This is a guest post by Jesse Davis, EVP of Product at Devada.
So you need to market your API.
Let’s assume you’ve checked the boxes for event and partner outreach and had your DevRel team reach out to the companies that might benefit from your API. And we’ll assume you’ve created awareness building advertising campaigns (aimed at the places your prospective API users congregate). And you’ve included the API in your SDK and offered some sort of demo or free trial.
What are you missing?
Whether your API is only for partners, or for the broader public, you need to make sure there’s a community available that non-users, free trial users, and experienced users can all access. An online community can increase engagement, lower support costs, and generate new ideas that will enrich and improve your offering.
Can’t we get by with documentation?
The documentation is important. But we know that developers hesitate to wade into it, especially if they aren’t certain they want to work with your API. And documentation doesn’t always cover how the API is used in real-world settings where things don’t always work like they should.
How about our ticketing system?
If your API is free, a ticketing system with paid support is just too expensive. Obviously, for major issues, you need that support team to put out fires and fix potential issues. For instance, if you have a situation where a developer inadvertently alters a key part of the code, your support team will need to jump in.
But you don’t want to use tickets to answer the same question over and over again. Or service non-paying customers. And sometimes your API users can offer creative and engaging answers to issues that you hadn’t even thought of.
Think of your community as a kind of auxiliary support staff.
Community as an Non-Salesy Promotion Hub
Getting other devs to promote your API (or your products in general) isn’t that easy. They might not have the bandwidth to attend meet-ups with you, join you on a podcast, or write articles.
But they can answer other users’ questions, upvote answers, and make suggestions via an online community. This is especially true if they get value from the dev community you’ve stood up. In other words, if they value their visits to the community, it’s not a chore or hassle to participate.
Some companies rely on a subcommunity within a larger community. Stack Overflow has that option. A drawback with that choice is that your company doesn’t own the data on user interaction with the community. This makes it hard, or even impossible, to track who’s visiting and who offers the best answers. Not knowing this information makes it more difficult to find those API champions who might (eventually) make great podcast guests.
Community as a First-Step Toward Paid Use
If you’re offering a free API with the idea that once users make enough calls to the API they’ll be charged, a community can help answer questions in a way that will deepen engagement. That should help increase those calls.
If you’re exploring alternative pricing models, a community can help you track visitors who might be good candidates for pitching the paid version of the API. Alternately, you can gate certain content or throttle the number of questions a user can ask before they need to upgrade to a paid version.
Do Communities Work?
Unity Technologies, who offers a scripting API, started a community to help manage their rapidly growing business in video game software development. Their community grew from 2,000 to 1.7 million users without needing to add additional support staff.
And there’s this: 89% of developers in Devada’s recent survey say they expect vendors to provide a community.
Choosing the Right Community Platform
We’re in the community solution business, so obviously we’d love for you to give us a try. We’re also happy to share what we think are the features and functionality you need in a community — especially if it’s aimed at engaging API users.
Here’s a couple of features to look for:
- Searchable Q&A functionality. Forums are great, but searchable Q&A is more expedient for the busy developer who just wants to find an answer.
- Moderation to highlight top answers. You want customers to answer questions. But not when their answers aren’t that good. You’ll want a platform where you can moderate and highlight top answers.
- Gamification. Offering badges for correct answers, solid ideas, and upvoting posts encourages participation.
- Flexible permissions. Will you need a micro community within your community for employees or paid users? Ask if that is available.
- Multi-language support. Development is global. And your community should be too — and at no extra charge.
- An API. Wouldn’t it be ironic if your dev community can’t easily integrate with your ticketing or knowledge management system? You’ll want straightforward integration options.
A Final Word
As you think about how best to promote your API, consider the role of a dev community. It’s much more than a ‘nice to have’ item. It provides a multi-faceted way to engage developers and developer a deeper and more long-term relationship with them.
As EVP of Product, Jesse Davis is responsible for the strategic direction of Devada’s product development initiatives and forward-looking research. Davis is a respected data expert, author, and speaker in enterprise software, and has spent more than 20 years creating enterprise data products.