Buffer Review: Create unskippable social campaigns with insights on tap

10th September 2020

TL;DR

Buffer is a suite of social media tools to plan, publish and improve your content game with gusto. Use Publish to build attention-grabbing campaigns with your team and manage most of your accounts from one place, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram Stories. Take a second subscription to its Analyze tool to review your campaign performance and make sure you improve with every post. Want to know if it’s right for you? I embarked on a week-long experiment with both sides of Buffer to see if it could fast-track surges.co’s social media strategy and up my engagement. Theory being it could do the same for you.



Loved

  • Campaigns feature
  • Habit-forming UX
  • Easy to master
  • Analyze potential

Loathed

  • Lost connections to accounts
  • LinkedIn blindspots
  • Single-account calendar view
  • Split pricing

The Story

What is Buffer?

For reasons only Buffer can fully explain, there’s two sides to Buffer: Publish and Analyze.

This new, grown up version of Buffer presumably aims to double-down on the scheduling, planning and insights features of the tool that it thinks modern social media teams can’t build a brand without.

Publish is Buffer’s main product, the original. Based on a few killer features, it makes it super easy for teams to collaborate on attention-grabbing content and get it out on many of the key social platforms. Connected to its social analytics arm Analyze, it then gives you the insight you need to really master your art and refine your social media strategy. A godsend given it doesn’t involve setting up any Google Analytics campaign tracking.

There’s a ton of tools you’ll find elsewhere missing here (e.g. replying within the platform, advanced automation and recurring posts) but Buffer believes you can build your brand with a relentless focus on these basics.


Joel Gascoigne

Meet the Maker:
Joel Gascoigne

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 90-person fully remote team with over 70,000 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!

The Product

How we tested Buffer

Commit to Buffer and you’re going to get a bounce in your key social metrics. So, rather than critique Buffer’s key features, I wanted to see what impact the tool could have on my engagement, follower counts and motivation to invest my time and energy on social media. Less review, more experiment.

I decided to take Buffer up on its 14-day free trial of its ‘Buffer for Business’ subscription. For $85 per month for access to Buffer Publish and Buffer Analyze. Two products. One not-at-all-cheap price.

Surges’ social accounts were relatively dormant going into this experiment, with only some recurring posts setup via MeetEdgar. Admittedly starved of engagement. The only features I wasn’t able to road test were the team collaboration tools and Shopify integrations, as I don’t have a store.

Discloser: I have previously been a paid user way back when. A lot has changed since then. Buffer Reply (for customer service) has come and gone. Scheduling and analytics have been split out. Buffer has had a facelift too. So, overdue a re-audition.


Getting started with Buffer

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.

Buffer’s UI is unnervingly simple, making you wonder what you’re actually paying a premium for. Therein lies its beauty. Buffer 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.

Features you’ll love

  • Scheduling (Buffer Publish)

    Posting on 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, all in one place. Handy, yes, but nothing revolutionary there. Still, you’ll soon appreciate the ability to give each of your social accounts its own timezone and posting schedule (e.g. no posting to LinkedIn at weekends). Not all tools let you tag other accounts directly from the platform too.

    Buffer review   Social media compiler   surges.co

    Overall though, there’s a distinct lack of frills. This in the name of speed, which meant I was rapidly build up a bank of content and filling up my calendar in no time.

    In return, I did feel I was being made to sacrifice some key scheduling features found in other tools, such as the ability to reply within the platform, Publer’s auto-comment feature, and MeetEdgar’s recurring posts and auto-variations. There’s also no native importing of content from an RSS feed (achieveable via integrations instead).

    Almost inexcusable is the fact that you can’t see a uniformed view of all your posts planned across all platforms in the calendar. I also found that Buffer kept losing connection from my social accounts for no reason. This seriously undermined its ability to schedule anything on the affected days and needs fixing.

    Buffer review   Social media calendar   surges.co

    Unless you’ve got Analyze subscription, analytics is limited to individual posts, which could be a major source of frustration for some. Plenty of room for improvement then!

  • 💼 Campaigns (Buffer Publish)

    Social media marketing is not just a numbers game. You’re going to need to weave posts together and create a narrative with campaigns. For me, it was sharing three types of content (my reviews, interviews and curated collections) and trying to spark a conversation with fellow indie makers.

    Buffer’s new Campaigns feature is your friend here. Set campaigns up early and thank your new organised self later. Use it to store all your future and past posts, so you can keep on top of plans and performance with minimal effort. Perfect for focussing your team on a single objective or managing client accounts. Once you have created your campaigns in Buffer Publish, you can pop over to Buffer Analyze to see the performance of your campaigns.

    This feature seems an absolute no-brainer so, again, it’s crazy it wasn’t once a thing. I’m sure it’s something Buffer will be building on.

