The Buffer blog brings in 10x the traffic of the Open blog. It has 50x the reach of our email courses. A single post on the blog reaches more people in a day than we reach on Facebook in two weeks.

It is our greatest marketing asset.

And we just keep changing it.

We’re pivoting right now, as we speak! The latest change, which I’m excited to share below, fits with this remarkable culture of experimentation, where there are no sacred cows or off-limits areas. Everything is on the table to improve and iterate.

Even a thing that works really well.

pablo

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.

– Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address 2005

Everything will work out the way it needed to

This sentiment—change as a necessity—began with a comment from an interview, where a candidate shared how his life has worked out the way it needed to. What an incredible thought. I can see the same being true in my life; I can see the same being true for things like the blog.

We grow and mature as people, changing all the time.

Could the things we create—blogs, campaigns, channels—do the same?

The above quote from Steve Jobs seems to fit in quite well when thinking through this idea of always pivoting the Buffer blog. We pivot and change because we believe that it’s the right thing to do. We pivot toward something we believe in, and we hope that the dots will connect later on as we look back on the path that we’ve forged.

Why we’re excited to change something that’s working

Of course, there’s a chance the Buffer blog could become New Coke

Whenever you alter something that’s proven to work, you run the risk of creating something that doesn’t work, something that people won’t like.

I imagine the folks at Coca-Cola had all the best intentions when they spun off a new recipe for their soda. Yet people didn’t like it. It didn’t work.

There’s risk in changing a known commodity.

Think about your best-performing marketing channel. When was the last time you iterated on it?

(And how did it go?)

We do our best to lessen the risk of any experiment on the blog by informing our decisions with data and context, and we find that the potential benefits of pivoting and iterating outweigh any downsides.

Here are three main reasons why we’re excited to always be pivoting, even on the things that work.

1. You can learn fast

We love the idea of learning fast at Buffer. This can be as simple as sharing blog post outlines with one another today instead of waiting til Friday to share the full draft. It can be as big as changing an editorial strategy over a weekend, versus trying a new article every now and then for a few months.

The great thing about experimenting with your top channels is that you’re likely to have a lot of great traffic or reach, and you can quickly see the effect of any change or iteration.

2. You can have a bigger impact

One way that we think about goals at Buffer is to find intriguing metrics on a grid of traffic and conversion. This chart helps break it down:

intriguing metric

  1. High traffic, low conversion
  2. Low traffic, high conversion
  3. High traffic, high conversion
  4. Low traffic, low conversion

The first two buckets are the ones where you find the biggest opportunities for growth. Bucket No. 3 isn’t half bad either. Bucket No. 4 is best to be left alone.

Two of the three best buckets here involve high traffic. Your go-to marketing asset is likely to be a high traffic area. We’re fortunate to have high traffic on the Buffer blog, which gets us excited to try new things to see if we can boost the traffic and/or boost the conversions.

3. You can double down on what’s been validated

We know that the Buffer blog works great for gaining traffic, awareness, and signups for Buffer.

All our pivots and experiments and changes, then, are intended to drive those numbers even higher.

Whenever you start with a new marketing channel, you begin at the exploration stage. Once you find what works, you go full speed into the enhancement stage.

I like the way that Ryan Holiday puts it in his book Growth Hacker Marketing. In describing the process of one company in his case studies:

They merged marketing into their product development; they kicked off growth with early adopters; they added viral elements; and then they relentlessly repeated these cycles, always guided by the data, with an eye toward optimization.

“Relentlessly” sticks out in my mind.

Can we be relentless with our cycles of optimization?

That’s the idea behind changing these major marketing assets. Since we’ve already had success in these areas, how can we get more? We’ve found it’s better to throw more resources at something that works than it is to invest big in an unknown.

The many different ways a blog can change (we’ve done them all)

I had always struggled to ride my bike up a hill. I’d get going on the incline, lose all my momentum, and end up walking the bike up to the top.

Then I found out the secret: it’s best to shift gears before you get to the incline.

You have to shift earlier than you think, otherwise you end up with no speed, no momentum, and lots of difficult pedaling to do. You can still get to the top that way, it’s just a lot easier if you shift gears early.

The same can be true of iterating and pivoting with your marketing.

