Developer marketing requires building an engaged community.

In Part 2 of our Developer Marketing Guide, we discussed a crucial step in building a developer program: creating a compelling value proposition. We looked at how you can evaluate your value proposition by ensuring that it meets specific criteria:

  • Clarity
  • Engagement
  • Direction
  • Confidence

Now we'll show you how to build a vibrant developer community.

Traditional Marketing Alone Is Not Enough

The nuances of marketing to developers.

We often hear that ‘developers hate marketing.’ Still, if we consider marketing as a whole, there aren't many people who actively discuss how much they love marketing or a particular campaign they've seen. Most people tolerate marketing because it's entertaining or gives valuable information about a product. Developers are no different. Marketing has to be beneficial to them, and if the tactics used are too salesy, aggressive, or repetitive, they will disengage.

There's also the issue that developers generally understand the product better than many marketers trying to sell it to them, so all the marketing spiel will fail. Developers are technical, so their needs differ. Their goal is to solve their problems, to solve the problems of others, and to contribute to something greater than themselves, not just to get the best deal possible.

A fundamental truth of developer marketing is that developers will seek out and trust the opinion and word of their fellow developers much more readily than they will anything that the vendor says.

And that is why you need to create and engage a developer community. Whether you try to build your own or whether you engage where developers are already hanging out. Developer to developer engagement is crucial. 

Thinking more about where your developer community exists, the likely answer is that it will exist in many places, all at once. Maybe you will build your brand cathedral where developers will flock to engage with each other (probably not, but maybe). More likely, you will have pockets of developers engaged in Reddit, some on LinkedIn, and more still in Discord, and so on. All of these added together are your developer community. And likely, they will all need nurturing in different ways. Try to avoid thinking of the community as a single entity, more as a collection of individual groups contributing to the whole.

Earn a Seat at the Table

Trust is the foundation of developer community building.

Developer marketing takes the basic principles of marketing and mixes them up. You should consider the following when building the foundation of your community:

  1. Who is 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? Consider your channels and messages.
  5. How will you measure success?

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

The Business Need for Community

Community building is a crucial component of any successful developer program.

After laying the foundation for your developer marketing strategy, what's next? You have probably heard of the concept of developer communities before, and for a good reason. Developers love community and are involved in many types of communities within the developer world.

Essentially, a community means sharing or having particular values and interests in common. In terms of developer communities, we use this definition:

A developer community shares common characteristics and a feeling of fellowship with others due to sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

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

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

Remember, your developer community is not a single entity. It’s a collection of entities, all contributing to the whole.

Don't Micromanage Your Developer Community

Enable collaboration and allow developers to grow.

No one likes micromanagement, and the developer community is no different. You need to allow developers to exchange information and advice to create a developer community effectively. It's easy to feel like your brand needs to jump into these conversations, don't. Make sure you remove yourself and let the developer community enjoy developer-to-developer conversations - authenticity at its best. 

We want to build a balanced ecosystem where developers can collaborate and build relationships based on their passion for innovation and problem-solving. Everyone wants to get kudos in their subculture or community. Developers enjoy contributing to their community because it strengthens their knowledge, technical acumen, and areas of expertise, therefore helping them build their credentials. Make sure you provide them with the opportunity and the platform to do so.

Don’t Go Undercover

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

Having enabled a thriving developer community, what's the harm in going undercover as a developer to further boost your brand reputation? You'll soon be rooted out, so never hire a corporate employee posing as a developer. The consequences will far outweigh the benefits. 

Developers value community so much that if you try to deceive them, they will find out, and backlash will be swift. It's simply not worth the reputational damage. You probably wouldn't do it in a B2C community, so why would you try it in a B2D community? It can be challenging to regain the trust of your developer community once you've lost it.

Enable Developer-to-Developer Collaboration

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

The most successful developer marketing teams use enabling tactics and strategies that encourage conversation and engagement from the right developer segment. At Catchy, we hear 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. While Stack Overflow provides an excellent opportunity for brands to connect and service the developer community, you must be very methodical in approaching it and truly understand how it is different from a traditional marketing channel.

But do not ignore Stack Overflow as part of our developer marketing strategy if the developers you are trying to target are using the platform. Research how they currently interact with each other using the platform and especially when discussing your brand. Then you can then create a playbook on how to contribute and engage without upsetting developers.

As with most developer communities, Stack Overflow is best with an ‘outside in’ rather than an ‘inside out’ approach. You should employ external channels to inform developers about the benefits of 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 talk to you.

Understanding The Developer Community

Do not perform this exercise in isolation. Get out of the building.

When you understand the developer community, you can determine the best way to engage them. Developing software requires developers to discover, understand, and use products and services that can augment their capabilities.

One of our clients, Google Play, exemplifies best practice developer community engagement. Their Google Play Indie Games Developer Contest in Europe successfully identified their target audience, tailoring messaging, outreach, the contest site, and prizes specifically for this community.

Marketing is the backbone of your campaign. Are you running a contest? Marketing. Are you running a contest for developers? Marketing. Are you running a bespoke contest explicitly tailored to a developer group? This is developer marketing that understands and prioritizes community. The differences on paper are subtle, but the evidence is the engaged community who wants to get involved in your marketing.

Developer Community Engagement Playbook

Best practices on engaging your developer community.

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

  1. A description of the developer community you are looking to engage with, including what makes them unique
  2. Anr 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 recognizes the characteristics of your target community, using appropriate channels and principles

    Final Thoughts on Developer Community

    A strong developer community builds advocacy.

    Community is an integral part of engaging with developers. By understanding the different developer communities and developing thoughtful, bespoke messaging that resonates with them, you can create a loyal, vibrant, and engaged community that enjoys engaging with your product and brand. They may even become brand advocates.

    Now that you understand the importance of developer communities, you’re ready to learn the steps to build engaging technical and developer marketing content.