The Power of Purpose: How Taking a Stand Helps Brands to Win Customer’s Hearts (and Business)

Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S., with more than 116 million people hitting the shops in search of a great deal.

But REI, an outdoor clothing and equipment brand, does Black Friday differently to other retailers.

For the fourth year in a row, REI closed its doors on Black Friday 2018, giving every one of its 12,000 employees the day off to enjoy the outdoors.

“There are things more important than buying/selling tents – like going outside and actually using them,” it explained on Twitter.

It might seem counter-intuitive to think that closing all your retail stores on the busiest shopping day of the year will be good for business. But that’s exactly what REI has found.

REI’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke believes that the relationships between consumers and brands are changing — whilst you used to be able to win people over with deals, you now need “something more”, he told Business Insider.

And it seems that Stritzke’s intuition has led REI down the right path.

“Since launching #OptOutside, we’ve watched more than 200 retailers go out of business,” Stritzke told “We’ve stayed healthy partly because we’ve stuck with our core values — like giving our employees time to do what they love with the people they love during the holidays. It’s enabled us to add millions of new members and, most importantly, connect millions of people with the outdoors.”

According to data from Edelman, sixty-four percent of consumers around the world will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a business based on its stand on societal and political issues.

But taking a stand isn’t as simple as jumping in on a trending topic on Twitter, or sharing a quick piece of content here and there. It must run much deeper than that.

“You have to be walking the walk before you talk the talk,” Mike Dupree, Senior Manager for Media & Entertainment at Twitter, explained to me.

Mike has been working with brands on their content and marketing efforts on Twitter for over six years, and he recently jumped on a call with me to explain the power of purpose-driven marketing — the topic of his talk at this year’s Social Fresh conference.

Demonstration before communication

REI’s Opt Outside campaign has been incredibly successful since it first launched in 2015 because it’s not just a marketing front — even REI’s CEO, takes Black Friday off to enjoy the outdoors.

And Mike believes that this authenticity is key, not only to REI’s success, but to any purpose-driven campaign: “Being authentic is always critical in marketing, but when it comes to brand purpose it becomes even more important.”

“Any purpose-driven campaign shouldn’t be viewed as a short-term thing,” Mike explained. “The purpose has to be deep rooted in the company across all facets of the organisation — from marketing and customer service to communications and policy, and everywhere in between.”

“In short, it’s about demonstration before communication,” Mike concluded.

This is exactly why Opt Outside has worked for REI. For years before it launched the campaign, and communicated its “Opt Outside” ethos, it had demonstrated it through its actions. Enjoying the outdoors is a part of REI’s brand message, and over the years it has consistently supported nonprofit partners, and encouraged both employees and customers to make the most of the outdoors.

Having a purpose without being divisive, or taking sides

“We know that consumers will buy or boycott brands based on a social or political issue,” Mike explained. “So there’s always a risk when you choose to be bold.”

But to stand for something, and embrace a purpose, brands don’t need to create campaigns that choose sides on political, or social topics.

“We’ve seen numerous examples of brands taking a stand without taking sides,” Mike told me. “The key is to find universal issues that strike a cultural chord with anybody — something that everybody can get behind.”

For example, throughout 2018 brands have consistently helped out with disaster relief efforts after after hurricanes, superstorms, and earthquakes.

Verizon deployed mobile towers and generators to those regions prone to natural disasters so that it could assist with communication during disaster relief. It then communicated this by creating a campaign, #AllOurThanks, that enabled people to share their gratitude to first responders who are always there in times of crisis.

And Anheuser-Busch sent more than 300,000 cans of emergency canned drinking water to local communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia as the states prepared for the expected impacts of Hurricane Florence.

This action wasn’t a one-off, though. Water is incredibly important to Anheuser-Busch’s brewing process, and it has been committed to conserving water for years as part of its Better World focus. Since 2010, it has partnered with the River Network to host a series of local river and watershed restoration and protection projects.

3 steps to finding a purpose that aligns with your brand

The campaigns we’ve discussed so far (REI, Verizon, Anheuser-Busch) all have something in common:

The purpose they support is fully aligned with their brand — and that’s not an accident. As Mike explained:

“Ideally as a brand you decide to choose an area that aligns with your brand purpose that also connects with your overall brand ethos, and the product/service you offer. If you choose that well, having your brand be a part of the campaign shouldn’t be taken the wrong way.”

Here are three things to consider before aligning your brand with a purpose:

1. Does your brand have a right or role to be here?

You never want to shoehorn your brand into a conversation in which it doesn’t belong. “This can be a PR nightmare,” Mike told me.

The best examples of purpose-driven marketing are when brands connect with issues and purposes that they have long supported or played a part in. Anheuser-Busch’s water campaign worked for its brand because it has been supporting clean water-related causes since 2010 — it wasn’t just jumping in during a moment of crisis to try and grab some attention.

“If you’re already walking the walk as a brand, you’ll know what discussions to be a part of and where to stay away,” Mike explained.

2. Are you doing or just saying?

It’s not enough to simply jump into a conversation during a fleeting moment, you have to have actions that back up your communications.

“Consistency over time is important,” Mike told me. “If you want to build an enduring connection with your customers you have to have consistency over time. Both in what you’re doing and what you’re saying.”

Mike continued: “If it’s just a trending hashtag or we’re in the middle of a crisis and you want to jump in quickly to get some social media micro-wins, that’s not going to help your brand and it’ll probably hurt your brand in the long run.”

3. Will this stand up in five years from now?

This is a great question to ask yourself. When it comes to purpose-driven marketing, you need to think about how this campaign will be looked back on and how it might shape your business moving forward.

If it’s fully aligned with your business ethos and historic actions, you’ll more than likely look back on it as a positive. But if you’re just jumping into a trending topic, or something your brand isn’t fully aligned with it probably won’t stand the test of time.

Take the REI “Opt Outside” campaign. The team at REI knew that it was completely in-line with its business ethos, and the impact would be seen as positive — even if it did lose out on sales on the biggest shopping day of the year.

“REI is a retail brand that has a business interest in Black Friday. But it has more of an interest in embracing the outdoors lifestyle and culture than it does in one big shopping day each year,” Mike explained. “It believes that this approach will keep customers coming back, and build loyalty that lasts years, and years.”

You’re never too small to have a purpose

Verizon, REI, and Anheuser-Busch are huge brands. But that doesn’t mean a smaller business can’t make an impact with purpose-driven marketing.

Just look at businesses like TOMS. When TOMS first launched its shoes, its purpose was front and center: for every pair of shoes you buy, another pair will be donated to people in need in countries around the world.

And no matter your size, embracing purpose-driven marketing is a great way to stand out and build strong, lasting relationships with consumers.

“It’s never been harder for brands to stand out and make connections that are enduring if you can do that it’ll help your business [in the long-term],” Mike concluded.

“We see that 75 percent of consumers expect brands to make a contribution to their well-being, and quality of life — if you aren’t doing that you’ll be left behind. And that’s applicable to businesses of any size.”

Mike Dupree will be sharing more about the power of purpose during his talk at the Social Fresh conference. Social Fresh 2018 will be taking place on December 5-7, 2018 at Full Sail University, Winter Park, FL. Click here for more information or to book your ticket.

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Life After the News Feed: Why Facebook is Shifting to Stories (And Why Your Business Should Too)

The News Feed is one of Facebook’s marque innovations.

Rolled out to users in 2006, it became the go-to place for people to connect with their friends,  share updates about their day-to-day life and enjoy content from brands they followed. Not to mention, it also played a pivotal role in Facebook’s march to advertising dominance.

In life and business, though, change is inevitable. And just as popular culture, music, and fashion move on,  Facebook should too.

For nearly a decade, the News Feed was the jewel in Facebook’s crown. However, over the past couple of years, Facebook has been locked into a battle with misinformation, troubled by privacy issues, and found itself trying to counter a decline in original content (photos, videos, status updates) shared by users. It even admitted the News Feed can have a negative impact on mental health.

This wasn’t the way it was meant to be.

