Our customers are the true heart of all we do here at Buffer — and we want to make sure the community knows it. We work on this in lots of ways—from striving for excellent customer support to hosting meetups to sending hand-written notes, swag and special gifts.

From the very beginnings of Buffer, our founder and co-founder, Joel and Leo, sent hand-written thank-you cards and stickers to customers. They recognized the value of one-on-one relationships and how going an extra step can help show how much we truly appreciate our customers.

Since then, we’ve continued in and grown the tradition of showing our love to the community through a variety of ways. Here’s a look inside a few things we do, along with a transparent look at the processes and costs.
pablo

The Buffer swag routine

As part of my role as Buffer’s Community Champion, I dedicate 50-60% of my time to managing swag stock, packaging, writing cards and gathering addresses.

I spend 1-1.5 days a week where the entire focus of the day is “Buffer love,” and I go drop items off at UPS about once a week.

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We average 40 to 60 cards and packages mailed each week. In the past year we have mailed more than 1,200 hand-written cards, gifts and more.

Who gets some swag? We operate out of a spirit of abundance and will send goodies to anyone, (pretty much) anywhere! (We have yet to send anything to Antarctica, as far as I know.)

We try to ask for an address anytime we get a hint that someone might need swag, for any reason. We also reach out to new faces at our weekly Twitter chat, #bufferchat, and thank them with a personalized note and stickers.

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Anytime a new team member joins Buffer, I encourage them to be on the lookout for any potential community members or industry partners who would enjoy some Buffer gear. Up to 10 percent of our mailings come from team member suggestions, and I’m so honored to include that team member’s name on the card. :)

Five ways we work hard to delight our community

1. Know your company’s values and vision

Buffer’s values are ingrained in every decision and action we take—from the wording of cards to the quality and type of swag items we purchase. Everything reflects on our company and team, so we strive to uphold the highest of standards.

We have an over-arching Buffer voice and tone, but each card reflects a more tailored personal voice (and handwriting!). For example, Dave in the UK also sends out some cards, and his sentiments might sound and look a bit different than mine.

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2. Take the extra minute or two to learn more about your community

Many times, a quick read through a customer’s Twitter or Facebook profile will reveal some details that will help you craft the perfect hand-written note or unique gift.

For example, you might discover the community member is a big time dog-lover. Perhaps some dog treats would be a great surprise!

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I particularly like to dig into the details of our #bufferchat guests and find special ways to delight them.

One example is Nick Westergaard, social media expert and a recent awesome guest. He mentioned his children in the chat and also told us how he keeps little red Moleskine notebooks in his back pocket for ideas. Instantly, I knew the perfect gifts to thank him for all the effort he put into sharing his expertise with our audience!
Here’s a screenshot from his blog reflecting on the gifts.

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3. Read between the lines

Our happiness team is able to spot when there might be an opportunity to send a ray of sunshine to brighten someone’s day. They’re experts at empathy.

It’s not just the happy customers who need a thank-you. It is also the ones who have pioneered through some tough times or been patient while getting to the bottom of a bug.

In one instance, our happiness hero, Adam, spotted on a customer’s Google+ profile that he’d recently gone through a rather trying time in his family, and it struck Adam at a very personal level. He passed this along to me and we crafted a note together with a Buffer T-shirt and hoped to offer a bit of comfort.

4. Forge relationships with your vendors

When it comes to keeping swag in stock and plenty of blank cards around to fill with thank-yous, having a great working relationship with your printer, vendors and post office will create a smooth workflow to optimize your time and allow you to scale the amount of appreciation you can send out!

I’m very fortunate to have an entire room that serves as my home office, which allows for plenty of storage space and the ability to ship out a lot of swag. If you have storage limitations, other options might include services like Shyp or fulfillment services like Printfection to store and ship.

Whatever route you choose, you’ll likely work closely with those vendors. Sometimes, swag and thank-you cards are appropriate for them, too!

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5. Keep the focus on your community

It can be a bit tough to measure the ROI of a thank-you card, though it’s not always about the numbers. We’re so grateful for the community and hope they truly know it.

