Developer Community Building - Catchy

In Part 2 of our Developer Marketing Guide we outlined the first and most important step of building a developer program by sharing how to create a compelling value proposition. We also looked at how to evaluate your value proposition, ensuring it followed certain criteria:

  • Clarity
  • Engagement
  • Direction
  • Confidence

In the third installment of our Developer Marketing Guide, we’re going to talk you through how to successfully build a vibrant developer community.

Traditional Marketing Alone Won't Work

Do you understand why?

A phrase we hear a lot is that developers hate marketing, but if we consider marketing as a whole there aren’t many people who actively discuss how much they love marketing or a specific campaign they’ve seen. In general, most people tolerate marketing because it’s either entertaining, gives us information about a product we’re interested in, or because it gives us free access to products or services. The same can be said about developers, there has to be a need for them to engage with marketing and if the tactics used are too salesy, aggressive or repetitive they will completely disengage.

There’s also the problem that generally speaking, developers understand the product better than the marketers who are trying to sell it to them, so all the marketing spiel simply won’t work. Developers are technical and their needs are different, they are looking for solutions to their problems, to solve other people’s problems and to be a part of something bigger – not just trying to get the best deal.

Earn a Seat at the Table

Community building is based on trust.

Effective developer marketing takes the basic principles of marketing and mixes them up. The first questions to consider when building the foundation of your marketing campaign are:

  1. Who are your target audience? (“developers” is way too broad, think about segmenting this audience further)
  2. What is your target audience interested in and what are they trying to achieve?
  3. What is the value proposition of your service or product?
  4. How will you reach your target audience? (channels, messages etc)
  5. How will you measure success?

Once you’ve taken the steps to lay the foundations of your campaign, it’s then time to consider how to engage with your developer community.

The Business Need for Community

This is a vital component of any successful developer program.

You’ve successfully laid the foundations of your campaign, what’s next? The concept of a developer community is one you might have heard of before and with good reason. Developers love community and they each form part of many different types of communities within the developer world.

In its simplest form, a community means sharing or having particular attitudes and/or interests in common. If we look specifically at developer communities, Catchy defines it as the following:

A group of developers, or companies, who share a set of common characteristics and have a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

For example, Indie Game Developers is a community, who may also be part of a wider community such as mobile game developers or Android/iOS developers. Another way to think about developer communities is to think of them as subcultures, sharing common interests, attitudes, values, practices and cultural objects.

One of the things we’ve learnt from working closely with developers is that in developer communities, authenticity is king. Everyone likes to feel they are engaged with authentic people and brands, but it’s more than that for developers. They want authentic relationships with other developers, whilst using your product.

Don't Micromanage The Developer Community

Enable collaboration and allow them to grow.

There’s not many people you come across in life that like to be micromanaged and the developer community is no different. To successfully create a developer community you need to ensure you are enabling developers to exchange information and advice between themselves. It’s really easy to feel like your brand needs to butt in with these conversations, don’t. You must make sure you remove yourself and let the developer community enjoy their developer-to-developer conversations – authenticity at its best. 

The ultimate goal here is to achieve a balanced ecosystem in which developers can collaborate and build relationships with each other centered on their passion for innovation and problem solving. In every subculture or community members like to gain kudos and this can be in a range of different ways.  For developers, this can often be in the way of contributing to the community as it reinforces their knowledge, technical acumen, and areas of expertise which helps them to build their credentials. You can make sure you’re giving them the opportunity and platform to do this.

Going Undercover Is a Horrible Idea

Make sure internal stakeholders communicate who they are to the community.

You’ve managed to help to enable a thriving developer community, what’s the harm in going undercover as a developer to help boost your brand reputation a bit more? You’ll soon be rooted out, so our advice is never to send in a corporate employee masquerading as a developer, the consequences will far outweigh the benefits. 

Community is so important to developers, if you try and deceive them, they will find out and the community backlash will be swift and savage. It’s just simply not worth the reputational damage. You probably wouldn’t do it in the B2C community, so why would you try in B2D? Once you’ve lost trust from your developer community, it can sometimes be impossible to get it back.

Like a Magpie to Shiny Objects

Observe and respect the spoken and unspoken rules of the community.

The most successful developer marketing teams use enabling tactics and strategies that encourage conversation and engagement from the right developer segment. Here at Catchy, we’ve often heard people say they want to use Stack Overflow to market to and acquire developers for their product or service. The problem is that objective itself is a red flag and you should proceed with caution. Whilst Stack Overflow provides a great opportunity for brands to connect and service the developer community, you must be very methodical in how you approach it and truly understand how it is different to a traditional marketing channel.

Say a fisherman walks into an aquarium, he really wants to get his gear out and start trying to land one of those exotic and hard to catch fish swimming around, but he knows he really shouldn’t.  As an aquarium is somewhere he can go to look at and sometimes interact with marine life, but not poach them. Well, Stack Overflow is the aquarium and you need to put your marketing bait back in the bag as this is not the place to use it.

Now you’re thinking OK fine, we’ll just ignore Stack Overflow as part of our developer marketing strategy. Don’t. If we go back to the original principles we discussed earlier, you firstly need to ask yourself if the developers you are trying to target are even using Stack Overflow? If so, start researching how they currently interact with each other using the platform and especially when discussing your brand. From your research you can then create a Playbook, which as well as helping you achieve your marketing goals, will also mean your brand is authentically contributing to the community without rocking the boat by using your marketing bait and upsetting developers.

As with a lot of developer communities, Stack Overflow is best used when you’re adopting an ‘outside in’ rather than ‘inside out’ approach. In other words, you should employ external channels to inform developers about the benefits of them engaging with other developers in Stack Overflow (or whatever forum you want them to participate in) rather than standing in the forum shouting and waving your arms and waiting for them to come and talk to you.

Understanding The Developer Community

This is not an exercise to be done in isolation. Get out of the building.

By truly understanding the developer community you will be able to identify the best way to engage with them. Developers need to be able to discover, understand and realise the value of products and services that can augment their ability and deploy working software.

One of our clients, Google Play, is a shining example of best practice developer community engagement. With the launch of their Google Play Indie Games Developer Contest in Europe, they were excellent in identifying their target audience, tailoring bespoke and relatable messaging, outreach, their contest site and prizes specifically for this community.

The nuts and bolts of your campaign is marketing. Running a contest? Marketing. Running a contest aimed at developers? Marketing. Running a bespoke contest tailored specifically to a developer group? Developer marketing that understands and prioritizes community. The differences on paper are subtle, but the evidence is the engaged community who want to get involved in your marketing.

Developer Community Playbook

Catchy’s best practices on how to think about community.

If you want to create a developer community engagement playbook, you should consider including the following:

  1. A description of the developer community you are looking to engage with, including what makes them unique
  2. A clearly articulated reason why your product or service is useful or interesting to this community
  3. A measurable objective(s) for your developer community
  4. A clear definition of your brand’s tone of voice within the community, including the way you connect with developers
  5. A developer marketing plan which recognises the characteristics of your target community, using appropriate channels and principles

One More Thing

The final say about developer communities.

Community is an important part of engaging with developers. If you want to successfully run Meetups, hackathons, contests or engage with evangelists, advocates and champions you must very carefully plan your approach to avoid a disengaged community who don’t want to interact with your brand.

We believe that by understanding the different developer communities and targeting them with thoughtful, bespoke messaging that resonates with them, you will be able to create a loyal, vibrant and engaged community that enjoy engaging with your product and brand. They may even become brand advocates.