Facebook was meant to help people stay connected with those closest to them. But Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that the platform has underdelivered there. In a post on his Facebook Page back in January the Facebook founder noted:

“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands, and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

And that should be a big worry for Facebook. When the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology looked into what factors can kill a social network, they found that when the bonds between users weren’t particularly strong, neither was the users’ relationship with that network.

The study also found that as networks grow, they become more cluttered, so we begin to miss out on some of the most relevant content from those closest to us. This is most definitely the case with Facebook — and was a key factor in the company’s decision to shift the News Feed to focus more on updates from people, not brands.

In a blog post about this change Facebook shared:

“Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”

The rise of Stories

While the News Feed has been experiencing growing pains, a new format has arisen: Stories.

Since Snapchat debuted the Stories format in 2013, it’s gone from strength to strength and is quickly becoming the default format for content consumption and creation. In total, consulting firm Block Party estimates that nearly one billion accounts are using the Stories format daily and Zuckerberg recently shared that people now post more than one billion Stories every day.

At its annual, flagship conference, F8, Chris Cox, Facebook’s Facebook’s chief product officer, also noted that “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.” And Zuckerberg recently added that “it looks like Stories will be a bigger medium than [news] feed has been.”

The shift to stories is coming

From making the status composer default to the camera to encourage Story creation on mobile, to adding Story preview tiles to the top of the feed, Facebook is constantly running tests and experiments to familiarise more of its user base with Stories.

Over on Instagram, 47 percent of users find that Instagram Stories helps them be more authentic in their communication with friends and family, something Facebook would love to encourage on its flagship product too.

In short, it feels safe to say that Facebook is pivoting to Stories. But when your platform is the size of Facebook’s, no change is ever simple.

The roadblocks ahead for Stories

The biggest hurdle for Facebook’s move to Stories is revenue.

Right now, the majority of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from the News Feed. As Zuckerberg recently share in a post on his Facebook Page:

“Another challenge is that we’re earlier in developing our ads products for stories, so we don’t make as much money from them yet as we do from feed ads. We’re following our normal playbook here of building out the best consumer products first and focusing on succeeding there before ramping up ads. I’m optimistic that we’ll get ads in stories to perform as well as feed over time, and that the opportunity will be even bigger because it looks like stories will be a bigger medium than feed has been.”

Though Facebook has rolled out Stories Ads, it will need to reinvent mobile video ads for this to be a success. Pre and post-roll video ads within Stories is fine for now, but if Stories are to become as profitable as the News Feed, Facebook needs to think outside the box and develop a brand new ad product from the ground up, like it did with News Feed ads five-or-so years ago.

The second hurdle is ensuring users buy into Stories.

300 million daily active users across Facebook and Messenger is great — it’s probably even more daily active users than Snapchat has on its own Stories (according to data obtained by The Daily Beast). But Facebook has 2.2 billion monthly users and the vast majority don’t use Stories yet.

Like it or not, Stories will replace the News Feed

When it comes time to shift away from the News Feed, it’s more likely that users will just have to deal with the hand they’re dealt.

When the News Feed launched, Facebook users had no choice about adopting it, and it wasn’t instantly popular — a group called “Students Against Facebook News Feed” was even formed, reaching more than 280,000 members at its peak.

Despite the pushback, Facebook persisted knowing that no matter how loud or vocal people were in reaction to the change, they would still likely continue to use Facebook anyway.

The same Swiss Federal Institute of Technology study I mentioned earlier found that when left with only two available coping strategies: to accept change or to leave, the vast majority will accept change and continue to use Facebook.

And in a 2006 post about the News Feed, then TechCrunch editor, Michael Arrington noted that: “If this feature had been part Facebook since the beginning, their users would be screaming if Facebook tried to remove it.” Eventually, I believe we’ll look back at Facebook Stories in the same way.

Stories might not be welcomed by all. But one thing is for certain: however you feel about it, it’s time to start preparing for life after the News Feed.

4 ways your business can embrace Stories

Stories are an essential part of a modern social media strategy.

Block Party’s research found that nearly four in five (79 percent) of businesses use Stories on InstagramInstagram also found that more than one in three said that they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Instagram Stories.

As the user numbers continue to grow on Facebook Stories, it won’t be long until a large number of businesses start moving to post there too. But we’re not quite there yet.

Block Party found that only nine of 100 accounts it tracked on Instagram Stories, also posted to Facebook Stories. “All but one of those exclusively syndicated their Instagram Stories to Facebook,” it said. However, some early adopters have already started seeing better results from Facebook Stories than the News Feed.

Here are four ways you can begin to use Stories for your business and ensure you’re riding atop the next big social media wave.

1. Take your audience behind-the-scenes

Stories offer a perfect way to share unfiltered, authentic content with your audience.

Design agency AJ&Smart uses Stories to provide an authentic look at what’s happening at the business day-to-day and tries to show as much of that in real-time as possible.

For example, in its Stories, you might see behind-the-scenes at a client workshop or the team traveling to a client meeting.

The Guardian also found that, on Stories, “less polished” content performs better than heavily produced videos, so you don’t have to worry about the production quality of your content. Instead, just point and shoot with your phone and focus on creating a compelling narrative.

2. Cross-post between Instagram and Facebook

If you’ve linked your Instagram account to your Facebook page, you can cross-post your Stories content at the tap of a button, or even set your account to automatically publish all of your Stories from Instagram to Facebook.

To do this, tap your profile icon in the top-right corner of Instagram, then open your “Account settings” and choose “Story controls”. From here, tap the switch to turn on auto-posting to Facebook:

Cross-posting the same content to Instagram and Facebook might not be the best long-term strategy as your audience on the two platforms might prefer different content. But this is a great way to get started, and learn a little about what your audience enjoys on both platforms.

3. Experiment with Stories ads

Stories ads are a new addition to Facebook’s ad inventory and enable brands to share image-based or short video ads. At Buffer, we started testing Stories ads a few months back and now we’re seeing clicks to our website from Stories for just $0.06!

It’s super simple to get started with Stories ads and we’ve just launched Stories Creator, a simple tool to help you design thumb-stopping images for your Stories ads.

To help you create Facebook and Instagram Stories ads that’ll get you results, here are three tips for creating great Stories ad creatives and the exact steps to creating Facebook and Instagram Stories ads.

4. Share user-generated content to Stories

User-generated content is incredibly powerful on Instagram. In fact, it helped us to grow our Buffer account to over 40,000 followers.

And Stories offers businesses the chance to repost content from their audience at a more frequent pace than in the feed. For example, Kettlebell Kings regularly shares one or two user-generated posts to its feed each day, but by using Stories it can share 10-12 posts from followers.

This content is incredibly engaging for its audience as people who follow Kettlebell Kings love to see workout examples and techniques. It’s also incredibly rewarding for those featured and it encourages more and more customers to share their content on Instagram.

Over to you

What are your thoughts on the future of Stories on Facebook? Has your business started posting Stories? Let us know in the comments below — excited to join the conversation.

How a Branded Hashtag Campaign Helped Tommy’s Superfoods to Reach More Than One Million People

When Tommy Williams was growing up in Austin Texas, he probably didn’t think his love for cooking and local farmers markets would lead to starting a nationally-recognized food brand.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Williams began to embrace his entrepreneurial spirit after college. As a graduate, he started selling a variety of salsas and spice mixes in local retailers — and this is where his passion for promoting a healthier way of eating really came to the fore.

In 2014, Tommy’s Superfoods was born. The company sells non-GMO verified, seasoned frozen vegetables and its products are now available in popular retailers such as Costco, Bristol Farms, Kroger, and more.

However, as any business in the consumer goods industry will tell you, it can be hard to stand out next to thousands of other quality products.

Tommy’s Superfoods needed a way to simultaneously increase brand recognition and brand loyalty. The resulting campaign helped the business to reach more than one million people on social media and grow its email list by 22 percent.

Here’s how the campaign generated these impressive results…

Creating a movement to help achieve business goals

Wondering how to go about increasing its brand recognition and growing its email list, Tommy’s Superfoods turned to Road Warrior Creative, an agency that specializes in food and social good marketing.

