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7 Rules For Engaging and Growing a Developer Community

Developer communities are types of marketing channels where peer-to-peer conversations and authentic engagement are most likely to take place. At the core, a developer community is a place where the vast majority of the audience shares common traits and interests. Properties like Stack Overflow, subreddits, and DeveloperMedia are more obvious communities but very broad; social media groups, Twitter channels, or more niche places like IOT World Today tend to be more engaged and focused. Regardless, finding, creating, and/or joining a developer community should be a foundational piece to any developer marketing program. 

Aside from being a place to converse directly with your developer audiences, a developer community is an ideal channel to invite people to participate in more interactive developer relationship activities, such as workshops and webinars. Developer communities are also great places to share original or co-branded content and events that are focused on active development: developer reviews, troubleshooting/FAQs, and hackathons come to mind. 

The key to successful campaigns within a developer community is to embrace the word “community.” Sadly, companies that are often involved with dev communities misuse them and, as a result, expend unnecessary effort with underwhelming results in addition to muddying the waters for future brands and companies. To avoid falling victim to conventional pitfalls, follow these 7 rules for engaging and growing developer communities.

1. Find and participate in active communities.

Subscribing to the adage “if we build it, they will come” is a common misconception and fallacy for developer marketing programs. While the eventual goal is to use owned properties as central hubs for content and information, when trying to bolster discovery and awareness, it’s as important, if not more, to distribute content where developers are already comfortable.

Developers often reach out to their peers while actively seeking to resolve an issue or find a solution to their problem. This tends to happen in environments in which they feel familiar and comfortable. Driving developers back to branded communities that are replicated to look like existing ones not only comes off as self-serving but also requires that developers try and establish/gauge themselves and those around them in that branded community. Unless you can build an owned community that offers more than populated ones, it is generally recommended to become a part of other communities rather than forcing people to come to yours. 

Even though there are a finite number of developer communities and micro-communities, it’s crucial to ensure that the intended audience is truly engaged and active. During your research and planning phases, make sure to evaluate user activity and KPIs beyond just potential reach and size. Appearing within a developer community is not sufficient; you may be visible to a broader audience, but developers notice when a company is there to partner with them versus selling them a solution.

2. Speak at a peer level.

“Selling” to developers is a cardinal sin for most developer marketing programs. Within developer communities, the idea of hawking products or solutions is vehemently frowned upon and sometimes even explicitly not allowed.

Developers are looking for small groups or 1:1 interactions with their developer peers when they are engaging in a community channel. Shared content, conversations, and general communication should be approached from the perspective of a fellow dev or a peer, and generally not from a company perspective unless the intended goal is honest and genuine feedback. 

This should also influence what types of content should be shared at a community level. While assets like thought-leadership and announcements are appropriate in some cases, more tailored and functional resources are generally the most engaging. Documentation, technical how-to’s, opportunities to meet peers, and similar content are the most ideal. 

When interacting and/or syndicating content in community channels, marketers should always ask themselves, “How can this help the developer NOW?” rather than looking to promote their own perspectives.

3. Create a feedback loop.

One of the biggest advantages of having an engaged presence in a developer community is gaining the ability to actively request feedback and commentary on products and ideas. Developer communities like to be involved, so finding ways to partner with these communities and their constituents to help drive product definition is a great way to build brand trust and equity.

Directly engaging with developers allows brands to tap into “free” knowledge and expertise to define products and future content/resources. Brands can get smarter about their content production and direction by simply listening to the communities that will consume content. 

With developer communities, brands have the opportunity to interact directly with the people that will ultimately end up using their product. The feedback received will not only help to better define future products and releases, but it will also help to drive advocacy. The more developers can feel like an active part of a development process, the more likely they are to champion it to others.

4. Identify influencers for the brand.

This is often something overlooked by most brands that are focused primarily on getting developers to engage with them. Besides feedback and general dialogue, developer communities are also great places to identify and begin building relationships with “power users” and experts in the field.

Start by engaging with those most actively involved with topics of discussion. Listen and participate in their conversations without being brand or product-centric. Entertain their perspectives and do the best to incorporate feedback into future activities such as content development or beta testing.

We know that developers trust their peers more than any other source, particularly a brand hoping to get them to adopt their product. Building relationships with influential developers are not only great to facilitate advocacy, but it’s also a way to showcase that your brand actively cares about the developers that would be using your products.

5. Have an “always-on” approach.

Developer communities never sleep, nor do they ever forget. Participation in developer communities is akin to providing customer service to help further success. Maintaining a healthy brand-to-developer relationship is a primary objective of community interaction: passive engagement, delayed responsiveness, and taking a tone of authority are all things that can be counterproductive.

A company should never join a community if they have no intention of engaging on a regular basis. Developer audiences can always spot imposters and will likely ignore or disengage with brands that seem to only participate out of self-interest. 

Companies truly focused on developing a sense of community should have dedicated resources specific to this function. It’s not fruitful or good practice to sporadically appear and try to elicit engagement only when it suits a company’s interests (i.e., new product releases, updates, etc). Essentially a developer community manager should be attentive and active at a similar frequency as the community itself.

This does not mean that a developer marketer needs to monitor communities 24/7, but rather, they would be best off taking an active role in the community and engaging in discussions that are not always self-serving. A human-to-human approach is a big part of what gets a developer community interested in what you have to share and what your brand can do.

6. Know the audience and its segments.

Who are these people on this site? 

Why are they going to that developer community?

How and when are they engaging? 

Are they troubleshooting an issue or just peripherally interested in the general subject? 

These (and many more) are important questions that must be answered when choosing developer communities with which to engage. Understanding the nuances of a developer community audience can help you shape messaging, content, and tone when engaging.

Just because the community itself addresses your general category at a high-level does not necessarily mean that the audience wants to engage with your brand or its resources. To garner the most success from developer community interactions, it’s imperative to understand who and what information is sought after by that audience.

7. Analyze web traffic data to identify communities and measure outreach.

When in search of developer communities, utilizing one’s own resources is often overlooked. Surveying the developer database is probably the most effective and revealing; however, simply referring to your site’s web referral data can give you clues and insights as to where people are already coming from.

In a similar fashion, measuring the quality of engagement from developer communities can be rudimentary but revealing. Understanding whether or not referral traffic is better or worse than other sources will give you a sense if that referral community truly has engaged developers or not. Measuring the depth of engagement is key to understanding how communities can compare to each other or other marketing channels. For example, did users from this community consume more pages? Did these users come back at a higher rate? Are users in this segment taking further action? All revealing and vital questions that need answering.

More often than not, developer communities will not be core sources for driving engagement at scale or volume. However, this is nothing to worry about because engagement from the community, presumably, should be more meaningful and long-term. Measuring community involvement is something that should be quantified and regularly measured to ensure that the dev communities you engaged with are truly driving results that matter.

The Iron Horse insight.

Participating or building a developer community is imperative to the success of any developer program. To truly have a positive effect on a developer’s journey, brands must be open to going to where their target audiences already are and embracing healthy dialogue with real-world developers and potential adopters of their products and solutions. As with any relationship, maintaining a two-way street of communication is at the core. Creating a place where developers feel like part of the process helps to build brand loyalty and advocacy.