufferchat’s “power users” — the most loyal fans who participate every week. In fact, when the company celebrated the six-month anniversary of #bufferchat, it sent out special gifts to a group of people who had been part of the chat from the beginning.

Bonus Tip: Make Chats a Part of a Bigger Customer Engagement Experience

As effective as #bufferchat is as a tactic, it’s just one part of the company’s broader customer and community experience.

Along with Buffer’s hands-on customer support and highly active blogs, #bufferchat is ultimately another outlet for achieving the same goal — having meaningful interactions with prospects and customers, and leveraging those interactions to create a better, more valuable service.

“#Bufferchat is definitely unique and it’s a really powerful way for us to monitor the pulse of our community’s interests and needs, but we think of it as just one ingredient in our customer happiness recipe,” Miller says. “I think it’s really important that these types of customer engagement opportunities feel genuine. They have to be an extension of who you are as a business. For us, it all plays into the larger theme of offering value, resources, and knowledge that make our customers’ lives easier.”

Check Out the Next #bufferchat for Yourself

  • When: Every Wednesday at 9am PT / Noon ET
  • Where: Twitter — just use the hashtag #bufferchat

Bufferchat Thank You

New Call-to-action
Jonathan Crowe
Jonathan Crowe
Senior Content Manager

Jonathan Crowe is Senior Content Manager at Barkly. He was previously the Managing Editor of OpenView Labs.
You might also like ...
How to Maximize ROI on Your Early Paid Advertising Efforts

Ready to use paid advertising to grow your B2B startup’s customer base? Here’s an in depth guide to get you started.

by Dragos Bogdan