The campaign — #ThinkVeggiesFirst — was focused on teaching people to start each meal by choosing the vegetable component first, as a healthy way of eating.

“We decided to build the campaign as a monthly challenge,” explained Amber Hinds, Creative Director & CEO of Road Warrior Creative. “We challenged people to eat vegetables at every meal – even breakfast!”

The campaign initially ran for the month of February and aligned perfectly with the time of year when people are still thinking about New Year’s resolutions. “We made it a ‘movement’ that people could engage with and participate in,” said Amber.

Amber and her team needed a way to not only inspire people to eat more vegetables but also build awareness of its products and drive signups to Tommy’s Superfoods’ mailing list.

To do this, Road Warrior Creative worked alongside Tommy’s Superfoods to create a ton of added value for people who signed up to its email list.

“We created a branded landing page where people who joined the email list would receive a free printable meal planner download, coupons for buy one get one free on Tommy’s Superfoods products, and could enter to win 100 free packages of Tommy’s.”

Building a successful multi-channel marketing campaign

With the #ThinkVeggiesFirst concept in the bag, Amber and her team then needed to figure out how they could generate awareness of the campaign, and drive traffic to the landing page.

To do this they first looked at what they could learn from other campaigns in the healthy eating niche. “We began researching similar ideas and learning about the types of content that would work best for achieving campaign goals,” Amber explained.

Creating a content plan

Next, it was time to put everything they learned from their research stage into a cohesive content plan, looking at when they would publish blog posts and email newsletters as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest posts.

Mailchimp made it simple for Road Warrior Creative to set up a bunch of email messages to send subscribers during the challenge.

The email campaigns focused on keeping new signups on track during the 28-day challenge. For example, around half-way through the campaign they shared a bunch of fun, veggie-first meal ideas:

When it came to social media content Amber and the Road Warrior team focused on creating content native to each platform: sharing beautiful images of veggie-first meals on Instagram, saving recipes to its boards on Pinterest and posting videos on Facebook.

And with Buffer’s social media publishing tools in their corner, it was simple to get the whole month’s content scheduled across Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram in one go.

Data point:
According to data from Meltwater, Tommy’s Superfoods’ #ThinkVeggiesFirst content on social media has reached more than one million people since the campaign started in February.

Complementing organic content with paid ads

Paid social media ads also played a part in the #ThinkVeggiesFirst campaign. Road Warrior set up various audiences within Facebook Ads, targeting people with an interest in healthy eating and custom audiences containing recent website visitors.

Amber says the largest social media success during the campaign came from Facebook ads. “We saw greater engagement and conversions from video ads than ads with still imagery,” she noted. “And greater success with retargeted ads than those to a defined audience.“

Encouraging user-generated content

They also used the sweepstakes component of campaign — the chance to win 100 free packs of Tommy’s Superfoods vegetables for joining its mailing list — as a way to encourage user-generated content. Every person who signed up to the mailing list received an entry to the sweepstakes, then, for additional entries, they were encouraged to post their own ‘veggie-centric’ meals on Instagram, tagging Tommy’s and #ThinkVeggiesFirst in the photo.

Over the course of February, each email sent to Tommy’s Superfoods subscribers featured a reminder about the campaign:

And the hashtag has now been used more than 600 times on Instagram:

Amber also focused on generating links back to the landing page from popular healthy eating and sweepstakes websites. “A large number of signups were also generated by link building efforts — all unpaid, more of a matter of time and effort put in than cost — and getting other websites to talk about and share the sweepstakes with their followers.”

Building towards long-term success

At the end of February, Tommy’s Superfoods had grown its email list by 22 percent in just 28-days.

And what started out as a month-long campaign has become a staple part of Tommy’s Superfoods marketing strategy.

Once February was over, the #ThinkVeggiesFirst campaign didn’t end. Instead, the landing page was updated to remove any mentions of the sweepstakes, and it continues to be a regular source of email subscribers for the brand.

On social, #ThinkVeggiesFirst has also remained a key part of Tommy’s Superfoods strategy with the hashtag being used on each of its Instagram posts, and it has also begun working with micro-influencers to encourage people to eat healthily and help keep its products top-of-mind at meal times.

If you’re looking to learn more about how you can create multi-channel marketing campaigns, and grow your business using email, social media, and more, check out our new series: The 5-Part Small Business Marketing Playbook.

Over the course of five days, you’ll receive top tips, strategies, and best practices around making the most out of your small business marketing and social media campaigns. Proudly brought to you by the folks at Mailchimp, Square, WooCommerce, and Buffer. 💌

Why Personalization is the Next Big Opportunity in Social Media Marketing

Social media marketers are always looking to uncover the “next big thing”, and as we head into 2019 personalized social media engagement is becoming the latest must-have strategy for businesses of all sizes.

According to recent Epsilon research, 80 percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience.

And this applies to social media too. Today’s social media users want to interact with brands on a personal level and be treated as individuals.

But how exactly do you go about creating personalized social media experiences?

Look no further than Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. Kimpton truly understands the importance of personalization on social media and has built a team that’s focused on delivering “ridiculously personal experiences” to customers both online and offline.

How Kimpton provides personalized social media experiences for customers

Director of Social Media at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Whitney Reynolds has spearheaded its shift towards a more personalized social media strategy and Kimpton now uses social media as a way to provide surprise and delight to everyone the business interacts with.

“At Kimpton, we believe that heartfelt, human connections make people’s lives better. That’s why we go out of our way to create what we call ‘ridiculously personal experiences’ both on property and online.”– Whitney Reynolds, Director of Social Media, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

For example, when one customer tweeted about the great in-person experience they’d received at a Kimpton hotel in Nashville, its social team continued that experience by sharing an additional recommendation to enhance the customer’s stay:

The Kimpton social media team is also keen to ensure that these one-off, in-the-moment interactions aren’t lost:

“We ask a lot of conversational questions so that we get to know more about each guest every time [we interact on social media], and we use a social CRM to make note of the interesting things that we want to remember about you.”

So if you were to share that you love pugs, have four kids, or fundraise for a particular nonprofit, Kimpton will make a note of it ready for your next conversation.

“We treasure this information,” Whitney said. “It means we don’t have to start from scratch with every conversation on social. We’re picking up with our followers where we left off.”

The importance of human-to-human interactions

While technology plays a part behind-the-scenes, Kimpton’s social media personalization strategy is powered by humans — and Whitney sees the team as the most important part of this strategy.

Kimpton’s social media engagement is handled by its Social Listening Desk, a team that responds to social chatter 24/7/365 across all its social channels.

“We hire for heart. Technical writing skills and knowledge of social platforms are important, but the most essential qualities we look for in a Social Listening Desk team member are empathy, heart and a sense of humor.”

“For our social media team, it’s really about finding the right people from the start – the ones who innately go out of their way to connect with each person, and get a real kick out of doing it.”

The Social Listening Desk team are also encouraged to go out of their way to make people feel special in each message:

“If there’s an opportunity to make someone’s day by really personalizing an interaction, our Listening Desk is empowered to act on it. We even have a mechanism for surprising and delighting our followers that anyone on our social team can activate as they see fit.”

How user-generated content can enhance the personalized experience

As a business that puts so much focus on its customers, user-generated content also has a huge role to play in Kimpton’s strategy — both across social media and its website.

“We’re fortunate to have hundreds of beautiful guest photos coming in via hashtags, geo-tags, and mentions each day from our 148 hotels and restaurants,” Whitney explained.  “We love that, often, a guest’s first instinct is to pull out their camera phone and post a picture of their experience to Instagram or Twitter, and we don’t take it for granted.”

To encourage more sharing, and reward those customers who do share their Kimpton experiences on social media, the Social Listening Desk team will ‘Like’ posts featuring their hotels and restaurants.

But to take things a step further, Whitney encourages the team to comment on guests’ photos to thank them for posting, often calling out a specific detail of the photo that they loved. And sometimes, they’ll ask to repost their favorite content:

Kimpton also features social content and guest photos on hotel and restaurant websites as well as having dedication pages for user-generated social media content on

“We know that our followers would rather see real photos from real guests, especially during the research phase of the booking process, so we rely heavily on user-generated content for telling our brand story and the stories of our hotels,” Whitney explained.

