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Build Your Developer Community
The developers of today are a rapidly expanding community. They include everyone from hard core software engineers to kids setting their sights on MIT. Regardless of where they come from, developers are a great resource whose endless creativity can be leveraged into the most successful product growth hack ever. Developers are the great leaders of the online world and most great developers innovate not for the money, fame or women (or men). Instead, they build because they are passionate about their craft. It’s not easy to build your own developer community but the potential reward is fantastic.
It’s the passion, innovation and diversity of modern developers that make the developer community the ultimate growth hack for products. Developers help products become platforms. This ain’t new; companies such as Apple, Salesforce and Facebook have already cracked the code. They have leveraged their developer community to become undisputed masters of their respective industries. This is achieved by helping developers build and sell apps that extend their product (Salesforce App Exchange, Facebook App Center). Here at OpenChannel we help these companies build their own app store to leverage their developer community.
Of course, there is more to creating a developer community than exposing API’s and telling developers to RTFM. In this article I outline how to build your very own developer community. It’s a vision that can only be possible by first giving developers a home base that encourages communication, engagement and leadership. This “home base” often takes the form of a support site (developers.yoursite.com) that will act as ground zero for your new community.
Developer Community Aquisition Funnel
It’s hard to build a business if you don’t know who your customer’s are. Similarly, it’s even harder to build a developer community if you don’t know who your developers are. Unfortunately, this is the #1 developer community sin out there today. Most companies don’t communicate with their developers. Instead, the community is relegated to collaborating around a loose collection of tools spread across the internet such as Stack Overflow and Google Groups.
Ultimately, by creating a single (and official) gathering point, you can begin to construct your marketing funnel. That’s right. The same tactics that are used for customer aquisition are key to developer aquisition. A developer portal is where developers begin their journey and where you can start tracking conversion metrics (so brush up and your Google Analytics).
- Inbound Links is the number of links from the internet to your developer portal. To gain organic search links try blogging about what makes your product attractive for developers. To gain SEO and traffic try posting answers on Quora and Stack Overflow that use your product to solve the need. High quality posts that solve a real problem in places where your target audience lives is the magic ticket here.
- New Users is the number of users that visit your developer portal. Even more important than knowing how many developers are visiting is knowing where they are coming from! When you know where you’re traffic is comming from double down investment in similar sources.
- Signups is the number of developers that have identified themselves and indicated interest in the product.
- Engagement is the number of developers showing continuous activity. Whether it’s building apps, participating on forums or product usage, this is the main goal.
Tracking your developer aquisition funnel is important for maximizing developer engagement. It will help identify major issues with your aquisition strategy and keep you focused on your goals.
Communication – For The Win
Once your newbie developers are signed up, you can expect that they are going to take a look around. Remember, just like users, developers will be judging you. If your developer site is as appealing and friendly as a cockroach infested motel then expect developers to vacate. A clean and attractive layout will do wonders to reduce community churn. Most developers are time-strapped do-it-yourselfers that expect resources to be easily accessible and familiar.
Also, it helps to actively encourage developers to engage with other like-minded individuals. Live chats, forums and social messaging are good places to start. Spark conversations around what they are trying to build. A forum is a great place for developers to share their expertise and skills.
Like Minded Individuals
The diversity within a community is always astounding. Some developers may be interested in security, gaming or data analytics while others are primarily interested in promoting awareness or social change. Diversity of interests and ideas within a developer community can become either a great asset or a debilitating liability.
Let’s say that I’m a new developer to the community. Let’s also say that I’m interested in working on a reporting plugin that can help me save time when generating a weekly report. Not everything on a crowded forum will be applicable to my little niche project. How do I cut through the noise on the forums to find information that is relevant to my interests? How do I find other members that have similar interests? Developer forums need to be prunned and trimmed often and shouldn’t be left to grow wildly.
Ultimately, a group represents a singular interest (like a meetup group) or project (like a github repo). Ideally, groups should be able to have their own resources such as a public forum (where only group members can post) and their own administration hierarchy. Allowing any developer to create and administer their own group is a great way to cultivate leaders.
Every Developer Community Needs a Leader (or forty)
Leaders are the glue that keep the community together and focused. The best way to create leadership in your developer community is to let leaders lead!
Furthermore, try to give developers the ability to lead other members by allowing them to create groups with dedicated forums and other resources. Once the tools are in place, the most valuable contributors in the community will quickly begin to take initiative and lead conversations or projects.
Every effort should be made to allow the leaders within your community to take on responsibilities and also share in the rewards.
Incentives and Swag
Thought leaders and innovators rally your community and drive conversation and innovation. So how do you make more of leaders? Reward them. Statuses, points and badges of honor are a great way for you to motivate leadership and provide recognition for accomplishments.
Do you plan to launch a new gadget or service? Let your community leaders have the first opportunities or give them massive discounts on new items.
Stack Overflow’s point system is a case in point. Once programmers register, their “Reputation” becomes their identity. The Reputation in question reflects the amount of subject expertise they have and how much other members or peers respect them.
Keep your Developer Community in the Loop
The more you engage developers, the more reason for them to stick around for longer. Keep them updated on the latest community events. Remember, most developers are not in it for the money and will appreciate challenges such as hack-a-thons. Real world events aren’t always practical but help bring people closer together to create a stronger sense of community. A listing of upcoming events, events calendar or integration with popular sites such as meetup.com is a great way to keep the community in the loop.
Developer Community Feedback
Feedback from your developer community is just as important as feedback from your customers. Great feedback helps your product iterate faster and more efficiently. Issue tracking, feature requests or Q&A are the icing on the developer community cake.
Remember, a developer community is just that; a community. And a community whose members are scattered across the furthest corners of the World Wide Web is no community at all.
In the end, there is more to it than just providing a developer portal for innovation but its a necessary starting point. If you have the right tools and foundation in place, the better your chances are of building a kickass developer community.