We’ve also learned it’s not about the size of the gift, but the heart behind it. Many times, our community members are happier about the hand-written note than the stickers or shirts. This makes me think that this sort of connection is attainable at any size company on any budget. Maybe test it out and see how it works for you. :)

The tools we use

Trello

I keep track of all our “Buffer love” with a Trello board available to all team members. It’s got a list of “To Do” tickets, “Done” and “Pending” tickets.

trello use for buffer love

We’ve found this to be a great way for any team member to add a swag recipient to our list, and keeping track this way also allows us to archive and keep addresses on file in case we ever want to send out some more goodies. Trello is also helpful with being able to search current and past tickets.

Google

Sometimes a little online digging can lead to an office building’s address so you can send some unexpected delight!

Pens

I’m partial to gel and ultra fine-tip pens, and love Pilot G2 (.38) as well as Signo DX (.38) pens. I also use my precious fountain pen, delivered from Europe by dear team mate, Dave.

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Notecards and envelopes

Paper quality and thickness are important —the feel of a card can say as much as the writing. We use a 100# paper stock with a linen texture. We’re also experimenting with a smooth finish for the next batch of 500 cards.

When you’re looking for paper and quality, it can be helpful request samples.

Return address stamp

If you work with a custom printer, you can have your business address printed on the envelope for a few more cents per envelope. At Buffer, we wanted to go for a bit more of a personalized feel, and I hand-wrote out the address for many months.

To help scale a bit, I found a custom return address stamp and used a jpeg of my own handwriting with the Buffer logo. It feels personal and the stamps have lasted through more than a thousand cards. Well worth it!

UPS Store

We have a business account with UPS, and the awesome folks at the UPS store know me right away. They help with special packaging, label and ship big items and also assist with international shipping. They’re like an extension of the Buffer team and help make my job so much easier. Finding folks you trust and enjoy working with is so essential.

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Boxes and shipping supplies

Most of my shipping supplies (tissue paper, bubble wrap, poly mailers, cardboard boxes, mailing labels, etc) I’ve ordered through Amazon or the local OfficeMax store. Your shipping supplier might have these as well and can package for you if you don’t have much space to store all these goodies.

Packaging can help set the first impression with your community delight, so I include a fun-colored tissue paper to give a “gifty” feeling. We also include our values on the packaging for an extra bit of personality.

What all this stuff costs

Notecards: $.92 each

We use a Portland, Oregon, vendor (just down the road for me!) called Alphagraphics for our notecards, and we rely on their expertise and knowledge of the best quality for the best price. Many times, printers will work within your budget and help you find the best option for your needs.

  • Notecards: $.92 per card/envelope
  • Mailing cost: $.49 domestic, $1.15 international

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For miscellaneous stationery (birthdays, thank-yous, everything!), I turn to Paper Source. They have great quality, price and personality.

T-shirts: $9.47 each

We love soft, quality shirts and hoodies! We’ve found Jakprints to be a wonderful vendor for shirts. Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.48.49 AM

  • Hoodies $23.07 each*
  • Mailing cost: $8-15 domestic
  • T-shirts $9.47 each*
  • Mailing cost: $5 domestic

Moleskine notebooks: $6.80-$19.74 each

Many of our team members are huge fans of Moleskine, so when it came to looking for Buffer-branded notebooks, we decided to go with those. The team at JenniBick offer amazing support and service along with many customizable options for the notebooks. We’ve purchased several different sizes and have been very pleased.

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  • Volant Moleskines: $6.80 each
  • Mailing cost: $2-3 domestic
  • Small Moleskins: $14.45
  • Mailing cost: $3-5 domestic
  • Large Moleskines: $19.74
  • Mailing cost: $5 – $8 domestic

Stickers: $.29-$.56 each

StickerMule has great service, timely delivery and awesome prices. We also have our own little marketplace within Sticker Mule for those who might want to purchase stickers (though we’re always happy to mail some out to you!)

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  • Full logo: $.29 each
  • Small icon: $.28 each
  • Clear icon: $.56 each
  • Values: $.38 each

Mugs: $9.11

Mugs are amazing, though it’s important to note they can be quite expensive to ship.

When looking for mugs, we tested several brands and sizes to find the just right fit. After some advice from tea and coffee-drinkers within the team, we opted for a hearty 16-oz mug with a fun green inside (which matches the interior paint of our San Francisco headquarters). 4Imprint is great to send free samples to test and examine the quality of the products and printing.

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  • Mugs: $9.11 each
  • Mailing cost: $15 domestic, up to $100 international

*Costs are calculated to include average shipping. Per-unit costs vary based on the total quantity ordered.  

