Table of Contents
Before We Get Growing
Developers are hard to find and expensive to keep. Every tech company on the block is trying to tap that asset, making developers one of the most sought after and difficult resources to acquire.
In this article, I’ll lay out some the best strategies for acquiring developers and growing your developer community.
Before you start throwing hackathons, organizing meetups or even thinking about talking to developers, you will need to setup a developer portal “home base”.
A home base allows a developer to sign up, learn more, communicate, engage and lead. Without it, developers won’t have anywhere to land; they won’t know how to connect with you; and you won’t know who they are. A website with API docs doesn’t cut it. If you can’t identify who your developers are then you don’t have a community.
If you don’t have an awesome developer portal yet then check out my article on How To Build An Awesome Developer Community.
Know Your Audience
If you want to attract customers then you need to know who your target customers are and the same holds true for attracting developers.
“Know thy developers and know thy self”
–Sun Tzu (paraphrase)
There are three types of developers: hackers, executives and assassins. I recommend that you focus your attention on attracting hackers and executives and ignore assassins altogether.
If you have no idea what i’m rambling on about check out my article on What Motivates Developers To Build Apps.
Finding Your First Developers
If you are just starting out then there are two main gold mines of developer talent that you’ll want to explore before moving onto other marketing methods.
Conveniently available, employees bring those first sparks of activity into a new developer community. Start things off by getting employees to generate activity on the developer portal by asking common questions and then answering them (think of it as real time FAQ documentation). Give employees 20 minutes per week to lead projects, pioneer groups and engage the community. In fact, most successful developer communities are enthusiastically lead by intrapreneurs (employees looking to start projects that they are passionate about).
Around 90% of developers in small communities are customers interested in using the API to solve their own problems. This is a HUGE win for you!!! It means that you already have a direct line to the majority of your developer community base. All you need to do is let them know. It also means that traditional customer marketing can have a big impact on the growth of your developer community and marketing to developers specifically may not be necessary.
Marketing To Developers
Developers are odd ducks. They don’t respond to traditional marketing and they despise salesmen. Why? Firstly, it’s because they grew up with the internet and have developed superpowers that let them ignore ads, blasts, spam and sponsorship. Secondly, it’s because developers don’t care about your agenda but instead are interested in following their passion! All you need to do is make it easy for your product to be part of their passion.
What Not To Do
I will start out by listing a few HORRIBLE ways to grow a developer community. Lighting money on fire is a much better alternative (because it saves time and also provides a pleasant heat) to these strategies:
- Not having a developer portal
- Banner advertisements
- Getting a sales guy to walk around trade shows and shake hands with developers
- Paying for premium placement on search engines and other sites
Best Ways To Attract Developers
The top strategies for growing your developer community let you attract lots of talent with as little time and money as possible. In fact, the best way to attract developers is not to focus on finding them but letting them find you by broadcasting how your tech can solve their problems.
Developers everywhere use Stack Overflow to find answers to their problems. Sign up and contribute to all the questions that involve your industry or expertise. Become a thought leader and show all the developers out there that you have very cool tech that can help solve their problems.
For example, lets say that you are in the business of generating QR codes. Lets also say that the following question is posted on Stack: “What are the best Java libraries for generating QR Codes?”. It’s a dream come true! Post an answer and don’t forget to add a link to your developer portal. Now every developer with the same question is going to see your post and follow your link.
Github is another amazing marketing tool for reaching developers but it only works if you have some open source code. I always recommend that you open source your SDK’s (only if the SDK’s don’t contain anything proprietary) and post them as public projects on Github. Adding documentation to the github project is important too, don’t skip that step. Github projects take a bit more effort to maintain then posts on Stack but it can be equally as effective.
Write about your product, industry, common technical problems and how your product solves them. Inbound marketing is not just for attracting customers, it’s also fully applicable to attracting developers. Try and answer all the common questions that you get from your customers and lead them to the right solution. Developers are always trying to solve problems, increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve their understanding.
As a side note, once you have a few evangelist developers, let them also contribute posts to your blog. Don’t forget to review the post before it goes live so you don’t end up with a lot of swearing or porn. Remember, developers are odd ducks.
Meetups can be effective at bringing together local developers. Sites like Meetup are pretty easy to start (or join). A successful meetup should not be a marketing pitch but instead focused around a single developer-centric FUN goal (solve a problem, increase efficiency, reduce cost and improve understanding). The best meetups grow in size every month. If you are losing attendance over time, you are doing something wrong and should change your strategy quickly!
Hackathons and Contests
Contests and hackathons are awesome at attracting new developers and temporarily increasing the engagement of existing developers. Sites like ChallengePost are a great way to advertise your contests. Hackathons are very tough to get right and you should consider sponsoring a few local hackathons to get started.
Developer communities take time to grow but you can accelerate it with a few cool strategies. Test frequently, think outside the box and be one with developers.