How you can harness the power of social media personalization

Reaching your audience with personalized messages and experiences can work wonders for your business. But if I could pick out one key takeaway that you can use for your business right away it would be this:

Social media personalization isn’t really about your content — or how big your budget is — what really matters is the way you communicate with your audience.

People on social media want to be seen as individuals with their own likes, habits, and personalities. If you can tap into this, and deliver each message with care, your audience will respond in-kind.

And what’s even more exciting is that social media personalization is still an under-the-radar strategy, so there’s a huge opportunity to get ahead of the curve.

Whitney Reynolds will be sharing more about the power of personalization during her talk at the Social Fresh conference. Social Fresh 2018 will be taking place on December 5-7, 2018 at Full Sail University, Winter Park, FL. Click here for more information or to book your ticket.

How Instagram Helps Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit to Serve Over 250,000 Customers Per Year

Snap, filter, post, then eat. If you’re a millennial, Instagramming your meals is probably a guilty pleasure, and an occasional part of your mealtime routine.

An incredible 69 percent of millennials take a photo (or a video) of their food before eating. But social media isn’t just a place for us to share our posts about favorite foods, and scroll through endless images of beautiful, mouth-watering meals, snacks and treats. It’s completely changed the way we decide what and where we eat too. It’s even begun to adjust the way restaurants are designed, and meals are prepared.

Thanks to platforms like Instagram, we’re able to browse and discover cool restaurants, bars, and foods via social media.

And according to research by Zizzi, 18-35-year-olds spend five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 percent would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.

Many businesses in the catering and restaurant industries have started to catch on to the power of social media to not only build a following online, but to drive people in-store to buy, consume, and share experiences.

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is one of those businesses.

Callie’s now serves more than a quarter-of-a-million people at its events and eateries each year, and social media plays a big part in its growth.

Here’s how…

Embracing social media

“We had a business, so we needed an Instagram page,” Tarah Boyleston, Callie’s marketing and design lead explained to us.

And though Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit started out on social media through necessity, it’s now seeing the rewards of its social media strategy play out, with customers frequently heading to its events and eateries after seeing its biscuits on social media.

“Locals have come into the eatery just to get the special biscuit they saw on Instagram and vacationers tell us they’ve been waiting months to try our biscuits after seeing a video on Facebook,” explained Tarah.

“It’s a great feeling knowing you can connect to so many people with something as simple as biscuits.”

Focusing on high-quality content

Callie’s really started to go all-in on social media marketing at the beginning of 2018 as the team started to focus more on the quality of its content. Tarah especially focused on:

  • Sharing high-quality images
  • Writing fun, detailed captions
  • Using relevant hashtags on every post

“After making these changes, we watched our @callieshotlittlebiscuit account organically grow by the thousands per month,” Tarah told us.

And you can’t argue with the data over the course of 2018, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit’s main Instagram account has grown to more than 31,000 followers, and is adding around 2,700 new followers per month.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have if you can’t get people in your doors. We encourage our millennial following to join the hot little party with mouth-watering images, easily accessible Facebook events, and most of all, keeping things fun!”

Tarah Boyleston
Marketing & Design, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit

Spreading its message locally, and nationally

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit has three eateries: two in Charleston, South Carolina, and one in Atlanta, Georgia. But that doesn’t stop Tarah from using social media to share the brand’s message and voice far and wide.

“Our social channels are truly the voice of our brand,” Tarah explained.

“We are lucky to have our first location in a vacation destination like Charleston, and even though our followers are mostly local, we are able to get our voice out to the entire country. Non-local growth is just as important [as local].”

By thinking outside of the local areas in which it operates, Callie’s has been able to grow a brand that’s recognized by biscuit-lovers across the U.S. (and even further afield).

This approach has lead to new opportunities for Callie’s to run events, and generate sales, outside of Charleston and Atlanta. For example, Callie’s recently teamed up with Packed Party, a Texas-based online boutique, to promote National Biscuit Month, and this partnership was so successful on social media that it led to Callie’s running an event in Texas. As Tarah told us:

“Even though we were states apart, we used both voices to drive traffic to our stores and increase brand awareness in Texas. Our Texas following increased so much that we ended the month with a pop up in Austin.”

Working with partners and influencers

The event in Texas isn’t the only time Callie’s has worked with partners and influencers. In fact, it’s a staple part of their social media strategy.

“We love partnering with brands that share our values because it allows our followers to learn about amazing artisans and it brings new followers to us,” Tarah explained.

“Our largest events have been in partnership with amazing groups such as Create and Cultivate (500+ person event) and a seated dinner for 100 during Charleston Wine + Food week.”

These kinds of events are marketed heavily through social media, email marketing, and local press outlets. Callie’s likes to give away tickets on its social channels to increase awareness and build its audience. During these events, Callie’s also takes followers who are unable to attend behind-the-scenes using Instagram Stories.

And when it comes to launching new eateries, partnerships and influencer campaigns play a big role in establishing a new, local audience:

“This summer, we made a large effort to partner with more brands and influencers to grow our Atlanta account. This is an account that was on a slow-and-steady growth pace and partnering with big voices in town instantly made a difference,” Tarah shared.

Pro tip: Run small, exclusive events for followers

“Our locations are fairly small, so we keep events to a limited amount of people. Advertising a certain amount of tickets gives the allure of exclusivity, and Instagrammers love being ‘in the know’. Our email and social channels are our largest platforms for our voice, so posting event details to increase ticket sales is just logical for us.”

Tarah Boyleston
Marketing & Design, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit

How your business can use social media to drive offline sales

Tarah also shared four pro-tips for businesses that are looking to use social media to drive footfall and sales offline:

1. Be consistent

“Have a consistent online presence. The more followers see you, the more you will be on their minds when they’re looking for something to do on the weekend.”

2. Share information often.

“In a world of constant scrolling and swiping, you want to make things effortless for your followers,” Tarah shared.

“Give them any and all information necessary to get to your event. Instagram stories are a great tool for event information because you can use multiple slides to get the point across. I always include swipe up feature with a link to the Facebook event.”

3. Boost with ads

“For non-local events, we often use Facebook and Instagram ads to reach a targeted location. We boosted our ticket sales in Texas by targeting the neighborhood where the event was located and using key terms to attract our audience.”

4. Go behind-the-scenes

“Lastly, give your customers and followers a piece of your personal life,” Tarah recommended.

“No one wants to follow a brand that is only trying to sell them something. We share personal stories, family recipes, and behind the scenes imagery of our lives at the bakery. These glimpses into the ‘life of a biscuiteer’ are free!”

If you’re looking to learn more about how to grow your business using email, social media, and more, check out our new series: The 5-Part Small Business Marketing Playbook.

Over the course of five days, you’ll receive top tips, strategies, and best practices around making the most out of your small business marketing and social media campaigns. Proudly brought to you by the folks at Mailchimp, Square, WooCommerce, and Buffer. 💌

We Analyzed 15,000 Instagram Stories from 200 of the World’s Top Brands (New Stories Research)

An incredible 400 million people around the world use Instagram Stories on a daily basis (with that number rapidly growing by the minute).

Besides being an interesting and fun way to connect with friends and family, stories offer businesses a unique opportunity to capture the direct attention of audiences and potential customers.

Instagram Stories Research - Stories Growth

But where do you start? And what makes for great stories content? We partnered with Delmondo to answer these questions, and more!

Together we analyzed more than 15,000 Instagram Stories from 200 of the world’s top brands in one of the largest Instagram Stories research studies to date.

Today, we’re excited to share this brand new research with you (spoiler alert: Instagram Stories content is incredibly engaging) as well as proven best-practices on how your business can create content for Instagram Stories that both engages, and converts.

Let’s dive in!

Table of contents

Key findings from analyzing 15,000 Instagram Stories

Delmondo is a Facebook and Instagram Media Solutions Partner and was the first to launch Instagram Stories analytics in the summer of 2017. In doing so, they now have access to some of the most robust Instagram Stories data on the planet, which powers a ton of incredible research studies like this one where they shared findings from more than 5,000 Instagram Stories.

