Here’s the slide deck for my presentation at the recent HubSpot Singapore Meetup: Building a Winning Content Marketing Strategy:

Thank you for checking it out! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or tweet me at @alfred_lua.

Leading the Buffer mobile acquisition squad

In the Buffer’s marketing team, we have been experimenting with a new squad format for the past few months. Here’s how I ran the squad for a recent product cycle.

While the marketing team continues to work on our ongoing projects, such as the blog and social media, the marketing squad focuses on a specific meaningful metric and try to move the needle. We focused on churn for six weeks (the length of our product cycle, which we also follow in the marketing team) and mobile acquisition for another six weeks.

For that two cycles, participation was voluntary. Anyone can opt in or opt out before a cycle started. I joined as a member of the squad for the first cycle and was offered an opportunity to lead the squad for the second cycle. This was the first time I’m leading a team at work so I was really excited about it (though I very much saw it as helping to organize and coordinate things in the squad to keep it running smoothly).

The squad processes

Here’s an overview of how I ran the squad, iterating from the previous cycle with the things we learned.

We followed the growth machine model by Brian Balfour. Even though the model is meant for growth teams, we found it useful for us. (I’m sure our processes aren’t perfect. If you have any suggestions for us, I would love to hear them!)

1. Planning

First, we decide on the metric and plan for the cycle.

In between each product cycle, we have a two-week period for reflection, rest, and planning for the next cycle. During this time, I worked with my team lead, Kevan Lee, to decide on the metric for the squad. We eventually decided on mobile downloads for new-to-Buffer users for a number of reasons:

  • After looking at the breakdown of our Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) growth components, we discovered that the two areas that would make a meaningful impact on our MRR growth are new paying customers and churn.
  • The way our marketing team is set up is more suited for top-of-the-funnel, awareness and acquisition projects than bottom-of-the-funnel, retention projects, which we tried in the previous cycle.
  • As a marketing team, we have always been focusing on acquisition for Buffer’s web application. So there might be some hidden opportunities around our mobile apps that can make a meaningful impact.
  • We had several good sources of data to rely on, such as Looker, Apple App Store analytics, and Google Play Store Console.

Once we decided on the metric, I created a document with all the information we required for the cycle. This served as the backbone of the cycle, a place where everyone can come and find out what’s going on. It included the context of the squad (who’s involved, what’s the duration, etc.), our goal and projection, the data and data sources we have, and a brief timeline.

The main bulk of the document is where we state and track our processes, which are brainstorm, prioritize, test, implement, analyze, and learnings. Here are a few screenshots of the document:

The context of the project

Squad context

Our brainstorming prompts

Squad brainstorm

2. Kickoff and brainstorm

On the first day of the cycle, we had a kickoff sync (our term for a video call), where I shared the document and the key information and we brainstormed.

The approach I took with the brainstorm is this: Everyone brainstormed on their own for 10 minutes before adding their ideas to the document. Then each of us presented our ideas while the rest chimed in whenever we saw an opportunity to build on the idea.

Research has shown that brainstorming alone leads to more ideas, and more good ideas, than brainstorming in groups.

The idea of the brainstorm was to get creative and list as many ideas as possible first. We also recognize that we might not have the full context of an idea without researching into it. So we avoided criticizing ideas at this stage. This also prevented us from creating any stop energy.

It’s only in the next stage where we evaluated the ideas.

3. Prioritization of ideas

Next, we prioritized our ideas using the ICE score system.

The ICE score system is a framework by Sean Ellis of GrowthHackers. Here’s what ICE stands for:

  • Impact is the predicted amount that this idea, if done successfully, will mean to our metric.
  • Confidence is related to how probable we expect our success; low is for things we’ve never done before and high is for things we’ve experimented with.
  • Ease relates to resources — what do we need to implement? Time? Money? Engineering help?

We scored each ICE element on a scale of 1 to 5 (low to high) and then totaled the points (maximum 15).

Here are some ideas that I scored and ranked:

Squad prioritization

(☝️ One thing I learned during the cycle is that I could craft more specific hypotheses and be more quantitative about the predicted impact.)

This step is to help ensure that we would work on the most impactful idea, given the number of resources we have. In the previous cycle, we picked ideas to work on before scoring them with this system. I felt that this might mean that we weren’t working on the most impactful ideas first. So I swopped the sequence — prioritize before picking the ideas.

4. Experimentation and learnings

Then, we ran experiments, analyzed our results, and recorded our learnings.

This stage takes up the bulk of the cycle. We picked experiments to run based on their ICE score to ensure that we are working on the most impactful ideas first. For smaller experiments, one person would usually run with the idea himself. For bigger experiments, a few of us would collaborate.

We were lucky to have Matt Allen, our data analyst, who allocated 50 percent of his time to help with marketing data. He helped us with our experiment planning, getting the necessary data, and analyzing our results. Oh, and making sure that we weren’t p-hacking!

The most important part of this stage and the entire cycle is recording our learnings.

As mobile acquisition is an area that we have not explored before, we expected that many experiments would fail. But the main focus for us is to maximize our learnings. How does the app store (listing, ads, etc.) work? Why did an experiment succeed or fail? How can we improve the experiment based on what we have learned?

To help us be more intentional about maximizing our learnings, I created a document (linked from the main document) for us to record our learnings every week.

Squad learnings

5. Retrospective

At the end of the cycle, we had a retrospective sync to reflect on the cycle, discuss our learnings, and suggest ideas for the next cycle and beyond.

