Developer relations (DevRel) focuses on the qualitative relationship side of developer marketing by building and bolstering a brand’s connection with developer communities. In this article, we’ll explore the difference between developer marketing and DevRel, and the best tactics and channels for your developer relations program.
The terms developer relations and developer marketing are often used interchangeably. Although they both target developers on behalf of a company or brand, they are not the same concept. While developer marketing looks to build awareness and get developers into the funnel, DevRel focuses on maintaining and growing relationships with the ultimate goal of building advocacy. Despite their differing objectives, these strategies work in tandem to drive ongoing engagement with developer audiences.
Where does DevRel fit into your developer marketing strategy?
One way to think about the difference between developer marketing and developer relations is that dev marketing is primarily a top-of-funnel (TOFU) strategy, while DevRel focuses on mid to bottom-funnel (MOFU/BOFU) engagement. Developer marketing campaigns tend to provide macro overviews or high-level awareness assets, meant to garner attention and elicit a deeper dive. These assets can include things like thought-leadership perspectives, blogs, white papers, industry overviews, and case studies.
Developer relations activities usually pick up where these campaigns leave off after developers have become “known,”—by filling out a form on your website—and focus on providing opportunities for developers to engage more intimately with your solution and the experts at your company. This is where we see a key qualitative vs quantitative difference between these two strategies.
Larger companies often have a dedicated resource for developer relations (as well as a developer marketing manager). On smaller teams, relationship-based strategies are typically woven into the same function as general marketing to developers.
Wondering where tech marketing fits in? Read Tech vs. Developer Marketing, and Why to Use Both.
Developer relations tactics.
Operationationally, methods used to reach developers mirror tactics utilized on the marketing side, such as direct email and media retargeting campaigns. Where things differ from more superficial marketing activities is in the messaging and intent. DevRel activities should facilitate learning and promote community discussion. Again, the objective is to drive long-term and reciprocal community relationships with active audiences.
The most successful tactics for DevRel, pandemic notwithstanding, are those that offer direct, 2-way engagement, such as:
- Webinars. These are popular across the board because they are educational and cover specific topics developers want to know more about for their work.
- Workshops and training. Developers are tinkerers and the majority of them learn by doing, making a workshop highly appealing as a place to learn about a new optimization or tool.
- AMA sessions. Developers want answers from fellow developers. They trust their peers to be able to answer specific questions with direct answers based on firsthand experience without any marketing fluff.
- Regional in-person meetups. These are great opportunities for developers to network, share tips, and have in-depth discussions about projects and challenges..
- Surveys and community-input. No one wants to feel talked at. Giving a voice to developers (and then acting on that feedback) is important in building a relationship with that audience.
- Virtual/physical conferences. In a way, a conference combines everything mentioned above—educational material, hands-on training, trusted advice, networking, community, and a chance to feel heard.
Developer relations channels.
Relationship building is key here, so the channels best suited are a little different than ideals of developer marketing channels. An easy way to determine if a channel is a good fit for DevRel is to consider how developers use that platform or community. Do they go there to consume information and learn at a high level, or are they there to troubleshoot or understand how their peers are using products and services? The latter is where you want to be for DevRel.
While you may think that channels like Stack Overflow and Reddit fit the bill, these spaces are generally too large and broad to easily find and create conversations with your particular audience.
Niche communities, on the other hand, are abundant and usually more suited for both DevRel activities and promotions. Why? Audiences in these spaces are generally much more focused on a limited topic scope that is of high interest to them, making it easier to align your messaging and resources to their needs or project stage.
Whichever the case, channels for engagement should be viewed and evaluated through the lens of intimacy and efficacy. Developers seek and appreciate brands that make them feel more included and human, rather than like sales targets. The most active developer relations channels should facilitate peer-to-peer and direct dev-to-brand communication.
Find out more about what motivates developers to engage in our Developer Interview Series.
The role of community feedback in developer relations campaigns.
One often overlooked tool/initiative for building relationships with the developer audience is creating opportunities for feedback. By providing developers visibility into your roadmap, you can uncover product shortcomings, identify barriers to adoption, and root out unsuccessful messaging and narratives.
Don’t just pay lip service to this idea. Let developers know you value their input by engaging in active discussion and collaboration. The aim here is to create a continuous feedback loop, that in turn, drives future creation and optimization of:
- Product releases. You may be surprised to learn what developers are missing from your solution.
- Messaging. Developers have a Spidey-sense for marketing fluff. Testing messaging with a small group can help ensure you don’t turn off large swaths of your audience by focusing too much on what you provide and not enough on how that benefits them.
- Content. Developers will tell you directly or indirectly what content they prefer, and it’s just a matter of listening and putting the right tools in place to listen. Content is one of the best optimizations you can make because understanding what topics and formats audiences find most useful will yield better short and long-term results.
Gathering and actively utilizing feedback not only improves QA and development cycles for the company but also creates a more inclusive setting in which developer communities feel more like partners as opposed to customers. This type of relationship is inherently more valuable to both parties.
Ready to take your DevRel program to the next level? Find out how to engage and grow a developer community.
The Iron Horse insight.
One of the biggest mistakes we often see developer programs make is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to developer engagements. Outreach teams need to understand the developer journey and seek to provide actionable approaches and usable resources at all phases of the development cycle, not just at initial adoption.