Developer engagement is a serious concern, no matter whether you’ve already launched your app marketplace, or are still considering launching one. After all, an app marketplace is only as good as what developers build for it.
Through our years of experience, we’ve found that there are a few ways you can almost guarantee developers will flock to, sign up for, and build on your marketplace. In this guide, we’ll walk you through a simple, four-step method that covers all the bases: incentivizing engagement, leveraging social proof, handling objections and making it easy for developers.
Table of Contents
4 Steps to Boost Developer Engagement
1. Have Incentives
There are a lot of reasons developers create apps, but unfortunately “just because” isn’t one of them. As such, your marketplace strategy should include one or more concrete developer incentives. Here are some popular choices to consider:
Revenue is perhaps the most obvious incentive. If developers know they can make money by building apps for your marketplace, it’s a lot easier for them to justify doing so. We think that all marketplaces should at least consider offering developers the option to charge for their apps, plugins or integrations.
Special or Early Access can be a powerful selling point for some developers. If developers rely on your technology for their own projects, they may be very willing to contribute to your marketplace if it gets them access to upcoming builds or exclusive development tools.
Communication is another effective incentive for developers who use your tech. Even if they can’t get insider access to tooling, developers will appreciate being kept in the know about changes to your platform and/or having dedicated support channels. Marie Huwe, VP of Developer Programs and Evangelism at DocuSign, says this kind of transparency is the best way to instill trust in developers.
Recognition — think Docker Captain or Salesforce MVP — is one way to encourage superstar developers to join your platform. This incentive tends to work better for individuals (both those working alone and those looking to stand out from within their company) and includes its own subset of benefits like T-shirts, mugs and conference tickets.
Exposure is probably the second most important benefit after revenue. If developers can drive traffic to their own business just by building an app for your marketplace, they won’t think twice. Stripe further appeals to this by openly promoting their app partners on a dedicated page.
Stripe promoting their app developers. What developer doesn’t want exposure?
As you can see, there are a whole bunch of choices for incentivizing developer engagement. Importantly, not all incentives are made equal, so take into account both your developers’ priorities and the resources available to you when deciding which benefits you’ll pursue.
For example, if you know there are lots of third party organizations using your tech, offering app partners access to exclusive developer builds and improved communication channels, are both highly cost-effective incentives.
Social proof is one of the easiest ways to boost app marketplace developer engagement, no matter which incentives you offer. Developers want to know they’re not the only ones contributing to your marketplace — that might signal that something’s not right — and they want to see what others have already achieved, so they know what’s possible for themselves.
Without a doubt, Shopify’s App Marketplace is the prime example of how to leverage social proof. They recognize that revenue is the most important incentive for prospective partners and share nitty-gritty earnings statistics on their developer homepage. They advertise impressive numbers: $162 thousand in annual revenue for their top 25% of developers and over $100 million in cumulative developer payouts.
Potential app partners landing on this page are likely to think, “If they can do it, so can I.”
There are other ways to demonstrate proof on your marketplace. Perhaps the most common, is showing the number of installs each app has collected. If exposure is a major benefit on the minds of hesitant developers, seeing that others’ apps have tens of thousands of installs can quickly generate confidence that their app-to-be is sure to be seen and used.
If you’re just starting out…
Social proof can be tricky if you’ve just launched your marketplace. If this is the case, you have at least two options to quickly generate an impression of livelihood:
- Build the first apps yourself. One of the best ways to kick-start your marketplace is by developing the first few apps internally. This way, prospective developers will have some examples to look at before they build their own. And since you know your own customers better than anybody else, you’ll be able to build exactly what they want.
- Collaborate with existing customers. Even before you launch a marketplace, some customers might already be extending your solutions to meet their own needs. If this is the case, you can often work with these customers to collaboratively develop some public-facing apps with the same functionality.
3. Address Objections
By this point, you’re doing pretty well: your marketplace has some kind of incentive, and developers can see that. So, the app submissions will just start flooding in now?
Unfortunately not. While you’ve addressed all of the potential upside — the reward — you haven’t mentioned the risks. Naturally, these risks will be at the forefront of potential partners’ minds as they consider signing up:
- What if building my app proves to be too difficult?
- What if my app gets rejected?
- What if my app’s functionality is eventually added to the core product?
- What if I have to update my app?
- What if there’s no way for me to receive payments for my app?
…and so on.
As the marketplace owner, aim to address these objections and others, within your developer portal. Create demonstrations showing how apps, or at least a proof of concept, can be built and launched in less than a day. Explain the submission process in extensive detail. State which aspects of your core product you plan to develop. Walk through the update process. List which payment methods partners can use.
We try to say “These are the areas that we care about and that means we’re going to be building out a lot of functionality ourselves in that space – so if you want to be safe, it may be best to stay away from those areas.”
– Blair Beckwith, Shopify
Where you put this information isn’t so important, as long as it’s available somewhere. If developers are serious about signing up to and building for your marketplace, they’ll take the time to find answers to all of their questions.
4. Make It Easy
You’re almost there! With an obvious reason to contribute and all the what-ifs already addressed, developers have probably already started creating their apps. The final piece of the puzzle is making sure they don’t quit, and you can do that by ensuring a positive developer experience.
Make sure the app development and submission processes are straightforward and well-documented. Double check that the technical functionality you expose — likely by means of a collection of APIs — closely matches the practical use cases of your product. Consider all aspects of the developers’ journey through your marketplace.
Developers reaching this page in Slack’s documentation have probably made their mind up: we’re building an app. To encourage them on, Slack shares plenty of helpful tooling.
This is another reason to build your marketplace’s first apps internally: you’ll be able to get extensive feedback on the developer experience because you and your team will be going through the process yourself. If there are any major oversights or general areas of confusion, you’re sure to know about it. Whereas external developers might just click away, leaving you none-the-wiser.
Final Thoughts on Developer Engagement
There’s no use in having an app marketplace if nobody uses it. With these four strategies — providing incentives, sharing social proof, addressing uncertainties and managing the developer experience — developers will be more keen to sign up to your marketplace and less likely to quit mid-build. As always, it’s important to think about who your developers are and what skills, needs and desires they have, since that will inform which areas you prioritize by optimizing your developer engagement.