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One of Buffer’s keystone values is “Default to Transparency.”
We believe not just in sharing, but sharing whenever it’s not impossible. To give you a sense of what this looks like, we share our revenue, equity breakdown, salaries, costs, and even diversity efforts and books we’re reading with the public.
We knew this would be an incredibly fun and wild experiment, and it has been. We’ve also learned just how many (intended and unintended) benefits there are to this crazy way of doing businesses.
Here are three that I’d like to share.
1. Transparency breeds trust with customers
We’ve been lucky enough to witness this several times in Buffer’s history.
This has been true in both types of transparency:
- First, when we systematically choose to open up more about our company and the inner workings
- Secondly, when we’re in crisis
So we simply (and somewhat fanatically) open up about everything we know, with very little filter.
For example, inspired by Everlane’s trailblazing, we decided to do a deep-dive into our own finances, and release a detailed explanation of where every dollar goes when a customer pays for one of our paid plans. (This, of course, had the added benefit of teaching us this information too!)
This invites customers to make an entirely informed decision about whether they believe in what we’re doing, and whether they support our choices. This has proven to be incredibly powerful for us, and has resulted in our customers feeling very connected to us as a brand, and as a team.
This also means that we can essentially crowdsource the evaluation of our formulas and decisions. We have learned so much and improved so fast from the thoughtful observations, corrections, and questions presented in the comments of these blog posts.
A second example is from the time when Buffer got hacked.
Within the next 72 hours, we published everything as we learned it. We sent an email to everyone on our list, tweeted and shared on all social media, posted and regularly updated a status blog post, put a banner on our site, and asked the tech press to help spread the word.
We also responded to every single tweet, email, facebook post, and blog comment that came our way with a question or a concern. For context, here’s what that incoming volume looked like for the month:
By reading our replies to every single question, and seeing numbered, dated, and timed updates on the blog post, our customers and potential customers learned that we will always be honest, even if it’s bad news, even if it’s messy, even if it’s hard.
This led to some truly forgiving, supportive, and kind comments.
In fact, a few days after the hack, a sentiment analysis of our brand on social media was even higher than it was before the event began. Additionally, we had record sign ups in the few days afterward. Read all of the details of how our metrics were affected by the hack here.
Regardless of whether the news is fun and exciting, or really really bad, we share it. Our customers have learned to expect this, so when they have a question or concern, they talk to us, instead of about us or not at all.
A second benefit of this trust is in hiring.
2. Growing the Buffer team has gotten easier, more efficient, and more fun
A second, related benefit of Buffer’s Radical Transparency that shouldn’t be forgotten is how powerful this can also be for recruiting. We’ve gotten more applications than ever before. And the values and expectations of applicants are better aligned with the direction we’re going.
One phrase we hear a lot at Buffer is, “I know more about your company than the company I currently work for. This makes me want to work for you instead.”
In the month after releasing salaries publicly, applications for Buffer open positions more than doubled.
Specifically, we saw 2800 applications in the 30 days after releasing this blog post, compared to 1200 in the 30 days before, a 2.3x increase. We also started saving a lot of time in the process, because we started attracting the types of people who are excited, and not freaked out, by radical transparency. This saves time for us, as well as the people who would have otherwise reached out but ultimately not pursued a role with us.
Here’s a full breakdown of the state of hiring at Buffer in August: how many applications we received, what the onboarding process looks like, and how we’re iterating on the process.
You’ve probably noticed by now that it’s hard for me to talk about any of this without linking to tons of blog posts with more details. This has been pivotal in our marketing in the last 2 years (yet another benefit?).
3. The truth is a content machine
Creating share-worthy content is perhaps the most unintended but hugely beneficial consequence of being transparent about nearly everything.
We have an entire blog dedicated to the inner workings of Buffer. This includes product decisions we make, culture experiments we want to share, and stories about new teammates.
Our incredible blogging and marketing team puts an enormous amount of energy into this blog, and they have helped us build the habit of asking, “is this something we can share publicly?” While the intention of the blog is to help other startups and remove the usual “veil” for anyone who wants to follow along, we’ve learned that this has been one of the biggest drivers of signups for us.
In the past 30 days alone, our top 10 open blog posts have over 50,000 views. And our most popular post, “Introducing Open Salaries at Buffer: Our Transparent Formula and All Individual Salaries,” has over 125,000 views since it was posted in December of 2013.
If your world is content calendars, page views, shares, and finding topics to write about, Radical Transparency may just be a game changer for you!
You can also reach us at @buffer on Twitter, [email protected], and I’m at @carokopp! We’d love to answer any questions at all for you on this, or, well, anything! If we know the answer to your question, we’ll share it. 🙂