With the Buffer blog, we’ve done our best to shift gears ahead of any hills, to stay ahead of the curve with our content. There are several different ways these pivots have occurred. I’ve found there to be five ways (and probably more) that a blog can change and grow.

  1. Topic: What will we write about?
  2. Audience: Whom will we write to?
  3. Style: What types of content will we publish?
  4. Depth: What level of depth will we approach a topic?
  5. Behind-the-Scenes: How will we organize ourselves to get the work done?

Here’s how we’ve approached each of these changes.

A history of pivots

1. The evolution of the Buffer blog’s content topics

Tracing the timeline of the Buffer blog from where it started with Leo over four-and-a-half years ago to where it stands today, you can see a lot of fundamental changes, particularly in the content of the site.

1.) Twitter tips: January 2011 – October 2011

2.) Pivot to: Social Media tips: November 2011 – June 2012

3.) Pivot to: Lifehacks, writing, customer happiness and business: July 2012 — March 2014

4.) Pivot to: Social media marketing and content tips: March 2014 to now

(The design has changed a lot, too, which is fun to reflect back on.)

buffer blog designs

We had an interesting bit of data and background on the why behind the latest change to exclusively social media content:

  1. Lifehacking and productivity posts spread far and brought in lots of traffic
  2. Social media articles aligned with the product and had great conversion rate

So what’s a blog to do?

We split off lifehacking and productivity to the Open blog (which has gone through many iterations of its own) and focused exclusively on the social media and content articles. We were excited for the challenge of making the Buffer blog synonymous with social media advice, which has been a great driving principle for us ever since.

2. The evolution of the Buffer blog’s audience

Who is the audience I have in mind when I write a Buffer article?

I don’t know.

I’ve not been very persona-focused at all with the articles that I’ve written. My best guess for an audience is largely based on intuition and feel; there’s been very little discipline.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity to pivot. 🙂

This figures to be the next step for us on the Buffer blog, where we’re writing articles with a specific person in mind. I’m a bit early on thinking through who these people are, though I’m happy to share some notes from a recent team chat on who we imagine the readers of the blog to be:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 6.44.32 AM

3. The evolution of the Buffer blog’s style

What’s the next wave of content marketing?

I haven’t a clue, but I’m excited to figure it out.

This is how we’ve approached the style of the Buffer blog for some time now. Leo and Belle were so great at discovering the unique ability of in-depth content and clickable headlines. A more recent shift for us occurred a year or so ago when we came to focus on the visuals and images within the article.

What could be next?

Possibly:

  • Slideshares
  • Audio
  • Courses
  • Video articles

Or even:

  • Hangout On Air office hours
  • 1:1 Slack chats
  • WhatsApp newsletters
  • Periscoped workdays

The point is: I don’t know. And I’m excited to experiment. There’s a bit of unease and discomfort in changing without knowing the outcome or experimenting without knowing for sure you’re on the right path.

4. The evolution of the Buffer blog’s depth

Here’s a bit of a conundrum: Can you write from the same perspective when you’re no longer the same person you used to be?

When you’ve covered the basics of a topic front-to-back, can you still write about the basics with the same perspective you had before?

I don’t have the answers here either (sorry, it seems I don’t have the answers to much of this!). What I’ve noticed is that this idea of personal growth can sometimes match the trajectory of a blog’s growth as well.

For instance, here is one way this has looked for the content we write at Buffer:

  1. Definitions – Here’s what this means
  2. Tools – Here’re the tools you can use
  3. Workflows – Here’s how to get it done
  4. Future – Here’s where it’s headed

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what’s after Step 3 (workflows) for us because we’re not quite there yet. Content like our new email course and our strategies articles seem to be this new layer of depth that we’re exploring. We’ve built guides, we’ve shared tools, we’re discovering workflows, and we’d love to know what’s next.

What would you like to see from us next?

 

5. The evolution of the Buffer blog’s organization

This is where the biggest changes are happening for us currently.

Our latest pivot can be seen most clearly by looking at how our Trello board has changed. It’s gone from one column with a grab bag of great ideas …

buffer blog ideas

… to a four-column, uber-intentional editorial plan.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 6.47.27 AM

Starting this month, we’re moving full steam ahead onto a new strategy that is data-informed and editorially stout. We even have a publishing calendar (a first for me)!

