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So, you want to build a developer relations program? We like the way you’re thinking!
A strong community of developers can benefit your business in numerous ways - from building a solid knowledge base to providing a platform for sharing ideas and feedback, to boosting your employer branding.
There are a few examples you can look into. Google Developer Experts and AWS Heroes are both well known and generally considered the best developer communities. There are also Microsoft MVPs, RedHat Ambassadors, and many more.
The big idea behind each one of these programs is the same: building and strengthening the relationship with external software developers to better understand their needs, exchange knowledge, and help them with the everyday use of your products, services, or API.
Building a successful Developer Relations program is like building a strong, lasting relationship - it takes time and effort. External developers and developer advocates are your company's assets, and they should be treated as such. If you’re looking to get along well with them, read the article carefully to get valuable tips!
First things first - what (or rather who) is a DevRel?
We often say that Developer Relations (also known as DevRel) is not exactly a role, but rather a mindset. An interdisciplinary job that brings together many roles, such as an engineering outreach manager or a content manager, but also a community manager or a product marketer. DevRel’s role in your company is all about building relationships with developers by helping them become more successful while using your technology, solutions, and services.
In fact, working in developer relations means both educating and supporting developers, as well as people who use your products or API - the main goal here is to help businesses collaborate more effectively with external software engineers.
Developer Relations is all about trust
At the heart of Developer Relations lies trust. Being a trusted person and a natural leader in your community makes you successful at what you do. Your job is to help developers build products using the company’s tools and APIs. To offer insights into your product roadmaps that can positively (or sometimes negatively) affect the business. Developers will trust you if they believe that you have their best interests at heart, even when you have to deliver some bad news.
Why do companies invest in developer communities?
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are several major benefits of focusing on Developer Relations, and they all lead back to one common point — developers expect from their jobs more than achieving a result — your product. They want to be part of something, whether it’s a community, an innovative idea, or a movement.
Making them feel like they’re playing an important role in something bigger, something that brings a change for the better, is the best way to make sure they’ll stick around and grow their skills with your company’s product.
A couple of hints for a strong developer community
Launching your developer relations program takes a lot more than just gathering software engineers on one platform. It’s OK to have countless questions about it - actually, the more, the better! Asking questions is how you learn and grow as a leader. So, where do you start with the developer relations project? What should you do first? Where should you invest your time and resources?
Find the "why" and establish your business objectives
The famous “why” is the core of every community. If you have read our previous articles, you might already know that we are strong advocates of the "why" factor. Building a global community is fun, but it needs a clear vision and purpose to succeed. As we say in Advocu - social media likes won't pay your taxes.
You can read more about the importance of business goals, and the vision behind a community in our ultimate guide to building a successful brand community. The tech world, however, usually bases its dev communities on the following use cases:
- Building a community-led product and finding product-market fit - by creating a dev community, you can gather instant feedback from your developers, especially if you make them beta testers and grant them early free access to your new products. It’s important here that you understand their needs and take their observations, insights, and suggestions into consideration.
- Increasing product adoption - through a strong dev community, you can educate new and potential users about your product or API and teach them how to solve their problems with it. If they’re already interested or familiar with your offer, they should have a safe space where they can ask questions, get important information and find useful materials, like documentation or implementation guides.
- Growing the team - if you’re looking for new talented developers, building a professional community may actually be the first step to a successful hire. It can improve your employer branding, help you create great connections with potential employees, and make the company more attractive to them.
Whatever your selected business objective is, make sure to communicate it to your team, stakeholders, and the entire company. Every specialist involved should be working towards the goals and have a clear vision of why building an online community is important, along with taking care of the developer relations.
Don’t forget about measuring your success - have some metrics ready to monitor (like Daily Active Members or Members Retention Rate). The number of downloads, page views, positive mentions, and community events attendance - these are all good KPIs to observe and improve upon.
Focus on the developers, not the product
Put the users of your product first and think about their perspective. Create a detailed description of a person who needs your product - in what situation do they usually use it, and what problems do they come across while using it? At first glance, this might seem simple and obvious:
As a developer, you want to link your code with a third-party service. To achieve this, you need the third party to explain its API.
But let’s take a closer look.
Why is this particular software engineer using your product? Is it their choice? Or has this technology been used in their company for years, and now they have to learn it?
What tasks and actions are they trying to complete? Write down a few different possible user journeys, step by step, and check what ambiguities and challenges they may face.
How can you make them love and become loyal to your product? What's the WOW factor in the product-customer relationship?
Here’s what the Developer Relations looks like from the perspective of Maciej Gumieniak, who is Java Developer in Advocu:
Thanks to our community we can easily familiarize ourselves with the product and its capabilities, find solutions to our problems along with the best practices of the product/API. If we feel that a particular functionality is missing, we share our observations. Analogous situation is with encountered bugs in software. Thanks to such an approach, both sides can win - the developers have the best quality product that meets technical expectations, and the company has a great product that meets expectations.
