Deconstructing Buffer’s Podcast: 2 Things They Nail & 2 Things They Need
Want to skip the reading and listen instead? Your wish is my command:
The name is different from competitors. The tagline is killer. And they’ve shown no fear of tinkering.
That’s the good news for Buffer’s Science of Social Media podcast. But there’s more that the duo behind the show can do — without adding any time to their incredibly busy days. Let’s deconstruct one of the most popular shows in business today…
Welcome to my first column in a series of columns deconstructing popular podcasts. My hope in writing this is to help makers and marketers create better shows to better hold attention, as well as prove that you don’t need more time, team, or budget to make a great podcast. You just need to apply more creative rigor to the process, the same way most marketers apply rigor to the distribution and measurement of their work.
As a reminder, you can always get more deconstructions of great content over in The Maker Channel, my public laboratory for testing new shows about work and building a community of driven makers and marketers. Subscribe free on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or wherever you listen.
Inside Buffer’s Podcast
Buffer makes social media marketing and analytics software. Their blog and social media following are, predictably, killer. Gotta practice what you preach, right? But on their podcast, they rarely preach. And perhaps that’s the biggest shortcoming of the show. We’ll get to that in a second.
The Science of Social Media podcast has evolved over the years. Their title has always been strong, but their tagline used to make them sound like every other podcasts in their space — something about inspiring marketers everywhere. But that name, oh that name! Luckily, with some cajoling from yours truly, they are now benefitting from a better tagline to entice subscription: “Your weekly sandbox for social media stories, insights, experimentation, and learning.” (I still wish they’d actually share crazy experiments run by marketers, but one step at a time.)
Their co-hosts, digital marketing manager Brian Peters and their public relations manager Hailley Griffis, seem unafraid to evolve the format. When I spoke to Brian about two years ago, he described a common issue facing many in-house brand podcasters: time. Brian and Hailley split their time across many duties, and so the show is a labor of love. And man, have they labored on it. They used to do straight up interviews, evolving next to do some story-style episodes, and more recently, they’ve landed on a news-style show. They give you a rundown of items and articles to know from around the marketing world, sharing both the facts of the case and their own analysis.
Let’s take a look at one episode in particular to pick out two things they do well, and two things they could try to keep improving and growing the show. This is episode 92, “20+ Key Social Demographic Facts, Facebook Q1 Earnings Report is Here, What Elon Musk Taught the Co-Founder of HubSpot, & More!” (Right there, we may have found one big thing to improve. Again, let’s focus on the good first…)
2 Things They Nail: Organization and Length
Lest you believe that these two things seem less-than-crucial, close your eyes for a second and imagine something. (Wait, hold on, don’t close them yet. Keep reading. But then, yeah, definitely close ’em. OK, the reading part first…)
Imagine you are in a coffee shop, and you’re about to eavesdrop on a conversation between two people sitting next to you. These people know each other from hours upon hours of weekly interactions. They’re colleagues and even friends. They have inside jokes. Personality quirks. Literally years of context on each other.
How much of that conversation would you understand? Maybe enough to keep listening — for a time. Maybe you refocus your attention elsewhere, because you lose the two friends eventually. Or maybe you keep listening, but it’s quite passive. You don’t remember a single thing that was said once you leave that coffee shop.
This is how many co-hosted shows act. There’s so much shared history between the two people that they forget the listener. They excitedly talk about everyone and everything that they have in common, which isolates many people trying to become part of that relationship. That’s what a podcast is, after all: a relationship with a voice or voices. It’s intimacy that scales. But to truly capture this kind of benefit between host (or hosts) and audience, one must remember to walk every step of the way with the other person listening. You can’t leap right into meandering banter or inside jokes. That’s fine for some recurring listeners, but the vast majority of people who aren’t in the room — and probably all new listeners — can’t keep up.
Buffer’s co-hosts seem to know that. They set a firm agenda in UNDER ONE MINUTE up front. Best of all, they tease the episode’s value for the listener. They state what they will explore, but they frame things in open-ended fashion. For instance, they hint at some big takeaways from Facebook’s new announcements. They don’t tell you what they are though. They hint at a great article from HubSpot’s CTO Dharmesh Shah and how he says he’s learned something from a meeting with Elon Musk. But again, they don’t tell you what it is.
