[PODCAST] Company culture as marketing with Buffer’s Courtney Seiter

By Chuck Bryant | 5.3.17

Sometimes, the way a company upholds its values can be just as valuable a marketing point as its product, and perhaps nobody knows that better than Buffer Director of People Courtney Seiter, who will be presenting “Company Culture as Marketing” at NAMA Power Lunch on May 4.  

Buffer is a platform for scheduling, sharing and analyzing social media for small businesses, pursuing a two-pronged mission: In addition to giving people a greater voice on social media, Buffer also aims to create the future of work.

“It’s a little bit of a lofty mission there, and it’s kind of up to interpretation sometimes, but we often will talk about what the future of work looks like and how we can get there and how we can help other people talk about that and have those conversations to get there too,” Seiter said.

In order to accomplish this goal, Buffer takes radical approaches to traditional workplace practices.

First, its more than 75 team members are fully remote, with employees living across the world, fostering a global community of both flexibility and creative problem solving.

“We have to create unique ways to work together. If I want to talk to Adnan in Sri Lanka and I want to talk to Hannah in the UK, we’ve got some timezone things, we’ve got some asynchronous communications to overcome,” Seiter said.

Second, Buffer seeks to pioneer a culture of transparency, maintaining measures that not only keep everyone up to date on happenings in the workspace, but giving customers information access as well.

“We have a set of ten values that guide everything we do. One of those is ‘Default to transparency.’ That means, to me, unless there’s a clear tangible reason why you wouldn’t share something within the team and possibly to the wider public, go ahead and share it,” Seiter said. “For us that has created a really wonderful situation where there are no secrets on the team as far as how we work, as far as how we get paid, as far as why we price our product the way we do. And there are no secrets between us and our community and us and our customers.”

In one of its biggest moves of transparency, Buffer began making salaries public in 2013, publishing income numbers for every team member. This move, Seiter said, was a reaction to the lack of guidance available for deciding salaries in tech.

“The idea is when we began to build Buffer in the very early days, there’s a lot of high-level advice on how to pay people, how to structure benefits, but there wasn’t a whole lot for our founders to look at — it was really in the weeds– about how to structure pay and how do you pay people and make sure it’s equitable,” she said.

The move was anxiety-inducing for some team members who were concerned about how people would react once the information was available. However, in the years since Buffer published the numbers, it has proved itself a blueprint for more fair pay and applications to the company have increased by 40 percent.

In addition to transparent salaries, Buffer also allows for email conversations between two or more people to be viewed by any other members of the company, allowing for email trails to be traced back and referenced by anyone who needs them.

Employees also take turns helping out with customer support, allowing them to take part in other means of external transparency as well, showing customers how their money is being spent, and, in Seiter’s experience, seeing how much people appreciate the level of transparency the company upholds.

“The idea is that you as a Buffer customer should know where your money is going to. We respect our customers enough to recognize that’s information they want to know and that it will benefit them and make our relationship stronger to have that knowledge,” she said.

While it takes significant time and effort for a company to implement radical workplace changes like widespread transparency, Seiter said that companies can start by looking into the heart of the company and what drives its mission. Without these goals, it can difficult for companies to put into place future-thinking ways of changing the workplace.

“One thing that people, founders and organizations can do is to look to their values. If they do have values, they tend to be written on a wall or in the breakroom or somewhere not referred to all that often,” Seiter said.

Once those values are identified or created, founders should look for creative new ways to hold people accountable for making progress in company culture, backing them up with policy and experimenting with new methods.

This isn’t something that can be done without a passion behind it, however, Seiter said.

“It has to be genuine and authentic. I don’t think you can start out in this mission thinking ‘Oh, if we share this, the New York Times is going to want our story.’ It has to come form an organic and helpful and authentic and genuine place. People will recognize that and will respond to that. People can also recognize that false note really, really quickly,” she said.

But, if done with a genuine and creative spirit, radical changes in company culture can be a piece of the marketing platform in and of themselves, attracting customers and personalities that are interested and excited to contribute.

“People want to see companies doing good. People want to align themselves with mission, with values they believe in. You have so many choices today; you can choose from any number of products to solve any sort of issue for you, but with that choice there needs to be something else you hang onto. I think values are quickly becoming the thing that I personally choose when I choose a product or a service. And a lot of folks feel that way: They want something more,” Seiter said.

For more information about Buffer, visit them online at buffer.com and check out their transparency blog at open.bufferapp.com.

Seiter will be the keynote speaker at NAMA Power Lunch’s Company Culture as Marketing featuring Buffer on May 4. Register now.

Editor’s Note: The NAMA Power Lunch podcast is a production of Relationary Marketing in partnership with the Nashville American Marketing Association. This episode was produced by Chuck Bryant and host Clark Buckner, edited and mixed by Jess Grommet, with music by Zachary D. Noblitt.

 

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