While the cycle wasn’t spectacular in terms of the mobile download numbers, everyone in the squad seemed to be encouraged by the learnings and potential ways for improvements we took away from the six weeks. (I’m impressed by what we have learned.)

An experiment on its own

The squad itself was an experiment to see if this team structure would work well for us. Overall, we are happy with this structure as it made ownership of metrics clearer and led to more collaboration between team members. Hence, we are implementing this structure for the entire marketing team. The marketing team will be split into two squads to focus on branding and acquisition.

Of course, I don’t think we have everything figured out yet. We’ll be learning and tweaking the system as we go. But I’m excited about what we will achieve in this new team structure.

I’m honored to be asked to be the liaison for the acquisition squad, helping to set goals, manage projects, and keep things running smoothly. It’ll be great to get any advice on this. If you know anyone who is doing something similar, I’ll be grateful if you could introduce me to the person. Thank you!

The awesome featured image is by William Hook, taken from Unsplash.

How I became a content crafter at Buffer

That’s me in that bright blue down jacket. Here’s my story of how I became a content crafter at Buffer, writing for more than a million monthly readers. Spoiler: A lot of luck, help, and hard work were involved.

A year after I joined Buffer as a community champion, the decision was made that the community team would join the marketing team. At around the same time, I moved back to Singapore, which created a time zone challenge for me. It became tricky for me to serve our community as our community is made up of mostly people in the US and UK.

When I was navigating the challenges, my team lead, Kevan Lee, asked me if I want to write a blog post for the Buffer Social blog. Write for one of the best social media marketing blogs, one that’s read by over a million people every month, one that I’ve been reading for years? Well, yeah!

But I was also afraid. I was never great in English since primary school. Just in the few years before, I almost failed all the university modules that had required me to write an essay. The idea of writing for a company blog was intimidating. But if it’s just one blog post? I think I can do it.

My first blog post

I wasn’t left to write the blog post on my own. Kevan and I brainstormed on a few ideas and eventually decided on a listicle of brands and individuals that are doing cool things with Instagram Stories, a new feature at that time. I believe we chose the listicle idea because it was easier to write than an opinionated or thought-leadership piece. It took me almost a week to put a draft together while juggling a few other tasks. I then shared the draft with Kevan.

Thinking back now, the draft was alright but probably not good enough. The blog post didn’t flow well, the sub-headings weren’t that helpful, and the content wasn’t as actionable as it could be. Kevan made a few edits and ask me how I felt about those changes.

It was a nice way to let me know how I could improve my draft without making me feel I’m not good enough. It was also easy to take in those feedback as the edits weren’t forced onto me; I was invited to a conversation. I then edited the draft according to the feedback and sent it back to Kevan.

After a few rounds of back-and-forth, along with Kevan’s kind feedback and encouragement, I published my first blog post for the Buffer Social blog. It sounds silly now but I’m sure I was over the moon then.

My first Buffer Social blog post

Writing more

Then, I wrote my second blog post. My third. My fourth. No overnight success here. I still took about a week to write a draft and would get numerous feedback and edits before my draft was published.

I wanted to get better, and I knew that I had to write more. So I subscribed to 750 Words and wrote every day. My morning routine looked like this: wake up at 6 am, have my breakfast, and write for about one to two hours. I’ll write about anything that came to mind. My reflections about life, my fears, my marketing ideas. I did this for about two months, missing only a few days.

750 Words

I also tried deconstructing the blog posts on a few of my favorite blogs, such as the Buffer Social blog and James Clear’s blog. Then tried writing like them. My writing was never as good as theirs but I gained a better understanding of the elements of a great blog post.

Another thing I did (and am still doing) was to brush up on my English foundation. Whenever Kevan corrected my grammar or sentence structure, I would note it down. I also downloaded Grammarly to help me spot my mistakes.

During this period, I constantly felt like an imposter. Writing has always been my weakness since primary school. Am I really good enough to be writing for a well-known blog in the industry? I remember having many conversations about this with Kevan and Ash Read, our blog editor. They both shared that it’s something they felt and were still feeling in their new roles. With the kind words of encouragement, I felt better.

Despite suffering from the imposter syndrome, I enjoyed what I was doing with the blog. With Kevan’s help, I slowly transitioned out of my role as a community champion, and my teammate, Arielle Tannenbaum, took over my community projects. As a passionate community builder, she has since been running those projects (and more) better than I could have. Having more time on hand, I leaned into the role more, wrote more, and got more involved with the blog.

2017 and beyond

Over 2017, things became better gradually. I was able to write faster, and there were fewer back-and-forth feedback conversations. Instead of just picking topic ideas from our editorial calendar, I was able to come up with new ones. I wrote and wrote. Eventually, I published 54 blog posts on the Buffer Social blog and was invited to share my content marketing experiences on a few occasions in 2017.

Of course, I’m nowhere near being a writing or content marketing expert. For example, while I’m familiar with writing instructional (“how to”) blog posts, I’m not good at writing stories and interviews, like those amazing articles on First Round Review. Also, content marketing (or crafting) goes beyond just writing blog posts and includes writing ebooks, creating graphics and videos, recording podcasts, and more, which I do not have much experience in yet. There’s still a lot to learn.

That is my story of becoming a marketer and a content crafter at Buffer so far. What’s your story?

The awesome featured image above is by Todd Balsley.