Earlier this month, we approached their team with one (not-so-simple) question:

How are Instagram Stories performing for brands and businesses heading into 2019?

Here’s what we learned…

1. One to seven stories is the optimal posting length

It’s long been debated whether or not posting more leads to better results on social media. Many brands report a positive increase in results when they post more, while others experience the opposite.

Which is exactly why we wanted to know what top brands are experiencing when it comes to optimal posting length. I.e., how many individual stories produce the highest completion rate.

Completion rate is determined by calculating the number of times your stories were watched from the first story frame all the way to the last story frame within the given 24-hour time period.

What we found is that one to seven stories is the optimal posting length:

Optimal Instagram Stories Length

After seven stories, completion rate drops to below 70 percent.

However, it’s important to note here that this is more of a guide than a hard limit on the best time to post to Instagram Stories. It’s crucial to experiment with various story lengths and use your own data to determine what works for you.

Even if your brand or business posts a longer story length, say 12 to 20 story frames, the results are still phenomenal. There is very little difference in completion rate between 12 and 20 frames as there is between one and seven.

Perhaps more incredibly, top accounts that post 20 or more stories still see a 55 percent or greater completion rate, proving just how engaging stories content can be at any length.

2. The best time to post to Instagram Stories is outside of work hours

One of the most interesting takeaways from our research with Delmondo is around the best time(s) to post to stories. Given the ephemeral nature of stories, brands that work hard to create great Stories content will want to maximize the reach of that content.

And while there are hundreds of different factors that go into the Instagram Stories algorithm, post timing arguably still plays a key role in the success of your content.

We found that there are four distinct spikes in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. In other words, outside of normal U.S. working hours (all times are Eastern):

Best Times to Post Instagram Stories - Instagram Stories Research

Based on the data above, the best times to post to Instagram Stories are:

  • 4am – 6am Eastern Time
  • 8am – 10am Eastern Time
  • 12pm – 2pm Eastern Time
  • 8pm – 10pm Eastern Time

One hypothesis for this finding is that people have more time to watch Instagram Stories before work, during their lunch break, and in the evenings after work. Posting during these prime hours will give your stories the extra boost they need.

3. More content leads to greater median reach and impressions

Another reason that Instagram Stories are such a powerful channel for brands and businesses is that the threshold for content consumption appears to be higher.

There is only so much space in the news feed. The more content that people and brands post, the less space there is for everyone else. Because stories disappear after 24 hours, that makes more room, so to speak, for fresh new content to be shown.

The data from our research shows that the more stories top Instagram accounts post, the more median reach and impressions they get. We can definitively say that stories posting length has a positive correlation with reach and impressions metrics.

Correlation between stories length and median reach:

Instagram Stories Average Median Reach

Correlation between stories length and median impressions:

Instagram Stories Median Impressions

We’re not necessarily suggesting that brands and businesses start to post a ton of stories content just for the sake of posting, but the data shows that you can increases both median reach and median impressions by posting more content on Instagram Stories.

Instagram Stories research benchmarks for specific verticals

In an effort to make this research even more interesting and valuable, we looked at four unique verticals to compare a variety of data points such as completion rates, posting frequency, and more. Those four verticals are, brand accounts, entertainment accounts, media accounts, and sports accounts.

We defined the industry verticals using the following criteria:

  • Brand: Consumer related products or service brand
  • Entertainment: TV/Movie networks, TV shows, movies, and similar
  • Media: Newspapers, news organizations, news websites, publishers
  • Sports: Sports or eSports teams, leagues and events

Hopefully the following Instagram Stories research will help shed some light into what the world’s top brands are experiencing in terms of results.

Average completion rate and stories length

First, we looked at how Instagram Stories performed for these four verticals in 2017 vs. 2018:

Year Over Year Instagram Stories Research Comparison

What’s incredible is that completion rate has risen by 12% for brands and businesses in just over one year. Meanwhile, accounts are posting slightly less stories content on average.

It’s worth reiterating here that all four verticals are seeing a 65% or greater average completion rate with Instagram Stories. Meaning that audiences are sticking around to watch this content at fairly high rates.

Average reach and impressions

Next, we wanted to know how Instagram Stories are performing for these verticals when it comes to reach and impressions (based on overall average follower size):

Average Reach vs. Impressions - Instagram Stories Research

It’s interesting to note that although average reach rate is 5.82 percent for all verticals, there is a huge swing between sports accounts and media accounts.

Still, in a social media world where average organic reach within the news feed is often less than four percent, a five percent (or greater) average reach rate is welcomed with open arms by many businesses.

Average posting frequency per month

Last, but not least, in addition to understanding how many individual frames per story (story length) are being posted by the world’s top brands on Instagram, we also wanted to know how often they are posting per month.

For this data point, we looked at how many individual days during the month, on average, these verticals posted to Instagram Stories.

Here’s what we found:

Instagram Stories Average Days Posting Per Month

Sports accounts are posting the most days per month (13.7), whereas brand accounts are posting the least amount of days per month (8.7).

Overall, we’re not at a point where brands are posting daily to Instagram Stories. However, as the popularity of Instagram Stories grows and businesses continue to see success with the channel, we predict that daily posting will become more of a common thread throughout different verticals.

Best practices for posting to Instagram Stories

Now that we’ve shared the data from more than 15,000 Instagram Stories, we thought it would be useful to provide a few actionable steps on what to do with all of this research.

Here are three key takeaways that your brand or business can get started with today.

1. Post your best stories content first

In their 2018 benchmark study, Delmondo found that, on average, more people exit on the first and last story frame than any other part of your stories.

Meaning, if your first story frame does not immediately capture the attention of your audience, they will quickly exit your stories content in search of something else.

Average Exits In Instagram Stories

Whether you’re promoting your product, giving your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your business, or simply posting entertaining content, make sure that it hooks your audience in right from the beginning.

Airbnb, for example, slowly reveals content throughout their Instagram Stories in order to encourage users to move onto the next story frame – only revealing the answer on the very last story frame.

AirBnb Instagram Stories Example

Bonus tip: You’ll notice in the graph above that average exits decrease as users move through the story frames. For loyal users that make it all the way to the last story frame, we recommend including some kind of CTA to provide them with a “next step.”

2. Post consistently to stories

Today, Instagram Stories is one of the most engaging social media channels available. Completion rates are well-above 50 percent and more and more users are consuming stories content on a daily basis.

Now is the perfect time for your brand to experiment with Instagram Stories content.

The best part is, your stories don’t have to be complicated.

The Guardian found that for their Instagram Stories, simple static graphics and quick explainer videos outperformed their professionally-produced videos.

The North Face, for example, uses simple photos and text overlays to reinforce their brand using Instagram Stories:

The North Face Instagram Stories Example

Simplicity means:

  1. Using a background image to quickly tell a story
  2. Adding short copy to convey your message
  3. Decorating with minimal graphics and logos

And you’re done!

3. Calculate your own data

Of course, the research above is only the beginning for brands and businesses looking to improve their Instagram Stories content going into 2019.

In order to make the most out of this channel, it’s important that you accurately calculate your own stories data on a regular basis. Keeping a close eye on the following data points will ensure that you’re continually improving:

  • Completion rate
  • Reach and impressions
  • Exit rates according to story frame
  • Stories post timing
  • Stories length
  • And more!

One example of calculating data in action is when we began to experiment with Instagram Stories ads here at Buffer. Instagram Stories, compared to ads in the Facebook and Instagram news feed, have helped decrease our cost per click (CPC) to the Buffer Podcast landing page by more than 50 percent in some cases.

Other brands like Warby Parker are using Instagram Stories to promote their products in fun and interesting ways and comparing those results to traditional marketing channels such as email and content:

Warby Parker Instagram Stories Example

Before we go, a huge shoutout to Delmondo for helping us put together one of the largest Instagram Stories studies to date. If you’d like to learn more about all of the in-depth stories analytics and insights their platform provides, check them out at

Tell them Brian sent you!