How to actually build a developer community
So, you already know what Developer Relations is and why it's important for your brand. Now let's take a closer look at how you can actually start building your own strong developer community.
First, a little secret your competition doesn't want you to know. All the thriving online communities have one thing in common: they provide people with a platform where they can help each other. So if you provide your developers and software engineers with a space where they can feel comfortable, ask questions, get some knowledge and support each other, you’re on the right path to getting a thriving dev community.
You can read more about the general community building strategy in our guide to community building, but when it comes to such a specific professional audience as developers, you should remember a few significant steps:
- Set out a clear vision and business goals
In the previous sections, We talked about how important the “why” behind your community is. If you’re struggling with determining what your vision and objectives should be, arrange a brainstorming session with your team. Think about your general business goals and the mission of your company - what are your values? How does your product help professionals? What opportunities will your community provide to its members?
- Find the right platform for your community
To come up with a perfect community space, learn to understand your members and their usual ways of communication first. If you hope to build a professional community, it might be best to provide your community managers with dedicated community management software, like Advocu. Such third-party platforms usually surpass other digital spaces due to their advanced ecosystems and a multitude of personalization possibilities.
- Think about the ways to engage your members
The DevRel role and the community manager role come in handy here. Your community might be full of developers, but it won’t do your company any good if there’s no engagement or participation in brand activities. First, think about how your members should contribute to spreading the brand awareness - maybe by sharing their knowledge about your product? - What activities should they do? Write articles or create video content? Act as speakers and educators, taking part in tech conferences and organizing meetups? Once you establish that, you’ll have to set out, test, and experiment with different community engagement strategies.
- Provide great onboarding for the new members
This is actually one of the community engagement strategies adopted by all the best online communities. It’s particularly important when it comes to a professional audience. The developers and other IT specialists who will join your community should have clear knowledge of how they can contribute and what the benefits are. They also should have all the important information and materials, such as:
-> For the developer education: documentation, tutorials, videos, guides
-> For the developer experience: API design and schemas, SDKs, reference apps, sample code.
Once it’s time to level up, create a developer advocacy program
Advocacy (most commonly known as brand advocacy) is a powerful marketing technique that can help you turn the developers into developer advocates. Advocates are also known as the natural ambassadors of your brand. They promote your company and your solutions by talking about them. They are excited about your offer, loyal to your brand, and additionally motivated by a great rewards program, so they keep recommending and bringing up your products on social media, on their blogs, and to their friends.
A developer advocate’s task, as we already know, is a bit different - it’s all about education and creating value. Your developer ambassadors will be more than happy to teach other developers about your products. They’ll also create a lot of valuable content that will boost your brand awareness - articles, tutorials, and training. A developer advocate is a highly trained in your technology expert who is really enthusiastic about your solutions and wants to pass on this enthusiasm to others.
Don’t forget about feedback
Developer Relations is all about sharing knowledge and insights - and you can benefit from that as well. You can learn from your community and collect many valuable observations and pain points of your product. After all, who can know more about the developers’ needs than the developers themselves? If you want your specialists to stick with you, listen carefully to what they have to say!
Make sure they know that their opinions count. Create multiple channels where they can share their feedback with you (whether it’s positive or negative). This way, the developers feel that their voices matter when your team makes any decision related to product development.
To sum up: maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the developers helps you build a strong developer community and maintain thriving Developer Relations.
How to gather feedback from developers
- Host a recurring Q&A session - in any form
It doesn’t matter whether it’s going to be an online chat or a video conference. You can make your Q&A sessions themed or invite guests, like a CTO of your product, who can not only answer technical questions but also tell your community more about the bigger picture and the future of your technology.
- Engage with your online community regularly and always ask a follow-up question
Become a discussion leader - don’t focus solely on answering questions. Always try to dig deeper with a follow-up question (the "why" question is the best one ever). A simple "Hey, what could we do to make your experience better in the future?" can be a key to your success and building lasting connections.
- Make a habit of scheduling 15-minute feedback calls
Try to talk to your users and community members as often as possible. Don’t limit the conversation to your product. Learn more about their experiences, motivations, and frustrations pertaining to it.
With Developer Relations come great opportunities, so don’t miss out
Remember that innovation can happen anywhere, not just in your company's conference room. Focus on Developer Relations and building a strong dev community, and the ideas might just start pouring in. If you want to make it work for your benefit, remember to always focus on the needs of the developers, be responsive to their feedback, and keep in touch with them regularly. And if you’re looking for a great online community space with an advanced ecosystem, highly personalized solutions, and flexible integrations, you might want to look into what Advocu has to offer you.