How Buffer Growth Hacked To Reach 1.2 Million Users and $2M in 3 Years

How Buffer Growth Hacked To Reach 1.2 Million Users and $2M in 3 Years

Some years back there was a problem facing the social media users. This problem was worse for website owners who had to manage several social media accounts.

The problem was updating their accounts with fresh material. They had to update these accounts manually and in order to supply their followers with regular updates they had to log in into their accounts several times in a day. This method was cumbersome and required a lot of time.

Enter Buffer

Buffer is a social media tool which lets you manage several social media accounts from a single place. This means once you have configured Buffer with your social media accounts, you will log in all of them once you log in into your Buffer account. You can also control and manage your accounts right from one place.

Then the most important part is that you can use Buffer to schedule your social media updates in advance. Fill up your Buffer once in a day and Buffer will then automatically post your updates several times during the day. You can even schedule it for the complete week.

This allows you to remain active on social media without sitting at your computer.

Buffer was launched in late 2010. Since then it has grown to more than 1.2 million users worldwide. How did they achieve such growth? I will try to answer this question in this article.

Content Marketing

According to Leo Widrich, Buffer App’s content manager, content marketing accounted for over 70% of their daily signups for the consecutive two months before he made that statement.

What is content marketing, you ask?

Let’s ask the master of content marketing Brian Clark of Copyblogger for help:

Content Marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.

The content marketers at Buffer wrote very high quality articles both for their own blog and for others.

The people who read their guest posts and liked it came over to their website to see what else they have to offer.

Then out of those visitors, some liked the content of their blog too and stayed around for more. As a result they became acquainted with Buffer and began to like and trust the brand. They then signed up for the free account and some of them then transitioned to paying customers.

Michelle Sun, the Growth Lead at Buffer, explains in this video that Buffer reached 30,000 users in the first 9 months and she has reasons to believe that 70% of these users signed up because of their content marketing.

Understanding types of users

Sun goes on to explain how she and her team studied the behavior of different types of users and partitioned them into three categories.

One were the inactive users. As the name suggests these were the people who signed up for an account but hardly returned to use the tool.

Second were the casual users. These were the people who were using Buffer but were using it … you guessed it, casually. They were using it once in a while.

Then the third category was of the core users. These were the people who were using Buffer in five unique days of the month. Hence on an average they were using it once in every six days.

The team studied the behavior of these three groups and then invented ways to push the casual users into the camp of core users. Sun says that once a user became the core user, chances were very less that he would now backtrack.

Sean Ellis’s growth pyramid

Don’t know who Sean Ellis is? Oh poor you!

Sean Ellis is the person who coined the term “growth hacker”. In a 2010 blog post he famously defined a growth hacker as follows:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. 

Sun says that she and her team read Ellis’s blog religiously and that they implemented his growth pyramid model to grow Buffer.

As you can see from the image above, the very first step, the base of the pyramid reads “Market Fit”. This means first of all you will have to ensure that your product is fitting the market correctly. In other words first find a gap in the market and then fulfill it with your product.

But how would you know whether you are doing a fine job?

Ask your users

Here’s what Ellis says on how to test whether or not your product is fitting the market.

I’ve tried to make the concept less abstract by offering a specific metric for determining product/market fit. I ask existing users of a product how they would feel if they could no longer use the product. In my experience, achieving product/market fit requires at least 40% of users saying they would be “very disappointed” without your product. Admittedly this threshold is a bit arbitrary, but I defined it after comparing results across nearly 100 startups. Those that struggle for traction are always under 40%, while most that gain strong traction exceed 40%.

After nine months of the birth of Buffer, they asked their users exactly this question that will they be very disappointed if Buffer will cease to exist?

They were sitting at 30,000 users then.

55% of the free users and 70% of the paying customers said Yes they will. So they beat the threshold by quite a decent amount.

Twitter usage

There are millions of users on Twitter but not every Tom, Dick and Harry does well there. You need to have a strategy to drive traffic from Twitter to your website.

The Buffer team discovered that it was important to tweet even those tweets which would contain no links.

That could be a quote you have liked, an insight into some topic, or simply a status update. They found one such tweet per day can drive a lot of discussion and mix up your patterns.

They also added a comment to their tweets if it contained a link and this comment mentioned the author of the link or mentioned the person whom you are re-tweeting.

Doing so built stronger ties with those people and showed them your appreciation.

They also tried A/B testing with their tweets. This means they tried tweeting out the same link to their followers but by changing the text.

Then since they were posting through Buffer itself and since Buffer provides you with detailed analytics, they dug into the stats and observed which headlines were doing better than others.

They found that even when the tweets contain the link to the same article, different headlines were received differently. In some cases the difference was quite large.

They paid heed to these matters and wrote their future tweets accordingly.

Purchase of Digg Digg

You might have visited websites where you would have seen a social media sharing bar drifting along with the page as you scroll up or down the page.

We use one here at App Virality. See the left margin.

This sharing bar was actually created by a company called Digg Digg and it was available for free download as a WordPress plugin. When it got 300,000 downloads it got the attention of Buffer. They decided to purchase this tool and then added their own Buffer sharing option in it too.

Then they allowed the plugin to be downloaded for free as was before.

This growth hack had far reaching consequences.

You see they were not trying to earn any money directly by selling the plugin. By adding the Buffer sharing option into this plugin they got more users to use it and, at least, view it.

I hope the growth hacks discussed in this article will help you grow your own business as well.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.

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