Over to you

I’d love to hear from you!

How are you feeling about your Instagram Stories strategy moving forward? Are you excited for the future of stories in general? What experiments do you plan on trying first?

Feel free to drop me a comment or question below about the data in this study or just to say “hello.”

I’m looking forward to chatting about this Instagram Stories research so that we can all learn from each other!

7 Invaluable Marketing Skills That Help Teams Produce Consistently Great Content

In speaking with thousands of marketers and businesses over the past several years, we’ve learned that marketing has an incredible potential to impact people’s lives.

In fact, the American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

“The activity, set of institutions, skills, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

I love that. We as marketers are benefiting society at large!

But marketing skills and career growth don’t come easy in a field that moves at the speed of light. It seems like every week companies are demanding an evolved skill set out of their employees – giving rise to a new era of marketing roles such as the Full-Stack and T-Shaped Marketer.

Brands that can successfully bring a variety of people, marketing skills, and unique perspectives together have a huge advantage when it comes to providing value.

That’s why we’ve partnered with the incredible marketing team at Asana, a leading work management software, to break down the top 7 invaluable marketing skills that help some of the greatest brand teams on the planet produce consistently great content.

Let’s dive in!

7 Invaluable Marketing Skills for Team

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7 invaluable marketing skills for teams

As Sujan Patel writes on his blog, “the modern marketer has to be familiar with a lot, good at many, and master of a few.”

Having a variety of skills and tools not only provides ultimate flexibility as a team to create a variety of successful marketing campaigns, but it also allows each marketer to shine as an individual.

These 7 high-level marketing skills will help to ensure your team has ultimate flexibility and individuality.

1. Storytelling

There seems to be a general belief that marketing has always been about storytelling – and that marketers have always identified as natural storytellers.

But that may not be the case.

LinkedIn found that just seven years ago the number of marketers listing “storytelling” on their profile as a skill was obsolete. It didn’t exist at all as a respected marketing discipline.

Today, however, between 7 and 8 percent of all marketers on LinkedIn worldwide identify themselves as storytellers based on their profile descriptions and list of skills.

Storytelling Marketing Skills

As a marketer, storytelling doesn’t just mean telling your audience what your product or service does or what it has done. Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to effectively communicate with them in an authentic and engaging way.

During the writing of this article, Asana CMO Dave King told me: “The best marketers are problem solvers and storytellers. Content creators should ask ‘what problem is this piece solving for my audience.’”

As marketers, there are endless ways to tell a story.

One of my favorite ways to develop a compelling story is to use “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improvisor Kenn Adams. Over the years, Pixar has won countless awards by using this formula, including 13 Academy Awards, 9 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammys.

The Story Spine - Pixar Marketing Skills

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

I encourage you to practice this formula for your own own brand, products, or services.

Let’s give it a shot with a brand we might all know of: Nike.

  • Once upon a time there was a passionate shoemaker that wanted to get his shoes into the hands of runners around the world.
  • Every day, he worked on perfecting his shoes so that these runners could perform at an optimum level.
  • But one day, this shoemaker realized that supplying shoes to thousands of runners around the world was no easy task.
  • Because of that, he worked harder and harder to ensure that he had the supply of products needed to be successful despite what critics said.
  • Because of that, his shoes continued to improve and more and more athletes started to wear them in prestigious competitions.
  • Until finally, it wasn’t just about running anymore. It became about something bigger – finding your inner champion doing what you love in gear that makes you feel great.

As Ken describes, “The Story Spine is not the story, it’s the spine. It’s nothing but the bare-boned structure upon which the story is built. And, that’s what makes it such a powerful tool.”

It’s up to us as marketers to fill in all the little nuances of the story.

2. Prioritizing

As many marketers know all too well – there is always something to be done.

Being an effective prioritizer is one of those marketing skills that doesn’t get talked about enough, but plays a huge role in the success of your team and content.

Producing consistently great content means saying yes to a handful of awesome content ideas/opportunities and saying no to others.

The Asana marketing team uses a project labeled “Content Opportunities” to which anyone in the company is highly encouraged to contribute ideas. Then, when their marketing team is ready to take action on a piece of content or campaign, they add it to their Editorial Calendar project.

Asana Dashboard - 7 Invaluable Marketing Skills

This management of ideas, projects, and initiatives is what allows them to be super focused and productive on a consistent basis.

So how can you develop prioritization as a marketing skill? And how can you prioritize content and campaigns that will perform at a high level?

That’s where the importance of goal-setting comes into play!

At Buffer, we’ve experimented with a variety of goal-setting frameworks such as OKRs, Locke and Latham’s 5 Principles of Goal-Setting, BHAGs, and lots more.

Today, our marketing team is using two types of goal-setting methods depending on the scope. For long-term planning and strategizing, we use a modified Warren Buffett Framework, and for short-term (experimental content), we use a framework called ICE.

The Modified Warren Buffett Framework

My colleague Hailley has long admired the original framework for setting goals from Warren Buffett – a method where you write down 25 things you want to accomplish in your career, and from that, pick the top five as the focus and put the other 20 on an “avoid at all costs” list.

We’ve since adopted a modified version of this goal-setting framework. Here’s a quick overview of how it works (with a real-life example goals from one of our 6-week cycles):

Step 1: Choose 10 goals

Brainstorm a list of 10 goals related to your work on the team that can be accomplished in a certain, predesignated timeframe.

Remember to focus on goals and not tasks. A good way to remember this is that tasks describe how you spend your time, whereas goals are your results.


Warren Buffett Framework Step One

Step 2: Assign a “tag” to each goal

Next, go through and add a tag to each goal with the category that it falls into. The tagging system should be unique for each person.

Come up with your tags, and assign them to each of your 10 goals.


Warren Buffett Framework Step Two

Step 3: Pick three goals to focus on (P1s)

This is the most difficult portion of the exercise! Refining the list from 10 to the three that you will focus on during the specified time period.

Pick one goal for each tag that you have on your list.


Warren Buffett Framework Step Three

Then, add a P2 and a P3 to prioritize the rest of your goals within the list.

That doesn’t mean you have 10 goals all competing with each other at the same time.

It means that as soon as you complete a P1 in any one of the categories, you then (and only then) move onto your P2 and P3.

ICE Score Framework

“ICE” stands for Impact, Confidence, and Ease.

Below is a description of each element directly from the creators of the ICE Score Framework at GrowthHackers:

  • Impact: The possible impact the idea could have on the business if considered a “win
  • Confidence: This relates to how confident you are in whether it’ll result in a wi
  • Ease: This relates to how many resources, and what kind, are needed to implement the idea

For each idea, give each factor a score from one to ten. The overall score is determined by taking the average of the three scores. You should start with the idea that has the highest score.

ICE Score Framework - Marketing Skills

For example, let’s say you wanted to run a content partnership experiment with a peer or influencer within your industry (similar to this one!) Your ICE score might look like this:

  • Impact: 8
  • Confidence: 7
  • Ease: 7
  • Total: 22

Comparing that to other ICE scores, you can quickly determine which ideas to tackle next and which ones to table for the time being. Over time, you’ll be able to score ideas quickly and efficiently.

3. Collaborating

Why is team collaboration necessary?

Part of the answer, according to research from strategy professor Benjamin Jones at the Kellogg School, is that our individual knowledge base is becoming more and more specialized.

Jones gives a great example of the Wright Brothers and building an airplane:

“In 1903, two people designed and flew an airplane. Today, a Boeing 787 has dozens of specialists working on the engines alone. Then there are the controls, the hydraulics, the airframe itself. There is an incredible range of specialized skills needed.”

Generalist vs. Specialist Employee

There is an ever-growing need for collaboration among specialists (teams) within companies to get a product or service off of the ground.

In our experiences at Buffer and Asana, the most successful marketing teams coordinate on two important levels:

  1. Messaging: Ensuring there’s consistency in what is being said across channels (blog, website, social, etc.
  2. Distribution: Planning and sequencing content rollout for maximum impact across channels

By combining the right set of marketing skills in both messaging and distribution you are setting your campaigns up for a much higher rate of success.