We took a lot of inspiration from HubSpot’s disciplined approach to its content strategy. The HubSpot team knows where each of its post fits within a particular category of content.

hubspot editorial distribution

We did some work to come up with our own categories for the Buffer blog:

1. Deep tactical with a Buffer tie-in

These are in-depth posts on a topic that fits naturally with Buffer the product (example: How to Manage Multiple Social Media Accounts). We’ve found these posts convert really well to Buffer customers.

2. Deep tactical for the top of the funnel

These posts are intended to spread far, to gain lots of unique visits and social shares (example: What’s on Rand Fishkin’s Phone?).

3. Thought leadership

These are big-picture ideas and vulnerable stories of what we’re learning and thinking about social media and content (example: This post!).

4. Launches and announcements

These have been our best-converting blog posts, and we’re excited to get on a schedule of publishing these regularly. Launches can be either official product launches or creative announcements of Buffer features and benefits (example: 10 New Marketing Tactics to Try Today (They’re All In Your Buffer Account!)).

These four categories will be our new focus going forward, and we’re excited to be quite disciplined about the frequency of each of these different post types. Deep tactical (what’s basically a typical Buffer blog post) will still make up the majority of content we publish. Thought leadership and launches will happen once a week on alternating weeks.

Here’s a pie chart explaining it a bit more:

Buffer blog content ratio

Over to you

How have pivots and changes happened for you and your business?

How can we keep improving the Buffer blog for you?

I’d love the chance to learn from your experiences here and to know how all of this feels to you and your business. Feel free to drop any thoughts at all in the comments. It’d be great to hear from you!

Image sources: Pablo, UnSplash, IconFinder

 

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! 🍟

  • Wow, you’re so brave to keep changing things. 🙂

    I recently pivoted and the expected happened – a bit of a lag in terms of traffic and client inquiries, but it’s also been good because everyone has to evolve, even tools like buffer. Good luck with your new experiment!

    P.S. I love any kind of transparency posts, so keep those coming.

    • Hi Violeta! Thanks for the comment. Really cool to hear you’re pivoting as well – and sticking with it so steadfastly. Very inspiring stuff!

      (We’ll keep the transparency articles coming!)

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  • Excited to see where this pivot takes you guys! Thanks for providing such valuable content. The consistent level of (awesome) quality is really remarkable—makes the blog a “must-read” in my opinion.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Wow thanks so much, Logan! Really appreciate your comment. We’d love to keep making valuable articles and content for you (feel free to send along any ideas at any time!)

  • Really exciting Kevan. Love the lack of fear in changing and trying new things on the blog and as a whole at Buffer.

    I’m looking forward to seeing a step up in the depth of things. While I’ve gotten a ton of value from the topics here over the past couple years, I did notice that I was feeling like I’d outgrown some of the posts at times. It’s really a challenge to run a blog that caters to everyone from the new marketers, to the advanced.

    Thanks for the heads up. It’s great to know when there are changes ahead and exciting to see what it’ll bring.

    • Hi Ben! Thanks so much for the comment. I really appreciate your insight here. I think you’ve got a great perspective on how the content has evolved and changed over time! Excited to keep creating useful resources for you and would love to hear how things are feeling moving forward!

  • Michelle Dear

    Kevan, have you considered a survey with targeted questions to capture a better idea of what you are looking for? It can help your audience get an idea of what you’re looking for.

    • Hi Michelle! Thanks so much for the comment. That sounds like an excellent idea! Curious, do you recommend something like a Qualaroo survey or something a bit more like a TypeForm survey emailed to readers?

      • Michelle Dear

        Sorry for the delay in my response, Kevan. Your user base is really large, so there are several ways to go about this. I would consider posting the request for the survey in both your blog and via your newsletter, and of course, tweeting the same. As for the survey application, I would need to do more research. Because I’ve always used surveys for a smaller group, I went with Survey Monkey. I know that it can accommodate large groups as well, but I’m not entirely sure of its limitations, and just how professional it could look for Buffer. Hope some of this helps!

      • Kevan, I did some additional research.

        I think that TypeForm fits Buffer’s style the most. However, there is little information about the backend tech you get with their plans (e.g. analytics, logic, etc.)

