Is Buffer right for you? I took the all-in-one social tool for a test drive, including its publish, reply and engagement features, new landing pages and AI helper.
The answer to that question has changed a lot in 2021.
There used to be three sides to Buffer, each demanding a different paid subscription: Publish, Engagement and Analyze. Now it’s all rolled into one. A comprehensive social media toolkit for a much fairer price!
This new grown-up version of Buffer majors on the scheduling, planning, engagement and insights that social media managers can’t build a modern brand without. Making it wildly easy for teams to collaborate on attention-grabbing content, to spread it widely and double-down on engagement.
Buffer’s beginnings run back to 2010. Founder and CEO, Joel Gascoigne, needed a solution to his own problem, unable to reliably sharing great content on Twitter. Buffer was born and made its breakthrough as a scheduling tool, when there were few. It’s now grown up and needed to. There’s more platforms to content, more content to contend with, and the competition is tougher.
Fast-forward to today and Buffer is a pioneering force in social media marketing and how to treat your employees. Joel’s troop of fellow “No Ego Doers” are focussed almost exclusively on small business space and the proud indie hasn’t outgrown its roots despite being a 85-strong, fully-remote team with over 73,000 paying customers and $20M in ARR.
Their strong user empathy has unwavered as they’ve grown, with a string of altruistic initiatives to speak of, including their COVID-19 support programs for customers with financial challenges and a 4-day work week experiment. Bravo!
Commit to Buffer and you’re promised a bounce in your key social metrics. I’ve been a on-off user over the years but had fallen out of love with Buffer when it decided to split out the price of its core features.
Now it’s reversed that decision, I was excited to try out its new Calendar, advanced Post Compiler and reintroduced Reply tools (now called ‘Engagement’) with more of a team focus. They’d also added AI Insights and Landing pages since my last visit.
I’d be comparing it against my usual tools of Publer and MeetEdgar, as well as the usual suspects. The only features I can’t really road test are the Shopify integrations, as I don’t have an online store.
Buffer has a free tier for the publishing basics and a 14-day trial for everything else, so you can give it a test run too.
The first bit of good news is that the free trial doesn’t require your card details. Whoop!
Once inside Buffer fires off some tiny prompts to teach you the basics, help connect your social accounts, and generally get you off to a flying start.
You’re presented with a blank queue so it’s clear your first job is to start creating social posts. If you’ve used one social media management tool, you’ll be familar with Buffer’s. Buffer’s UI is unnervingly simple. Therein lies its beauty. It helps you to do the basics well, so you form healthy social media habits. Installing the browser extension increases your odds of success even further, as you source and schedule new finds on the go with ease.
From sign-up to send, you’re talking mere minutes. Just as it should be.
One disappointment here is the single template for Start Page - Buffer’s new landing page feature. That said, it covers most of the basics and is easy enough to make your own.
Posting to individual accounts on individual platforms is a pain in the ass. Coordinating them, even more so. Why put yourself through it?
Buffer promises to take away that pain, so you craft the perfect post for each social network (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest) all in one place and a single go. Handy, yes, but nothing revolutionary there. Little naunces include giving each of your social accounts its own timezone and posting schedule (e.g. no posting to LinkedIn at weekends); tagging other accounts directly from the platform; assigning posts to a campaign; hashtag suggestions and saving; and marking content for approval.
By choosing Buffer you are swapping more advanced scheduling features for speed. These include Publer’s auto-comment feature, RecurPost’s drip posts and MeetEdgar’s recurring posts and auto-variations. RSS content is importable via integration with Zapier or Feedly.
Set Campaigns up early and stay organised however big your team or post library. Perfect for focussing on a single objective or managing client accounts.
Campaigns are also great for weaving posts together into a narrative. For me, it was sharing three core types of content into coherent themes: Surges’ reviews, interviews and curated collections.
I could see the number of posts scheduled for each and review the popularity of each type of content. Unfortunately, you can see metrics for Facebook groups, LinkedIn profiles, and Pinterest boards, but the rest are all there.
I’m so pleased to see this introduced. I’d previously given Buffer a hard time for not giving a calendar view of all scheduled content across platforms.
As of September 2021, you can choose between a weekly or monthly view. Filter by channels. And see a preview of the post.
The new look calendar will only get better too, with the ability to drag-and-drop posts and create posts from within the calendar page coming soon.
You’ve caught their attention on social, now what? Buffer hopes to help you convert their interest with new Start Pages.
These simple yet powerful pages are somewhere to showcase your latest products, content, events and updates with ease.
Start Pages aim to go a few steps further than link-in-bio tools such as Linktree. These are beautiful in comparison. Take one of their templates and customize it with boxes for text, images, videos, social links, and more. Tweak page colors and style as well as add your own images, GIFs, and logos.
It’s certainly no Unbounce, but another welcome way Buffer is empowering its users to squeeze every last lead and sale out of social media.
Never miss a beat.
Buffer’s Engagement tools contain everything you need to stay on top of comments and messages - all from one place. They’ll even flag the most important ones for your attention, show the full correspondence history and how many messages are outstanding.
There’s a heavy dose of AI supporting this, with questions, negative sentiment, possible leads and product enquiries all highlighted as priority tickets.
