Do you ever feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with the community on Twitter or Facebook? I did, and at times still do. But, I have a new not-so-secret weapon that's making it a lot easier for me. It's called Buffer...and I love it.
To get the most out of a social network you need to participate, but, unless you're a social media consultant you can't spend all of your time online. In my case, I spend a lot of time working on Compendium (just ask my poor wife) and found myself participating in my favorite community, Twitter, at the end of the day. That meant my Twitter profile often had several replies, stories shared, and comments all bunched around the early morning or late at night. My tweets came in bunches, which is something I tend to find annoying in others. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about...the person that consistently fills up your stream with 4-5 tweets in a row.
Worse, when I shared things I thought could be useful to others, I got the impression no one saw them. I didn't feel good about that. In addition to helping me connect with people that interest me, Twitter has become a valuable information resource for me. I felt like a free rider.
What I needed was a way to schedule posts throughout the day at times when they would most likely be read. I tried a few tweet scheduling solutions in existing apps and didn't like the experience. Then I read about Buffer.
How Buffer Works
Buffer provides a simple web interface that allows you to schedule tweets or Facebook posts at times when they are most likely to be read. That's it. Simple, straightforward, and effective.
Buffer has both free and paid pricing plans. The free plan lets you post to one Twitter and one Facebook account. Paid plans let multiple people post to the same Buffer, which can itself post to multiple Facebook or Twitter accounts. For the average person, a free account is a good starting place. If you are a consultant or manage corporate social media accounts, start with a paid plan.
In addition to the web interface, you can add posts to your Buffer via a browser plug-in or on your phone. If you use the free plan, you can schedule up to ten posts at a time. If your post includes a link, you can have Buffer automatically shorten it with Bit.ly. You can use your own Bit.ly account or Buffer will use Bit.ly on your behalf. This is a great feature as it provides click-through data on any links you share, which is a good way to learn what resonates with the community.
When you connect Buffer to your social accounts, you will need to select the timezone that applies to you. The free plan will let you schedule up to ten posts at a time. The $10/month plan will let you schedule fifty posts at a time. For $100/month you can schedule an unlimited number of posts. Buffer will initially predefine the times for you. I recommend using the predefined times to start unless you know the behavior of the community you interact with well. Once you have a few days of experience, you can use a social analyzer like Tweriod or SocialBro (now integrated with Buffer) to determine when your community is most active. Both services analyze your Twitter stream and identify on what days/times your community is most active. You should then change the times/days when Buffer will post on your behalf.
What really makes the scheduling tool powerful is the ability to set different buffering patterns (automated post times) on different days. I know several people that use this feature to set different buffer patterns for weekdays versus the weekends. If you are really interested in optimizing your post schedule, you should use the data from SocialBro or Tweriod to set different patterns for each day. This will give the content you share the best chance to be viewed by a large number of people.
How I Use Buffer
I am in a field that requires that I read a lot to keep up. In a given day, I will comb through articles on consumer behavior, digital marketing trends, software product development techniques, venture finance, design, content marketing, social media, and entrepreneurship. Fortunately, I enjoy learning and I have developed some "hacks" that help me filter through 40-50 potential information sources a day.
Buffer's browser plug-in let's me add content as I read, which is a huge time saver. With other solutions I had to do a lot of cut-and-paste. The user experience was just not enjoyable. Over 90% of the content I add to Buffer comes from the browser plug-in, but that may change now that I can add content from my phone.
If you want to be a good community member, you need to add value to the community. Buffer helps you reach a larger number of people, but reaching people and adding value are not the same thing. I mentioned earlier that Buffer will automatically shorten any links using Bit.ly. This is really important, because it gives you a chance to improve your interactions with the community.
Buffer provides click-through tracking on any links you post along with data on retweets, mentions, and whether or not anyone favorites your tweet. I primarily look at click-through data and retweets, because I think they indicate engagement with your posts. If you really want to understand whether or not you are providing value, start tracking the data. You don't have to do this week-after-week forever, but I would certainly do it early on as you use Buffer.
I use a simple Excel spreadsheet with separate sheets tracking click-throughs on weekdays and weekends. Retweets are tracked on separate sheets. The rows are for the day (Monday, Tuesday, etc...) and the columns are for the time (8:04 am, 12:15 pm, etc..). The cells have the number of click-throughs or retweets a post received. A good way to detect patterns is to highlight the cell in each row that received the most click-throughs or retweets in a given day. By color coding the cells you can quickly identify the best performing posts. After a week or two, go into the analytics tab in Buffer and analyze the posts that performed the best.
On Twitter I interact primarily with marketers, entrepreneurs in the software space, and startup enthusiasts. In my case, the conventional wisdom about Twitter and the Internet as a whole hold true. The posts that generate the most click-throughs or retweets for me have one or all of these things in them:
Almost anything I post with two or more of those elements will generate at least a 50% click-through rate. The ultimate example would be a post with a title like:
If I shared that post....Twitter would explode. Or the more likely outcome is a 90%+ click-through rate.
An important thing to remember here is that you are trying to be a valuable member of the community. The data is a good feedback loop, because it can show you what resonates. Just because you understand what types of post titles generate engagement for you...it doesn't mean you only share things using those titles. You should only share content that you believe provides value. If you consistently share garbage or constantly promote your content, people will stop paying attention.
Buffer makes me more efficient and has improved my ability to provide value to the Twitter community. Now when I look at my tweet stream my time is spent interacting with others and checking out the content they share. I spend the same amount of time on Twitter as I did before, but the quality of the time spent is much higher.
What is Next for Buffer
The Buffer team has an API, which means we are likely to see more integrations on the way. Any application that publishes to the social web is a potential integration candidate. Buffer currently publishes to Twitter and Facebook. I would like to see them add LinkedIn and Google+, which I am sure they have on their product development roadmap. Business users that want to optimize performance on Twitter will want them to add the ability to schedule the same post to publish at different dates/times. You can do that manually now, but simplifying the process will provide more value. The challenge for the Buffer team will be maintaining the current easy, intuitive user experience, while adding features. In software this challenge often goes by the name "feature creep" and it can create usability nightmares.
Now that I am done with my "love letter." What do you think of Buffer?