        Qualaroo has all the fundamental and some advanced features you would want, but the site is poorly developed. There are no good examples that one can see to get an idea of the different types of surveys that can be created. Additionally, the site links are almost impossible to find at the top (which convey more information regarding conversion, website surveys, etc.) which don’t pan out anyway.

        If you can find information regarding the tech that TypeForm provides (and you should have that anyway since your Customer Developers use this tool in-house) I think it would best suit Buffer’s look, feel and identity.

        M2¢

  • LaughingBubba

    I’m a terrible customer but an ardent follower. I’m fascinated to see what you do next. Good luck!

  • Tudor Stanciu

    I think it would be great to also include some form of audio content. I see big opportunities in audio, now that podcasts have a milestone to rely on (the success of Serial podcast). And audio poses a great opportunity since it’s the least user-engagement-needed type of content – you can listen to it while showering, driving and others.

    • Yes! I second that x 2. As a commuter, my most inspiring part of the day is actually in the car. And I see so many good blog posts out there that could do just as good as short learning bites in a PodCast format.

      Personally exploring using Share to Speech, but nothing beats of course the real thing. And having the authors voice read it, also increases the personal experience of the expert. And it doesn’t have to become an extra burden: Maybe even just record the last prof-read you do!

      The challenge though with/for Buffer is that they use a lot of visuals in the posts to sometimes explain the details. But I guess that can be changed in a pivot!

      • I agree – I spend hours in the car listening to audiobooks. It would be great to listen to BufferBlog from soundcloud on the way to work!

        • Really awesome ideas here! I’d love to continue exploring this. We’ve been batting around a few podcast drafts, trying to find what might work best. All the thoughts and feedback is so helpful! 🙂

  • Daven Sprattling-Mathies

    Innovation is said to follow an S-curve pattern; if that’s true, then you’re absolutely right to look at pivoting the blog now while it’s doing so well. My main task at work (which I self-assigned, ha) is to build up the blog. We started with simple “how-to” articles and the like, but quickly evolved into more in-depth, story-driven posts. Given the limitations of our marketing department, our publishing schedule is a little chaotic, so we’ve found putting more effort into fewer articles works better than trying to churn out content every day. We use Buffer to schedule our content to social media, but the most valuable feature of Buffer to me has always been this here blog—if for no other reason than that I can point to it as an example of why blogs are so important :-).

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi there Daven! Thanks so much for the comment, it’s really cool to hear a bit about your work and your blog. Love the focus on in-depth content on whatever publishing schedule makes sense for you. How has that been going? Thanks also for the kind words about the Buffer blog. It means a ton to hear that!

  • Meredith Gould

    Since its inception, Buffer blog has been my #1 recommend for clients (and anyone else), especially those who are relatively new to social media. And you’re right, things — and we — change over time. I’m confident that whatever you do next will be valuable and useful. No pressure, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from Buffer and especially you, @KevanLee!

    • Hi Meredith! Great to hear from you. 🙂 Thanks so much for your support of the blog. I’m excited to see where we head next and would love to continue hearing from you on how things feel!

  • Kaye Swain

    I had to chuckle. I just edited some of my old Twitter update posts – sigh, I love the changes but they do seem to be getting faster and faster, don’t they? Thanks for the fun and interesting article – and for Buffer. I’m really appreciating it helping me keep up 🙂

    Kaye

    • Hi Kaye! Thanks for the note. Yes, things are moving fast! Grateful for the chance to have you in the Buffer community. 🙂

  • Madi

    Your new email course sparked me to try buffer for thirty days with the intention of switching from hootsuite if all goes well. I’d love to see more of those!

    • Thanks, Madi! Exciting stuff! I’m currently working on a “How to Find Your Social Media Success With Buffer” course, as well as brainstorming quite a few others.

      Hope the trial is going great for you! Feel free to reach out with any questions at all. 🙂

  • Kelly Kuhn-Wallace

    The elephant in the room here is that Buffer’s userbase has grown tremendously since the beginning of the blog. (I actually referred most of those users personally, so I keep track.) And social media & content marketing have changed: basic familiarity of the channels that Buffer supports is quite common. It makes sense that Kevan is reassessing the approach to the blog — the dynamics that it served so well are no longer in play. A bigger challenge awaits: keeping a broad audience engaged. I can’t wait to see how Buffer will surprise us next!