Whether you’re launching a full-on marketing campaign or simply posting a video to Facebook, creating a consistent message across channels is an important part of building your brand.

We’ve found that having effective collaboration tools in place makes all of the difference.

Here’s a quick example of some of the tools and workflows we use in order to help our teams create consistent messaging:

  • Kick off a conversation in messaging app, Slack, about the proposed idea or campaign:

Slack Screenshot

  • Start a doc in Dropbox Paper with additional details, comments, copy, etc:

Dropbox Paper Flow

  • Create a project within Asana and assign tasks to team members across the organization:

Asana Project

These three tools are invaluable for transparent and cross-functional collaboration and communication among teams within your organization. They’re especially important for us at Buffer as a fully remote company!


Without a solid distribution plan in place, your messages may never reach their intended audiences. Having the skills to not only create the assets, but efficiently deliver those assets across multiple channels, is an important quality for any marketer.

Here’s a quick look at some of the tools and workflows we use to distribute consistent content:

  • WordPress for hosting and creating blog content:

Buffer Blog

  • Discourse for internal distribution, information, and announcements:

Discourse Overview

  • Buffer for social media planning, scheduling, and analytics:

Buffer - Social Media Tool Dashboard

At the core of any great team collaboration is trust. Trust is the willingness and openness to intentionally communicate with teammates on your direct team and across the company.

It’s up to you to make space (physically or virtually) for people to meet and share ideas. Pixar is a perfect example of this in action – they designed their offices so that artists, designers, programmers, and marketers would purposely bump into each other.

4. Visualizing

Humans are, by nature, very visual beings.

In the brain itself, there are hundreds of millions of neurons devoted to visual processing, nearly 30 percent of the entire cortex, as compared with 8 percent for touch and just 3 percent for hearing.

In other words, the most successful marketing teams are not only able to communicate messages in written form, they’re also able to create stunning designs that aid in telling a compelling visual story.

Social Media Design Principles

We wrote an article in 2017 titled, “Why Every Marketer Needs to Be a (Part-Time) Designer” and the general theory still remains true, even more so, today in 2018.

The best part is there are tons of free resources our there to get started! Here are some of our favorites:

Visual storytelling is one of those marketing skills that often goes overlooked, but plays a massive role in the success of every single piece of content.

5. Experimenting

Have you ever wondered how some marketing teams come up with so many great ideas?

Their secret…

Behind every one successful marketing idea or campaign, there were dozens (if not hundreds) of little failures along the way.

It reminds me a lot of what is known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in product development. A MVP is a product that has the minimum amount of features required to validate if people want it or not.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The same theory holds true for marketing experimentation and testing.

A marketing team that is unafraid of failure and willing to run hundreds of different tests in order to quickly validate ideas will often succeed over a marketing team that puts their eggs (ideas) into one basket (channel/campaign).

The Information, for example, might have hundreds of potential story ideas in Asana at any one time — prioritizing experiments and ideas based on competition, importance, opportunity costs, and lots more.

Although there isn’t a true scientific way of running marketing experiments, this is the formula we’ve come up with at Buffer to systematically test ideas:

How to Run Marketing Experiments

We start with setting clear goals and then work backwards from there.

Let’s say we wanted to increase Buffer blog traffic by 10% in one year (goal).

Our marketing team would start by getting together and brainstorming all of the different ways we could accomplish that – SEO, social media, affiliates, etc.

We’d then prioritize ideas based on impact (Warren Buffett Framework / ICE Scores) and begin testing.

Then, we’d constantly measure and analyze results along the way while making incremental improvements.

Approaching experimentation and testing with a growth mindset, similar to developing a product, is a marketing skill that will help take your team to the next level.

6. Analyzing

As marketers, we’re all somewhere on the analytics expertise scale (whether we know it or not!) From the analytics wizards to those of us just starting to dip our toes in data analysis, we all have a base layer to work from.

Our Director of Marketing at Buffer, Kevan Lee, puts it perfectly:

“The great thing about deepening your skills in analytics is that we all have a base layer to work from. We all know how to build intuition. And intuition is just an absorbed history of data. Add to that the ability to ask good questions, and you’re well on your way. (The tools themselves matter far less than you’d think.)”

Asking good questions, when it comes to data and marketing analytics, is an invaluable marketing skill to have on any team.

This graphic from Moz shows just how many BIG questions there are to ask:

Moz - Asking Great Data Questions

At first, asking all of these questions can be a bit intimidating.

What if I don’t know the answers?

That’s okay!

One way we like to think about approaching analytics is this idea of “Crawl, Walk, Run” – It might look something like this if you’re just starting out:

  • Crawling: Which channels get the most engagement?
  • Walking: Which tactics and/or strategies are contributing to this engagement?
  • Running: Which channels, tactics, and strategies should we implement to increase engagement?

Data Analysis - Crawl Walk Run

Another great way of thinking of analytics is the “Hierarchy of Analytics” model made popular by data wizard Christopher S. Penn:

Hierarchy of Analytics - Christopher Penn copy

In the beginning, you might experiment with various analytics platforms and tools in order to get a feel for the basics of marketing analytics. Understanding what data is available, its limitations, and what you can report is a great start.

Then, as you become more skilled and confident with data, you might dive into things like understanding why something happened or what might happen in the future based on your findings.

There are some incredible data analysis tools out there from companies like Google, IBM, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft that can help you do just that!

7. Learning

I like to think that the path to becoming a great marketer is a lifelong journey and never truly complete.

Knowledge, passion, and expertise are intangible qualities that we usually don’t acquire overnight. These are often developed as result of years (even decades) of hard work, mistakes, self-reflection, and personal growth.

Even a virtuoso like Michelangelo was quoted as saying, “I am still learning” late into his career.

Michelangelo quote on Learning

At Buffer and Asana, we aim to build our marketing teams around folks who are naturally curious, hungry to learn, passionate, and open to new ideas.

“A love of learning is one of primary skills we look for in marketers because it tells us a couple things: do they love what they do, and are they curious about the world?” explains Kevan Lee. “Those two factors alone can take you quite far!”

Just like food nourishes our bodies, information and continuous learning nourishes our minds.

But where do you start on your learning journey as a marketer?

We’ve found that having a framework in place allows us to identify opportunities for growth. We call it the T-Shaped Marketer Framework:

Buffer T-Shaped Marketer Framework

T-Shaped Marketing at Buffer. Feel free to grab a download of the Sketch file or Canva template we used to build this, if you’d like to customize it for your company.

I encourage you to create one of these templates for yourself. It’s an incredible, eye-opening activity that will provide you with a clear path forward.

Then, we suggest forming habits around the marketing disciplines you’re most excited about:

  • If you want to get better at data analysis, try taking a course on Udemy or Skillshare to expand your skills
  • If you want to dive into video marketing, experiment with creating a video in Animoto or take a free Adobe Premiere tutorial on YouTube.
  • If social media is your passion, we’ve got a ton of great learning resources on our Social Blog, Skillshare, and the Buffer Podcast.
  • If you want to improve your organization, workflow, or project management skills, Asana has created a ton of great resources and best practices for work management on their blog.

If you’re curious, inquisitive, genuine, and if your intent is sincere, there will always be people who will support you in your journey.

Experiment and try out new things – some of them might even scare you! Once you gain some momentum, keep it going. That will set you up for a lifetime of success in marketing.

Over to you

Thank you so much for checking out this post!

If you’re interested in learning more about career and marketing skills from some uber-talented professionals in the industry, feel free to check out the Asana blog. It’s packed with some incredible insights.

We’d also love to continue the conversation with you below!

What skills are we missing from this list? What has helped your team create consistently great content? What would you suggest to those looking to hire marketers?

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Should Small Businesses be on IGTV? (and 3 Quick Ways to Test It Out)

Repurposing your content across channels is a great way to get the most from your social media strategy. However, sometimes, certain channels will perform better than others.

