The complete guide to building and growing a vibrant developer community
Building developer community

The complete guide to building and growing a vibrant developer community

How to build, grow and engage a tech community

Sara Waszyńska
10 minutes
September 7, 2022
Written by
Sara Waszyńska
June 9, 2022
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At first glance, the world of the tech industry might seem sheltered, inaccessible, and built on individualism. But in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The IT and innovation world has never relied on communities and a sense of togetherness more than now. So, a vibrant tech community (also called a developer community) may become your company’s greatest asset. The presence of invested, motivated advocates can streamline and boost the whole customer acquisition and retention process. That’s why it should become an essential element of your Developer Relations strategy.

If you’ve been wondering how to build a thriving tech community for some time (or just realized that it’s something you should do), this guide is definitely for you. I included everything you should know about building developer communities that grow and deliver results. 

Why is community important in the technology sector?

First, you must understand that relationships in B2D (Business to Developer) marketing go beyond what relations formed within B2C and B2B strategies look like. Developers are not typical clients. Very often, they are the key decision-makers in their companies, especially when it comes to tool selection. They are not looking for nice packaging and labeling - they are looking for value. So there is an inherent connection between a developer achieving success thanks to your technology and your business success. 

What is a developer community?

Although in DevRel there is no clear, textbook definition of a tech community or a tech community member, one thing is certain - engagement and a nurturing approach are the key factors of your success in building a vibrant tech community. It works this way because, in the tech industry, a community is more than just a marketing technique. It’s a philosophy.

You can boast of having thousands of “community members”, but the harsh reality is that if they are not actively engaged and interested in what you have to offer, your community won’t be delivering results. 

The developer relationship goes beyond a typical client relationship

Although developer advocacy is a branch of brand advocacy, it’s based on slightly different principles. Nowadays, numerous successful businesses are built around their communities. That’s why we say that it’s a whole philosophy. 

You should put developers at the center of your focus and create a platform that delivers value. Your community members are not a mass of customers that will come and go, but real people with real issues for which they need a solution.

Your relationship with developers should reach a deeper level. They need to identify themselves with your business, technology, and value. You can achieve that by assuming a nurturing approach toward them. Developers want to be inspired, educated, and motivated to take on various challenges. If your business can provide that for them, you are on the right path to building a thriving developer community.

What are the benefits of starting a developer community for tech companies?

Building a network of invested developer advocates results in numerous benefits that will help your tech company grow and fulfill business goals. Developer advocacy helps startups and tech companies by streamlining and boosting such processes as:

  • Growing customer acquisition
  • Improving customer retention
  • Driving Product Adoption
  • Increasing user engagement
  • Improving product support
  • Generating new product or feature ideas
  • Collecting product feedback.

But, above all, tech communities are fantastic platforms for building lasting, meaningful developer relationships. Connecting with your audience allows your potential and existing users to identify with your brand and your technology, which is the basis of every successful online community.

How to build a vibrant tech community

Know the difference between your audience and your community

Your brand should be about creating value for your existing and potential users. However, the distribution of value will be different for an audience and a brand. The primary goal of communities (especially developer communities) is to serve the community members by creating a space in which they can help, inspire, and educate each other. You steer the development of your online community, but it’s your members who essentially build it.

The audience works a bit differently - it’s one-sided. That means that you provide all the value to your clients and followers. But an invested audience can become a great basis for successful community building. So, before you start working on an online community, make sure that your audience is properly targeted and cares about what you have to say.

Always do your homework - the importance of community research

As I already mentioned, before you start community building, you have to find your audience. Your assumptions are not enough because they might not prove themselves in reality. You need thorough research to collect data.

Start by speaking with at least 10 of your potential community members - existing loyal customers. Ask them about their needs, motivations, experiences, and pain points. The information you’ll collect during those talks will be the first key step to defining your community target audience.

Now it’s time for digital research. Look for the brand mentions on forums and other existing online communities, like GitHub, Stack Overflow, Dev.to, etc. You can also use popular social media monitoring tools, such as Brand24. The goal here is to find out where your audience is most active and what they’re saying about your technology. Don’t forget to check on the actions of your competitors while you’re at it - it’s always good to keep your fingers on the pulse.

Create a nurturing community space

That will be the most important task for any community manager. You have to build a platform that fosters meaningful interactions and contributions. Your online developer community should be a space in which the members will feel comfortable enough to form lasting relationships with other developers. You can achieve that by employing various community engagement strategies

Learn all about the Community Lifecycle and member types

To grow your online tech community and fulfill the business goals, you need to get as many active, engaged community members as you can. That won’t always be easy, especially at the early stages of your community building. Your developers won’t turn immediately into invested, contributing ambassadors. Instead, they might go through the 5 lifecycle stages of community engagement:

Inactive members

Members who haven't been active in any way for 6+ months are called inactive. They may be uninterested in your community space or have simply forgotten about it. Turning them into contributors will be very difficult, but not impossible.

Newcomers

These are the members who just joined your tech community. They haven’t decided yet what role they want to take on. Make sure that they feel safe, comfortable, and motivated to participate.