    • Hi Kelly! Wonderful to hear from you and thanks so much for the encouraging words! Excited to see where we go from here. 🙂

  • Wally Wiki
  • Wally Wiki

    I have a “Pivot” for your consideration:

    You (& all Bloggers) have many different types of
    Readers:

    ^ “First Timers” – Never read any of your stuff before.

    ^ “Loyal Readers – Read all of everything you publish.

    ^ “Partial Readers” – Start reading & Bounce… Never to return.

    ^ “TLDR” – “Too-Long-Didn’t-Read”… Avoid your Brand.

    ^ Etc… Etc…

    “What-If” (IFTTT) you develop your “Brand” into something
    they all “Know-Like & Trust?

    When you are ready to Publish & just before you Publish,
    analyze it for the “Nuggets”. Then make a companion,
    “Cliff-Notes” version of the same Content, to be Published
    simultaneously.

    Notify the reader of the “Cliff-Notes” version at the very
    beginning. Tell them you respect the value of their time.

    Suggest they consume the “Cliff-Notes” version first and
    read the full version for the details.

    Tell them, this will be your Brand in the future.

    Survey them for their opinion of your “New-Brand”.

    Apply analytics for Audience-Growth, Bounce-Rate,
    Conversions, etc.

    At the bottom of your Post, you said:
    “More social media results in less time: It’s possible with Buffer!”

    If that is your desired Brand, consider this “Suggested-Pivot”.

    • Hi Wally! Really cool idea! I’d love to take this all in and see what we can do. My hunch is the cliff’s notes could work really well as an email preview or something similar also! Thanks so much for the great thought here!

  • Alessandro Avagliano

    Hello there ! Great things from Buffer team ! Personally I d suggest you develop a Slack channel school ! I d find it Awesome! Ciao!

    • Cool idea, Alessandro! Thanks so much, excited to think on this. 🙂

  • Nice work Kevan – I really appreciate the openness of this post. It’s also perfect timing as I go through a similar process. The message I got here was: just do it (and explain the why).

    • Yes! Great way of summarizing, Hugh! Very inspired to hear your enthusiasm and hope your changes go great! 🙂

  • Lauren

    Kevan,

    Thanks for sharing the Buffer blog journey! As the manager of the Trello blog editorial calendar, I loved this post for ~a million reasons. =)

    I had a question about your EdCal board: I like how you broke out the different types of content into different lists. Really cuts down on list pollution. I am wondering, as this content receives a due date, is it moved to a different board where it will enter the “Editing” “Scheduled” “Published” workflow, or are there more lists to the right of the board pictured that aren’t displayed in the screenshot?

    Thanks again!

    -Lauren Moon

    • Hi there Lauren! So great to hear from you. Yes, great questions on the Trello board (we’re such big Trello fans). 🙂

      For the workflow, you’re exactly right, I’ve got some additional columns in the board that I wasn’t able to fit into the screenshot here. After the four main content idea columns, there are these additional ones (image attached):

      In Progress, Editing, Ready to Ship

      I’ll add the dates kind of whenever I think might make sense for an article to be published, whether someone’s started writing or not, so there are sometimes articles on the calendar that haven’t quite been started yet! Totally still figuring things out here. Would love to know how you all do this! 🙂

  • Hey! I’m creating something like this after seeing HubSpot’s intense post as well. I’m creating a blog calendar in Trello organized by type of post, but I’m curious, what are you using the Trello tags for? Is that to mark how far the blog is in your posting process?

  • Diego Bejarano Gerke

    Great read Kevan! I’m wondering, have you been analysing in which categories you get better conversions and which categories are strong for driving high volumes of traffic?

    It would be amazing to see an overview of this, and even more valuable if it were possible for Buffer to do a collaborative piece/study with HubSpot to compare these results. I imagine this would be very insightful for a lot of marketers who are thinking about which categories to focus on at an early stage.

    Thank you for sharing this post!!

  • Tobias Hug

    Hi Kevan, great article. 🙂

    You say that you are writing for “small business owners” / that they are the main group of your current readers. That reminds me of Leo’s article (https://blog.bufferapp.com/5-key-lessons-we-learned-from-pivoting-our-blog), in which he states that we should always try to “Write content that is relevant to anyone who will interact with potential customers”.

    Do you consider small business owners as your *customers* or your *anyone who will interact with your customers*?