Most B2B show hosts over-summarize. They give away everything instead of encouraging further listening. Not Brian and Hailley. They give you an agenda, then they use “stings’ (short moments of music) to move from item to item throughout the show. It’s like an ESPN program that shows you the rundown of the show right on the screen. If you don’t like hearing about baseball, that’s okay, they’re gonna talk about LeBron James next.
Nice job by Buffer at raising our anticipation early in the show, breaking up the body using stings throughout.
Additionally, Brian told me he wants to own the 12-to-15-minute podcast space for marketers. That’s a great little niche to carve. His topical focus is saturated — marketers are great at marketing marketing knowledge to other marketers on their marketing podcasts. Hashtag marketing. However, the vast majority of those shows are 30 to 45 minutes, with some touching an hour or more. Buffer as an app helps you quickly schedule, share, and measure social content. Similarly, their podcast helps you quickly understand what happened and why it mattered in the week that was in social media. Both product and podcast (a content product, really) mimic each other. Brilliant. They’re all about injecting value into your life at Buffer. That much is clear.
2 Things They Need: Conflict and Passion
On the flip side of this audio file, the Buffer podcast could benefit from some more disagreements and a ton more passion.
First and foremost, when you have two co-hosts, especially when those co-hosts work together on more than the podcast, the biggest danger is too many agreements. Sounds innocuous enough, no? But in reality, conflict is why people listen, watch, read, or participate. There’s the extreme version of this (talking head sports or politics or business shows, with pundits almost forcing the issue by taking opposing stances). Then there’s the tactful version (co-hosts ensuring that there’s a well-rounded argument being made, whether by sharing the opposing possibilities or by building on top of what the other person said).
This problem plagues panels of experts at events, too. I’m sure you’ve witnessed this issue yourself. Someone will make their point, followed by every other person simply agreeing with what was said before and providing what amounts to a synonym of what was already said.
Boring. As. Sin.
Just as big an issue as boredom, however, is the fact that you start to lose listener attention. Imagine a show where the first person says something, and the other person says something like, “Yanno … I disagree.”
You have NO idea what she’s going to say next, but you’re damn sure not going to tune out. And if we respect the psychology of the audio medium, we need to care about people tuning out. There’s only one way to interact: listen. If someone hits play, make sure they don’t hit stop. In other words, the Golden Rule of Audio is “get them to the end.” You can “yes” the content to death to the point where it’s not worth hearing what the second person has to say anymore.
I’d encourage the Buffer duo to disagree more. They don’t have to argue (though that does indeed make for great tape), but they should look for ways to explore both sides to an issue, or proactively include stories where they have differing and opposing opinions. It’s possible to honor the core brand message or POV of Buffer while having micro-opinions that differ underneath that.
In addition to these moments of disagreeing or, at very least, adding something new to what was said by the other person, I’d love to hear more passion from the co-hosts. They’re very matter-of-fact, which is a testament more than a detriment. They are smart, driven marketers. They understand the facts. But merely presenting them at face value can be too vanilla, too one-note. There’s not enough emotional pull to really rally the audience around Buffer’s mission — their “why” — nor the personalities of the show. Again, audio is an intimate medium. Voice is just about the most human thing imaginable. But voice void of emotion can feel … weird. Brian and Hailley can avoid that issue by inserting an op-ed section, a “closing shots” kind of outro, or simply by allowing themselves the leash to rant or rave a bit more. (I know Brian in real life. He’s a passionate dude.)
Hear Brian and I Deconstruct Buffer’s Podcast
In the end, Buffer’s show is succeeding because Brian and Hailley never get complacent. I know they’re excited for the future of the show. I also know they are strapped for time and resources. My advice to them: Keep up and keep improving the show organization. Experiment with other ways that short-form content can serve your audience, news-style or otherwise. And lastly, experiment with ways you can add more tactful conflict and debate to the show, while injecting the passion I know you feel when the microphones are switched off.
To you, the reader: I’d like to invite you now to listen to a conversation between Brian and me where I play clips of his show and we deconstruct things together. We get really deep into the magical nuance of making stuff, while zooming way out again to talk content strategy and career fulfillment. It was a refreshingly honest conversation with Brian, and I think you’ll love it!
Founder of Unthinkable Media. Believer that exceptional work happens when you find and follow what makes you an exception. Ex-Google, HubSpot, NextView (VC). Speaks on stages and into microphones for a living. What a weird and wonderful life. #MakeShowsNotPieces