Creating high-quality content is often a team sport. For an extra $5 per social platform, the Teams Pack acts as the glue between team members. Use it to set access levels, draft posts together, assign actions and define common workflows and approval processes. All essentials for most social media teams.
Previously, adding additional users came at a premium, with the jump from 1 to 2 users on the Pro plan incurring a $50 per month charge. I much prefer the new pricing model.
Another Teams Pack perk is custom reporting. You control what gets reported on, how it looks and the additional commentary that goes with it.
This is much more than just raw data. Buffer’s Analytics will crunch it and serve you with bite-sized insights to optimise your feed and grow your following.
I’m not particularly astute tweeter, so these tools are aimed squarely at time-poor marketers like me. So far I’ve learned that:
Most other tools only report on follower growth, reach, and engagement, so being enlightened as to when, what, and how often to post for maximum gain is a social media manager’s dream. You can also choose to view an individual social account’s performance, dive into individual posts and add all Buffer’s charts to a custom report with the click of a button.
Shopify store owners will be pleased to hear you can now join the dots between your social media marketing and Shopify sales. An awful lot of this insight can be found within Shopify itself - either within the dashboard or reports, where you can drill down in more detail. You can also setup ID tags for individual campaigns in Google Analytics. That said, there is some value in having easy access to everything and being able to act in a few clicks. Insight and action in a single platform.
SInce I last checked, Buffer has added LinkedIn Analytics and Boosted Post Insights to its Analytics armoury. Both hugely important!
Buffer was one of the first tools to go big on Instagram. It’s great to see they’ve not let up.
If you’re trying to grow your brand there, you’ll want them on your team:
There’s normally a workaround for any Buffer feature gaps. For example, as Buffer doesn’t pull content directly from RSS feeds, the likes of Feedly, RSSOwl and Pocket can step up and connect you to all your favorite blogs and news sites. There’s also ReviewPush to publish raving reviews about your product or service. Curated content suggestions from Quuu. Recycle with Hiplay. Share Canva-made content with Buffer’s new Canva integration. Or add a ‘Buffer Button’ to your site so visitors can share your top posts or products to their own Buffer queues.
For everything else, you can concoct your own content recipes with IFTTT and Zapier.
Creating scroll-stopping Instagram content isn’t always easy, even with Unfold and Canva. Rmx by Buffer goes even further by transforming any website URL into beautiful, on-brand Instagram content. The fully-free app is the secret sauce behind many an Instagram star and it can get to work on your feed too.
from $5 per month
Great news on the cost front too! Buffer has completely reworked its pricing, so what was once a $1,000 per year commitment, can be yours from $60-$120 per seat.
The former was probably about right for small businesses but a tad out of reach for freelancers and solo creators.
Registered non-profits receive a 50% discount on all Buffer plans - nice touch!
Buffer isn’t overloaded with features. Others such as Publer and Later, do an awful lot more, however there’s something in its simplicity.
Buffer is as intuitive and reliable as they come, focusing on the tools needed to whip any team into shape to relentlessly and efficiently posting on all platforms with minimum fuss. Priceless for many brands who are either too passive on social or still find themselves jumping between the individual platforms. Far better to collaborate, schedule and review in one place. Buffer coaches you towards becoming a more prolific and proficient poster, with the insights you’ll need to reasonate and grow your brand.
I’m a huge fan of MeetEdgar’s recurring post feature and the ability to generate many variants of a tweet, so it has my money for now. However, the two combined can be very powerful.
Buffer’s Help Centre has fielded just about every question over the years so is a great resource. It’s backed up by very responsive support on social (of course!) or email.
An underrated bonus of becoming a user is the Buffer Community – a place to chat with other social addicts, exchange ideas and strategies, and improve your craft. The community is open and supportive, so whatever level you’re at, you’ll be growing together.
All of the above are available on all plans, even Free.
I’m pleased to report Buffer has given me a new-found enthusiasm for social media with the growth insights to match. After only one week you’ll find yourself more active on social, getting more engagement and flurry of new followers. The best bit is that’s all with relatively little effort and without the usual inevitable distraction that’s comes with posting directly on the platforms.
Buffer is a deceptively simple tool. No showstopping features. No silver social media bullet. Instead Buffer on focuses on a core set of basic features and makes sure it does them better than anybody else. All with the aim of building healthy social media habits.
It’s designed to help you put a system in place to source content (thanks integrations!), organise the troops, tailor to each social network and optimise your publishing schedule. In other words, a well-oiled social media marketing machine at your disposal.
Plus, if you’re building your brand around Instagram, you’re in luck, as Buffer is too. With Stories, Shop Grids, Tagging and First Comments, you’ve everything you need to delight your followers and grow your business.
Buffer’s new Start Pages and reintroduced Engagement tools deserve special praise too. Social media is much more than a broadcasting medium. For most other things, Buffer integrations pick up most of the slack.
I suspect Buffer’s sweet spot is small brands and agencies whose businesses live or die on social media - power users, posting on all platforms, with multiple people chipping in on accounts. Buffer brings order to their chaos, teamwork and full content calendars, with easy-access to the insights they need to justify that investment and constantly improve their craft.
Last but not least, I’m a huge fan of Buffer’s new pricing strategy. Not every feature warrants its own subscription. Its powerful tools are now in the reach of many more people and a no-brainer for most.