  • 🤼 Collaboration tools (Buffer Publish)

    Not a set of features I used but creating high-quality content is normally a team sport. Buffer is the glue between users, as you assign accounts and set access levels, draft posts together and define your approvals process. Essentials for most social media marketing teams.

    Adding additional users comes at a premium though, with the jump from 1 to 2 users on the Pro plan incurring a $50 per month charge. Pricy!

  • 📸 Special features for Instagram (Buffer Publish)

    If you’re trying to grow your brand on Instagram, you’ll want Buffer on your team. Their essential Instagram features include:

    • Direct scheduling - Prepare and schedule your posts to your personal or business profiles • Tagging – Add your location to posts and tag other profiles directly in Buffer • First comment – Automatically post the first comment e.g. for hashtags • Diary prompts – Get a mobile notification when it’s time to share your pre-prepared posts • Shop grid (Premium) - A grid-inspired landing page to sell your hot products from • Stories Creator (Premium) – Craft and schedule beautiful insta-stories from Buffer

    Publish plan instagram schedule stories v2

    I don’t want to cause a scene, but this is the game changing side of Buffer. However, until they can roll-out this standard of features to all platforms there’s still work to do.

  • 📊 Analyze – separate subscription needed

    This is much more than just raw data. Analyze will crunch it and spit out bite-sized insights to help you to keep optimising your feeds and growing your brand.

    I’m not particularly astute tweeter, posting what and when I like, so Analyze is aimed squarely at time-poor marketers like me. So far I’ve learned that:

    • Mondays and Wednesdays are my most engaging days, performing 3-4x better than others
    • Posting links vs text only drives 3x the engagement
    • Posting eight times daily earns me the highest engagement rate
    • Using niche hashtags drives far better results vs. catchall terms such as ‘#SEO’
    Buffer review Social media analyze surges.co

    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 Analyse’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 results (premium feature). 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.

    It’s very much early days for Analyse though, so there’s no insights on Twitter ads yet and absolutely zero LinkedIn analytics.

    That said, I managed to glean a lot from Analyze during this 7-day experiment – lessons that that shape how I post on social from hereon in. Does it justify an extra $35-$50 per month? I’m certain that if you sell through social media and religiously follow Analyze’s advice, it’ll pay for itself a few times over.

Things to consider

  • Feature-saving integrations

    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. And even 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.

  • A shortcut to Instagram greatness

    Creating scroll-stopping content from scratch isn’t always easy. Thankfully content template apps such as Unfold and Canva make like a little easier with easy-to-use templates. 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.

    Find out more

Buffer Pricing

from $15 per month

100 scheduled posts

I’ll put it bluntly: Buffer is not cheap. Nor is it overloaded with features.

For me, there’s also too big a gap between its Pro and Premium Plans, with the former limited to only 100 scheduled posts. Buffer for Business is where it’s at, offering two products, Analyze and Publish, for one price. In addition to 2,000 schedule posts, you’ll access Instagram Stories and Shop Grid, plus get additional team management features. That’s a $1,000 a year commitment, which is 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 Alternatives

With a tight core feature set, Buffer does make itself an easy target for competitors. Others such as Publer, Hootsuite and Later, do an awful lot more, for an awful lot less.

That said, Buffer is as intuitive and reliable as they come, doubling down on the tools needed to whip any team into shape to relentlessly and efficiently posting on all platforms with minimum fuss. That change of pace is priceless for many brands who are either silent on social or find themselves jumping between the individual platforms. Far better to collaborate, schedule and review in one place.

As somebody who only uses Twitter and LinkedIn for business, Buffer just isn’t aimed at me. To even consider switching, it’ll need to sort out its LinkedIn blindspots and the ability to schedule recurring posts and generate auto-variations, as per MeetEdgar.

Buffer Support   👍  or   👎

Buffer covers all bases here.

The Buffer 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.

The Verdict

Surges score

75%

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, I’m more active on social, getting more engagement and have a trickle 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 from the platforms.

You see, behind Buffer’s glossy public persona lies 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. Its Analyze arm also deserves special mention. Sure, it’s early days, but Buffer is doubling-down on growth insights and finding the root cause of sales – something we all should be doing.

But I can’t quite help feeling Buffer is capable of more…

This product strategy leaves gaps. Not all platforms get equal treatment causing some, like LinkedIn, to be left behind entirely. There’s also a notable absence of time-saving tools, such as recurring posts, auto-variations, RSS feeds imports and no means of replying within the platform since the sunsetting of Buffer Reply. Buffer integrations pick up some of that slack, but not all.

That’s why Buffer feels unfinished to me. Those missing features will be non-starters for some, but for others it gives them much-needed focus. I suspect Buffer’s sweet spot is small brands 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. Any other features are just clutter.

That’s why Buffer can charge a premium for its services. A must-have tool for brands build on social or the agencies serving them that can’t ever drop the ball.

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