Buffer: Building Brand Transparency

Learn how the $22 million social media SaaS company thinks about podcasting, from using transparency to grow, to the power of podcasting and making the most of it for your brand.


Episode Summary

For 10-year-old social media management company Buffer, transparency drives everything.

Buffer openly shares information — like its $22 million in annual revenue — that other private companies tend to keep under wraps. From the start, the company has leaned into “transparent marketing,” sharing its story on its own content channels, including its popular blog.

These days, the blog content attracts about 1.5 million views each month. The numbers for the company's podcasts are considerably smaller — about 25,000 downloads per week — but Buffer Editorial Director Ash Read still sees podcasting as a valuable piece of the company’s content strategy.

“Podcasting was another way to build an audience and deepen relationships with people instead of spending a couple of minutes on our blog,” Ash says. “So the motivations were … having the opportunity to build an audience of people that kind of really actually care about Buffer and feel close to the brand.”

Buffer's first podcast, the Science of Social Media, featured a weekly interview with a social media expert; each episode offered a “quick bite” about how to better harness social media, Ash explains.

The second podcast, Breaking Brand, took an entirely different approach. This podcast followed branding agency Gin Lane as it shut down the business and established a new direct-to-consumer brand. While creating the podcast offered Buffer the opportunity to gain knowledge about the DTC space, Breaking Brand used a storytelling format, which made it particularly compelling for listeners.

In addition to detailing Buffer’s podcast strategy on this episode of Brands That Podcast, Ash shares the strategy behind Built to Last, the unique audio conference Buffer co-produced with Wistia earlier this year.


💡 Name: Ash Read

💥 What he does: Editorial Director of Buffer where he oversees the company’s popular blog, in addition to hosting and producing Breaking Brand.

💻 Buffer on the web: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

🔗 Ash on the web: Twitter | LinkedIn | Website

🧠 Get smart: “Consistency is always the winner [for podcast marketing]. … Commit to 20, 30 episodes and assess things after that. … committing to get in the routine and actually publishing regularly is the first step to actually growing it. And then I think beyond that, it's just repurposing the content.”

Top Tips From This Episode

Just getting started? Focus on your strategy, not your equipment 👉 Ordering a fancy microphone from Amazon won't matter if you don't capture an audience, Ash says. Before launching your podcast, you need to hash out your purpose, your potential audience, and an unusual hook or approach that will set it apart and show your listeners you can offer something of value.

"So before you start, you need to have a unique angle. You need to have something to say, that's really going to kind of capture the attention of your audience and make them care," Ash says.

Repurpose your podcast, and meet your customers where they are 👉 “Podcasting is an incredible medium, but even if no one listens to your podcast, that time is not wasted. You're speaking to interesting people in your industry that could fuel months and months of blog content,” Ash says. And it does not just need to be for your blog. If your customers don't listen to podcasts or even read your blog, you can even turn that content into social media posts or email newsletters. Where are your customers or followers most responsive? Transcribe those podcast interviews and turn them into something compelling… somewhere else.

Listener feedback can be more insightful than data-driven metrics 👉 Data-driven metrics can offer value in many ways. But Ash has learned that metrics don't tell the full story. While Buffer's podcasts receive a fraction of the audience compared with its blog content, the feedback from listeners speaks for itself.

“There are a few people that kind of said to me, ‘some of these episodes have actually helped me to rethink how I think about marketing and what we want to do here,’” Ash says. Another consumer listened to the Breaking Bands podcast and now works for the brand featured in the podcast.

Episode Highlights

Transcript excerpts from the conversation

Radical transparency can drive growth.

“Our biggest driver of growth always has been kind of word of mouth. … I think all of the transparency stuff that really helped in the early days of driving word of mouth, [and] we were getting coverage from big publications. A lot of people were talking about Buffer and the unique culture and the way we operate. And that was kind of a big driver of word of mouth, which is still continued.”

Podcasts don't just teach your listeners. They can also help you learn something new.

“[E-commerce brands are] one of our ideal customers, and we decided to focus a lot of our efforts on kind of building features specifically for that audience. As a company, we're not e-commerce experts, right? So Breaking Brand was launched as a way for us to build a show to help us and essentially launch into that space to build some credibility in the DTC e-commerce space, to build a bit of trust with people in that industry and also just to learn how the industry works.”

Develop a plan when repurposing podcast content.

“Every episode will become a social post or an email, but I would love to kind of get even more granular and be like, in each episode it should be 10 to 15 pieces of content because I think that's totally doable. ... I think a lot of it will just be stuff that happens in passing. So we'll record an episode and then I'll or one of our product marketers will say, Oh, you know, I heard this from whoever we interviewed last week, and this might be really useful for you [to another department]. Sometimes it's kind of retroactively looking at podcast analytics.”

Why transparency matters to consumers.

“I think we're seeing it in the consumer space where consumers care a lot more about where the wood for their furniture is sourced and how their trainers are made … So the B2B space where it's like: Does not only your business, your software do the job, [but] are you being a net positive for the community? Are you making a positive impact on the world? And I think as that becomes more and more important, so to the people and the stories behind the brands and podcasting is the way to tell those.”

The future of podcasting for brands: Not just interviews.

“It's not always going to be an interview-style show. I think we'll see more people or more brands kind of going down the deep editorial focus on telling stories and going really deep on a set topic across a number of episodes in a series. I think that's just an evolution that we'll see …  [and] I think we'll see more and more brands using podcasts as a proxy to just build relationships with customers.”

In a crowded virtual conference space, audio conferencing stands out.

“I loved the fact that we could create a conference that would happen on the listeners' schedule so they can listen whenever they want to take part … And also from a production standpoint, we could create really polished well put-together talks. You don't have that awkward two or three minutes of: 'Can you hear me? Is my connection okay, can you see my slides?' I guess [it's about] being anti-everything else that's been going on with the world of online conferences and just conferences in general — since they've been forced to move online.”

Top quotes:


[6:47] "People aren't going to listen to our podcast and instantly sign up and instantly start paying Buffer. But if I can build an audience of people that look like our ideal customers and the people do eventually go on to become customers and use Buffer, then that's great."

[13:00] “It's kind of trusting your gut and your intuition ... A podcast gets about 25,000 downloads per week but the blog might be 450,000 sessions that week. So the podcast is much smaller, but with the podcast, 60% of our audience are getting towards the end [of the episode] and that's 10 to 15 minutes of time spent with us.”

[27:46] “Consistency is always the winner … Just start and commit to 20 to 30 episodes and assess things after that. But I think just committing to get in the routine and actually publishing regularly is the first step to actually growing [a podcast].”

[41:41] “That was kind of where the idea of 'Built to Last' itself came from — let's put together a conference that helps people understand what it takes to build a company that has genuine fans that has customers that not only use their software, but we love everything they stand for and we'll be with them for the long haul.”

[45:57] "For me, that's one of the most exciting parts of podcasting: Being able to do that and especially connect with customers and for them to know who we are and what we care about."

Talk to future customers, on podcasts they love.