Silent watchers

Silent watchers are actually invested and engaged in your developer community but haven’t participated in any way yet. They usually make up the biggest part of most communities.

Contributors

Contributors are active members, excited to take part in discussions, create content, and educate other developers. The more contributors in your online community, the better.

Community leaders

These are the most dedicated, loyal, and committed contributors of your community. The leaders are your natural ambassadors and influencers.

In the early stages, it’s essential to focus on the contributors and identify them, as they are your most valuable members. Who are they? How are they participating in your community? Are they already using your product?

At the same time, you can’t neglect all the other member types. Some of them, especially newcomers and silent watchers, can be easily nurtured into becoming contributors, and maybe even community leaders in the future.

Define your contributions and align them with your company’s business goals.

What is a contribution?

Successful community management is about more than just gathering a group of like-minded people with a common goal or a shared purpose. To make your developer community vibrant, show them what they can do collectively to achieve it. Help them define the goal and the path that leads to it. That path should be made of community contributions and activities in which members can engage.

Below, you can see many examples of contributions your developers can make:

  • Asking and answering questions on public forums, chats, and groups, like Slack, Discord, Quora, Stack Overflow
  • Providing feedback to the product team
  • Being a beta tester
  • Being a product advocate/ambassador
  • Creating use cases and code samples
  • Supporting the documentation creation process
  • Recording videos 
  • Writing blog articles with implementation examples
  • Speaking at your events
  • Organizing local meetups
  • Promoting your webinars
  • And many, many more.
Screenshot from Advocu Community Management Software with community contributions defined.
Example contributions defined in Advocu brand advocacy module.

Before you decide to promote any of these contributions among the members, check if they align with your company’s business goals. Being a beta tester won’t help you grow customer acquisition. Webinar promotion is useless when it comes to product development. Think about what you want to achieve and how your community can help you.

How to motivate community members to contribute

Use the “architecture of participation”

In other words – make the whole advocacy program easy to join, flexible and open to changes. Provide your members with easy onboarding and a flexible system which they’ll be able to adjust to their schedules – not the other way around. Make sure they don’t have to contribute to the whole program and can focus on one activity if they prefer it. You can read more about the architecture of participation in this article, written by Doug Belshaw.

Make them care

The developers joining your community need a reason to care about your project and get actively involved. You have to convince them that the effort they’ll put into the community is worth their time. You can do that by offering them competitive perks or making them feel like a valuable part of the program (or, preferably, by doing both!).

Educate them on how they can contribute and why

Ensuring that your members know all the possible ways to contribute to the community is a must. They should also be aware of how valuable their efforts are and how they help grow the product and the brand. A great idea here is to create a “guide to contributions” for the new members and include it in your onboarding process. You can check the Contributor's Guide create by Dev Library as an example.

Make them feel rewarded

There are many ways to make your members feel rewarded for their efforts. You can create gamification programs that will also motivate developers and allow them to navigate their progress. Invite them to your events as your VIP team. Mention them frequently in your company’s social media posts and praise their dedication. 

Throw special community parties. Include their work in your marketing materials, write articles about your most valuable members, or invite them to join customer panels. Give them free access to the beta versions of your latest products, updates, and features. You can even showcase their work on your website! 

If you let the members of your community take center stage and praise them often, you certainly won’t regret it. You can follow the examples of the most popular, vibrant tech communities in the industry. For instance, the Dev Library is a brand library of blog posts, code samples, and GitHub repositories built with or about Google Technologies. They use Advocu to collect, assess, and publish their members’ activities. You can also look into a GitLab hall of fame:

Example of rewarding community Contributors - Community Hall of Fame from GitLab

or at the video Twilio has recorded about their Twilio Champions:

How to scale and measure the tech community?

To measure the business impact of your community properly, you need to select the right contribution metrics. These can include the number of views, comments under an article, the number of meetup participants, etc. Doing it all manually is possible, but I don’t recommend it. It’s a tedious process that takes a lot of your time. I mean it - a lot.

You can make it all easier by implementing monitoring tools, like Brand 24 or Hootsuite. Advocu will also help, not only with the measuring, but also with the management and growth processes, and take the workload off your back. You can use it to implement an automated Community Application and Onboarding process, to provide a great application and onboarding experience, or/and measure your community business impact like this.

  • Define your contributions and metrics, and engage members to report their activities.
  • Use reports and leaderboards to measure impact and decide what is important.
Screenshot of Member profile page in Advocu Community Management Software.
Contributor's profile in Advocu - one view to see activity and impact made by a specific Member.

Ready to build your own developer community?

Tech companies can beat the market with a thriving tech community. It’s a whole philosophy, and you should use it as a basis for your developer relationships. Focus on building a nurturing community space, fostering meaningful human connections, and aligning your members’ contributions with your company’s business goals to set yourself on a path to success. If you feel inquisitive and want to learn more about developer advocacy in general, look into our ultimate guide to developer advocacy for startups and enterprise companies.

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