When GQ posted a video about Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott on its YouTube channel (with 2.5 million subscribers), it was watched almost 30 million times. The same video on their Facebook Page (2.8 million fans) was watched 4.7 million times. A snippet of the video on their Instagram account (4.3 million followers) was watched 2.1 million times.

But when GQ posted the same video on IGTV (the video was cropped to fit the vertical format), it only generated 137,000 views.

A mere three percent of their follower count.

GQ isn’t alone. A quick (unscientific) look at a few brands seems to tell the same story:

  • Airbnb has 3.3 million followers and their three IGTV videos have 39,000, 77,000, and 22,000 views respectively (about two percent of their follower count).
  • Warby Parker has 448,000 followers and most of their IGTV videos get one to five thousand views (about one percent of their follower count).
  • HubSpot, 120,000 followers, generates one to three thousand views (about two percent of their followers).

What does this mean for small businesses that are considering IGTV in their social media marketing strategy? Is it not worth your time and effort?

I think it’s too early for small businesses to dismiss IGTV right away. Let me share why.

(Oh, and if you’re not familiar with IGTV, this blog post will give you a quick introduction.)

The rise of vertical mobile videos

The popularity of Snapchat and Instagram Stories has set our expectations for videos on smartphones to be vertical and full-screen. Ninety-six percent of mobile consumption is vertical so even if a video is square, or in the traditional 16:9, horizontal format, very few people will flip their phone to consume the content.

This is the trend that Instagram has betting big on with IGTV. Instagram believes that vertical videos are the future of video. And there are statistics to back this up.

According to data collected by Statista, more than 50 percent of digital videos are now viewed on mobile. And it has been showing a general upward trend since 2013.

Mobile video trend

A study commissioned by Facebook also found that people are watching Facebook and Instagram mobile videos everywhere — at home, at friends’ home, in public spaces, at work, and during commute.

These statistics are telling us two things. One, videos are going, if they are not already, mobile. And two, people prefer using their phones vertically.

Among all the major social media platforms, IGTV seems to be best positioned to tap onto and accelerate this vertical mobile video trend. It took Instagram less than two years to grow Instagram Stories, another vertical format content, from zero to 400 million daily users. So if you want to ride on their wave of growth, now is the time.

IGTV has a distribution issue but…

When IGTV came out, we knew we had to test it. Ash Read, our managing editor, created a vertical video of his interview with Ryan Carson, CEO and founder of online technology school Treehouse, and shared it on our IGTV channel.

Buffer IGTV video

We have about 41,000 followers on Instagram, and the video was watched…

474 times.

What we realized is that distributing your IGTV videos is hard.

It’s not easy for brands to nudge their Instagram followers to their IGTV videos besides using Instagram Stories’ swipe up link feature. Furthermore, IGTV only allows users to search for channels (i.e. Instagram users) and not topics. This reduces the likelihood of someone searching for a topic relevant to our brand and finding our videos.

But it’s really too early to dismiss IGTV as a potential social media channel for your brand.

“It’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch that long-form vertical videos are different from most videos we see today and it’ll take time for people to fully embrace the new format. Even top brands are not deterred by the low viewership at the moment. National Geographic’s director of Instagram Josh Raab told Digiday that “I think it is still too early. We are defining what IGTV is and the role it plays for us, but Instagram is also still developing the role [IGTV] plays on Instagram overall.”

Instagram did an amazing job integrating Instagram Stories into the Instagram app and growing its usage. We see Instagram Stories right at the top of the Instagram app, we can tap on profile photos to view Instagram Stories, we can even see Instagram Stories highlights on profiles. Seeing how Instagram grew Instagram Stories gives me the confidence that they’ll be able to grow IGTV well, too. They have already been testing many ways to showcase IGTV videos within the Instagram app and will likely find a way to smoothly encourage more people to be on IGTV.

For example, what if IGTV videos are featured in between Instagram Stories? (A interesting suggestion by Jack Appleby, Director of Creative Strategy at Petrol Ad)

While viewership on IGTV is low at the moment and distribution isn’t that great yet, it might just be the perfect time to jump in. This allows you to test different content and gradually improve your content before it gets too crowded with other brands and very polished videos.

How small businesses can get started on IGTV

Should your business be on IGTV?

Well, I believe not every small business (or business) has to be on IGTV. But you’ll never know whether IGTV is great for your business without trying.

As a small business, it’s definitely not easy to find time investing in a new social media channel when you are already managing multiple social media profiles. I understand this and would love to share some ways to quickly experiment with IGTV without too much time and resource investment.

Before we jump into the tactics, I would encourage you to see IGTV as an extension of your Instagram strategy rather than an entirely new standalone social media channel. A follow on IGTV is automatically a follow on Instagram (and vice versa). Your efforts in one can help the other.

1. Re-post your horizontal and square videos

If you are already creating videos for social, this is the easiest way to get started on IGTV — simply re-posting your horizontal and square videos onto your IGTV channel.

Yes, your videos will not make good use of the full screen and your followers will be forced to rotate their phones to watch your horizontal videos. But for a start, I think this could be a great low-investment way to experiment with IGTV, test out different content, and see if your audience on IGTV is interested in watching your videos.

For example, Velon, a professional road cycling organization that aims to bring fans closer to the riders and races, posts race highlights on its IGTV channel. Its videos are made to be viewed horizontally so the team rotated them and posted them on its IGTV channel.

Velon IGTV video

You’ll need to rotate your horizontal video first because IGTV only accepts vertical, 9:16 videos. You can easily rotate your horizontal video using Windows Movie Maker on Windows or QuickTime Player on a Mac.

Thanks to Kovács Máté, you can also resize your horizontal or square videos into vertical videos on your iOS devices using his IGTV Video Resizer.

2. Repurpose and crop your videos vertically

The second way is to rework your horizontal videos and crop them vertically. This requires a bit more work but is likely more manageable than creating vertical videos from scratch.

For example, GoPro cropped its horizontal YouTube video on freediving with Tiger Sharks into a vertical IGTV video.

GoPro IGTV video

You could also put a frame around your horizontal and square videos to make them vertical, like what Ben and Jerry’s did with its YouTube video.

Ben and Jerry's IGTV video

If your videos are filmed in a way that is suitable for cropping into vertical videos, you could try using tools like Kapwing and to help you with the cropping. Otherwise, you could also try creating your videos using video editing tools like and Typito, which allow you to easily resize your videos from horizontal to vertical.

3. Point and shoot with a smartphone

What if you are not already producing videos? The third way is to point and shoot with your smartphone — no professional video camera or lighting — just your smartphone.

Great content doesn’t always have to be produced professionally. The Guardian shared with Digiday that their less polished Instagram Stories (static graphics or quick video explainers on news topics) have been more popular than their professionally shot, edited, and produced videos.

The early content on Instagram is also less polished images with filters. Since IGTV is still a very young platform, with a vertical video format that is still less common than the horizontal video format, people might be more forgiving and focus more on the content itself rather than the aesthetic.

ECFIT Boulder, which coaches endurance athletes, shares unedited training tip videos (taken with a smartphone, I presume) on its IGTV channel.

ECFIT Boulder IGTV video

For such instances, you might find it helpful to have a tripod to stabilize your smartphone or even just to hold your smartphone if you are filming yourself alone. There are many affordable options on Amazon.

Here’s another example, from Everlane, an online clothing retailer known for their pricing transparency. Its social media team shares lightly edited vertical videos on their IGTV channel.

Everlane IGTV video

Over to you: What do you think?

While you don’t have to be on every new social media channel, especially as a small business with limited resources, I would recommend testing a few videos using the low-investment methods mentioned above. IGTV has only been live for a small number of months so it is not surprising that not many businesses are on there yet — and those that are there, are still figuring things out. This creates a great opportunity for you to test and see if IGTV will work for your business. If it doesn’t seem to be working for you, you can always pause your efforts and rethink your approach.

What do you think? Do you think your business should be on IGTV? Why or why not? 

P.s. Want to learn more about vertical videos? We have a short-series newsletter just for that and would love to have you. Sign up here!

Image credit: Statista, the respective IGTV channels

I first learned about the GQ story via Jack Appleby’s tweet and then via Digiday’s article