Buffer swag snowboard

Over to you

How do you delight your community?  Are there any gifts you’ve sent out that have impacted your community? I’d love to hear all about it and answer any questions about our community delight process in the comments!

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Written by Nicole Miller

Community Champion at Buffer. Writer, reader, dreamer. Hanging around the home office with a baby, some chickens, ducks, dogs and horses.

  • Of all that swag, the Buffer tee has to be the most awesome ;)

    • I agree with Daniel on the Buffer tee shirts being awesome! Though I think I’d rock a zip up hoodie myself as it’s chilly where I am. Must order one someday!

      Thanks for sharing this post, Nicole! That is definitely a lot of smile-producing work you do each week! I love all the great ideas for gifts to send out to fans & community members (like we don’t have enough reasons to adore the Buffer team!).

      Recently, while working on a project for a client, I ended up ordering stickers to send to people along with their purchase. One customer even put a sticker on his guitar and played with it during a show for a small venue in his home state. Talk about above-and-beyond-advertising!

      Keep the posts coming, always a rewarding read!
      Amanda

      PS –> Once again, thanks for sending me some buffer stickers and the hand written note! The hardest part is choosing between 100 different items to put them on haha I <3 them :)

  • Kara Jo

    Love this, Nicole! Being a Community Coordinator must be a really rewarding position. Seeing all the ways that you connect with Buffer’s customers is giving me some great ideas for my own business. Thank you for sharing!

  • This is great. If you have an extra mug or t-shirt that needs a good home, I’d gladly oblige. :)

  • Simone Barbero

    Really love this Post.

    Just received the hand written post card and stickers. Loved them very much.
    This is customer service at its finest :)

  • Cal Bachand

    Great post Nicole! As someone who has recently been on the receiving end of a card and a few stickers I can confirm that it creates a very personal and profound connection. The card is on my wall beside my desk and I’m saving the stickers for my soon to be bought laptop. :)

    Have you ever thought about opening a Buffer store? Something like what Evernote is doing: https://www.evernote.com/market/catalog

    • In my experience working with (literally) hundreds of companies helping them manage swag, a store sounds great but in reality nobody purchases out of the store except employees.

      I’d highly suggest all companies start out giving away their swag. It also makes it more special knowing you got something from a company you *cannot* buy!

      • Cal Bachand

        Totally agree with you on that Casey, thanks for sharing your experience! :)

  • Great post, Nicole! Quick question: how do you go about asking for someone’s address? I know some folks are a little bit skeptical about sharing such information online.

    • DM on Twitter was my case

    • Jinia Parker

      Yep, DM! Buffer’s transparency meant it was easy to check it was legitimate with just a bit of google work!

    • Another option is to provide a URL with a form that allows them to privately enter a size and address (people don’t always love sharing their size details).

      This is what we offer at Printfection with our Giveaway platform. But it could probably also be done via a custom landing page form if you wanted a DIY workflow.

  • Juuuuuust in case anyone else was curious here are all the Buffer stickers you can buy on Sticker Mule :) https://www.stickermule.com/user/1069829130/stickers

    • Charles Vickery

      thanks @amandasabroad:disqus!

  • Thanks for sharing all this, Nicole! My team is often looking for gift ideas for our community and this post is a hugely helpful starting point for us!

  • Charles Vickery

    Thanks for the insightful post, Nicole! As community manager at Sourcegraph, I use Shyp a lot for packaging and shipping and it saves a lot of time. Just wanted to share a tip!

  • Oh, what a great post Nicole! I was just thinking last week about a post like this and if you’ll ever write about the procedure and which gifts you send :)

    I absolutely love the mugs! They are so nice.

    I wear the T-Shirt from you a lot and still thinking where to put some of the stickers :)

  • Received a hand-written note along with a couple stickers a while back. What an awesome way to connect with your customers. I’ve still got the note along with a couple from breweries which I plan to write a blog post with examples of companies doing customer relationship and outreach right.

    Keep up the killer job of building a great bond with your followers. It’s certainly worked on me. Little jealous of those Buffer Moleskine notebooks though.

  • I loved receiving the Moleskine notebook with the 10 Buffer Values in the front! Very cool! Thanks Nicole!

    • Jinia Parker

      This is my fav swag! Love!

