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Go beyond developer acquisition to drive developer advocacy.

Read Time: 5 Mins

When we talk to our clients about creating or optimizing their developer relations programs, we often talk about moving developers from users to advocates. The thinking behind this is twofold. Developer advocacy is, of course, helpful for spreading awareness. However, it’s even better when developers truly become brand advocates, because they go beyond awareness and aid in customer acquisition.

Developer communities are highly receptive to peer reviews and recommendations because devs value a fellow peer’s opinion far more than that of a brand. While power users will share positive experiences about a solution, developer advocates are more likely to actually attempt to convert new users onto a solution because they believe in it so deeply. Developer advocacy should always be a part of developer programs, but it’s important to know that advocacy comes in different forms, and with different benefits.

The three tiers of developer advocacy.

There is a spectrum of developers out there, and in turn, there are many different kinds of developer advocates, which break down into three tiers.

Top tier: influencers/partners. At the top, we have the quintessential influencers, the people who are not employed by the brand but are intimately involved with the creation and/or testing of products and solutions. These devs are looking to improve the general state of developers.

Middle tier: advocates. While influencers are more macro in their efforts, advocates focus on the application of solutions, actively sharing their experiences and recommendations. Advocates are altruistic in terms of community and look to provide recommendations and guidance on what works for them for specific use cases.

Bottom tier: power users. Consider this tier the vast majority of developers. Power users have a smaller network than advocates and their participation in public discussions occur less often but they’re arguably the most important because they are influencers and decision-makers at a local level. This group is going to be the most likely to drive internal business decisions on whether or not to adopt/use a product.

All three developer advocacy tiers spread brand awareness and trust in your solution. While not every developer using your solutions will be an influencer, that doesn’t mean they won’t play an important role. As a rule of thumb, marketers should explicitly aim to drive developers from user to advocate, regardless of the tier. This is something very often overlooked by most companies, especially larger companies, because adoption/sales is typically considered the endpoint for most.

The three benefits of developer advocacy.

It is vital to your developer marketing program to have developers suggesting your products and solutions within their communities. Advocates come with unique benefits and achieve results that are difficult or ineffective for companies on their own. Having advocates and the community working in tandem with your brand, sharing their experiences, and making product/methodology recommendations gives brands competitive advantages in addition to driving more meaningful relationships. Here’s why.

Trustworthy. Developers will (almost) always trust peer reviews over company sales and product pitches. The aversion to marketing and sales tactics is hard to overcome. Companies with the strongest market presence and tools, often correlate with those that have the most direct interaction and attenuation to their user base.

Knowledgeable. Developers know firsthand and are more attuned to acute problems and experiences other developers face. Developer advocacy based on personal knowledge and insight goes a long way when it comes to connecting with peers and making genuine recommendations.

Relatable. Within communities, developers know how to talk to each other and relate to one another’s problems and issues during development. Developers who are able to directly speak to a specific use case or application from a firsthand perspective, generally outweigh more typical content presentation, such as a case study.  This level of ownership often helps to validate a company’s product or solution by supplementing self-recorded and self-described surround content.

How to nurture and convert brand advocates.

The biggest questions that many marketers face in the beginning developer advocacy programs are: Where do I find these developers? How do I connect with them? And what makes them flip a switch and become advocates for a brand?

We’ve covered where to find developers in our Developer Marketing Channels 101 write-up. Developers care about the application of a product, but more importantly, they care about the application that solves their current and/or ongoing problems. By identifying common problems and setting up interactive content, companies can begin to lay the foundation for beneficial developer relationships. This will require that companies focus on educational material, like creating helpful and direct documentation, tutorials, code samples, and the like.

Some ways companies can get developers to adopt and use products is by hosting:

  • Beta programs
  • Focus groups
  • Educational presentations and webinars
  • Hackathons
  • Developer Q&A panels
  • Workshops
  • AMAs

Engaging developers in their natural habitats takes some practice to be effective. We have our own set of rules for how to engage and grow developer communities, but the most important thing is to listen and respond. If companies engage with an agenda, they’re going to come across as a sales pitch that no developer wants to hear. A company’s credibility in the community can take a major hit if its topics of conversation are self-serving and don’t specifically address a developer’s issue.

Keep in mind the ultimate goal is to attract and convert community members into trustworthy advocates for the brand, rather than a brand being its sole and most prominent voice. To do that, companies need to listen and adapt their nurture approach based on interaction data, resource consumption, and what the developers are explicitly asking for. Furthermore, the nurturing of prospects and users cannot be one-in-the-same. Developer advocacy rarely happens on its own or right away, which is why companies need to grow the relationship by building onto the information and resources they provide to their users. The content (workshops, AMAs, Hackathons, etc.) stay the same, but the depth of information and the product experience knowledge grows from the user stage to the prospect stage.

For example, think of your nurture like a conversation with the same person at several social gatherings. You wouldn’t want to repeat your exchanges, retell a story, or re-introduce a piece of information as if it were the first interaction every time, right? No, you would want to add new insights and stories to build onto that relationship. Prospects are like the strangers we meet, and the users are like social acquaintances, which hopefully turn into friends over time. If you were asked about an acquaintance you might not say much or have an opinion, but if you were asked about a friend, you’re likely to talk them up. That’s advocacy in a nutshell. To achieve true developer advocacy, brands must bring developers into the fold and surround them with technology and support, promoting a connection of sorts that leads to advocacy.

The Iron Horse insight.

Every developer that engages with your program is a potential advocate for the future. When building out your developer advocacy program, ensure that all resources are easily accessible and shareable to help propagate throughout a community. Similarly, the easier you can make it for developers to get answers directly or engage with your organization on a more 1:1 basis (i.e. webinars, AMAs, meetups, workshops), the more it will aid in supplementing organic adoption and help to identify potential community influencers.

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