  • Really love my swag! Unfortunately the Buffer logo washed off my super-cool glass water bottle, but I’ll never forget where it came from! Thanks again for all you do Nicole!

  • Tereza

    That’s what makes a great community!

  • Personally, I think that of all the stuff Buffer sends out, the hand-written notes are by far the most valuable.

    In the end, startup t-shirts and mugs are a dime a dozen, but the care that Buffer puts into actually communicating with people is priceless.

  • Inspiring, little touches of lovely care. Did you ever sent any to Brazil? ; )

  • Such a great post! Thanks for sharing. Always keen to read about the awesome things companies are doing to delight customers. I guess companies need to be offering good service in order for customers to even be happy receiving the swag. :) When did Buffer decide to start giving out swag? Was there a turning that point that said, “we’re at a good place to start delighting our customers?”

  • Doing things right, the Thank You economy in full affect. Gary V would be proud :)

  • Vicky

    Getting swag means you’re on Buffer’s radar (my 2015 resolution – along with a brainstorming session with Kevan Lee!)

  • Yes, handwritten, personalized notes have a tremendous impact! I work in account management in a more traditional, niche industry, yet too few people send notes and cards in my field despite their power to connect. Although I have to admit the buffer team has much neater penmanship than my chicken scratch!

  • Kelsey Marie Labbe

    As someone who uses Buffer every day AND works in the Swag/promotional products industry– I love seeing how companies put swag to work and it’s great to see that a company that I support takes so much care in getting to know the people that make up their community. This is why you guys rock.

  • Jinia Parker

    Buffer’s transparency in all things continues to amaze and impress. This was a fun and surprisingly useful article!

  • This just seems like so much fun. It reminds me of a video saw about “Swiftmas” (when Taylor Swift showers her fans with gifts after cyber-stalking them to figure out what they like). It’s got to be delightful to delight! :)

  • Thanks for the tips on project mgmt and sourcing out swag items. I will check out the stickers and mug sources. A good mug is important if you want people to really use it.

  • Ryan Easttum

    This is fabulous and reminds of lagniappe! We all love a little something extra and unexpected, and especially love to be delighted. More than a gift, it speaks volumes to your values and how you have a community and not just users. Awesomeness! p.s. I love swag. Genuinely, I do :)

  • Kyle Patrick McCrary

    Wow, this article was very thought-provoking and had great references to getting the best custom swag.
    Thanks Nicole + Buffer team!

  • Great post, Nicole. It’s nice to see companies are not there only to take their clients money, but also to look after them! I had a question for you: what item(s) would you recommend a small company that doesn’t have the budget for swag to start with?

  • Nicole, thanks for the http://www.printfection.com shout-out! You guys are obviously *really* deep into the swag management game and it makes sense – swag works! Very cool to learn your process and see how much work you put in to pull this off successfully.

    To elaborate on the Printfection solution: for companies not willing (or able) to do all of this DIY, our platform was built to automate and streamline swag management and help scale it across your company.

    Most of the manual processes Buffer is doing such as collecting shipping addresses, coordinating multiple printing vendors, international shipping and customs clearance, storage, and fulfillment we already handle as part of our all-in-one platform. Some of your more custom processes such as personalized handwritten notes are on our roadmap.

    I’m happy to chat personally with anyone interested in learning more. You can email me: first.last@printfection.com

    Thanks again Nicole for bringing the power of swag to everyone’s attention!

  • Oluwapelumi

    Please how can I request for Buffer swag? Been using Buffer since 2013.

  • Roman Blyshchyk

    Oh wow! This is awesome, Nicole. The Buffer logo sticker and the mug sure do look amazing ;) :P

  • Kate H

    WOW!!! I can’t say enough about how much I loved this post! I’m a huge fan of handwritten thank you notes in my personal life, and love the idea of extending those to customers. This post made me really excited about the multitudes of creative ways to say thank you and create relationships with customers and a company’s community. This post now ranks among my all-time fave Buffer blog posts — thank you for sharing :)

  • Miroslava ClickBakers

    Great post! We’re currently struggling with the usual question “What should we make that our customers/partners” would enjoy… So far, the best success we had was with our wooden kitchen spatulas, our customers love it. We get plenty of messages with pictures of them cooking with our branded swag, so that is really cool! Now we are thinking about something new for next year and your article gave me some good ideas! Thanks!

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