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Developer Relations Bake Developer Empathy into Your Developer Portal


Terms like “culture” and “empathy” carry a lot of meaning in business and developer relations conversations. They provide direction and help teams to strategize. It’s easy to understand why they are beneficial. However, it’s not always clear how to go about implementing things like developer empathy. (And at the end of the day, talk is worthless.) Luckily, we know how to bake developer empathy into your developer portal without planning it every step of the way.

The Challenge of Developer Empathy

When vendors practice developer empathy, they give developers the confidence (and even desire) to use their APIs or applications. But while many organizations talk about the need for developer empathy, few fully implement it within their developer marketing or developer relations activities. They often exercise developer empathy in a sort of waterfall approach or even after the fact. For example, they might perform a one-time overhaul of unclear product documentation or a lackluster developer portal. The problem with this approach is that the cost is extremely high and developer empathy effectively ends with that project. The result is ineffective and creates problems such as:

  1. Lack of continuity: While some parts of your developer portal and content hit the mark, others are off-putting. This lack of continuity does not ensure confidence. It often gives developers the impression that your team is scattered or that you don’t truly prioritize DevRel.
  2. You appear to empathize with yourself rather than your developers: Project-based modifications make for a waterfall-style implementation of developer empathy. You are inevitably basing your content and strategy on a lot of assumptions. Even if you’ve made educated guesses, they’re still just guesses. In this case, the finished product will appeal to you, but it might not actually appeal to your user base.

Ideally, you should integrate developer empathy into the maintenance and even the creation of your developer portal. This helps you keep costs low and developer empathy high. But your marketing and developer relations teams can’t do this alone. They need help from the very persona they’re targeting in their DevRel strategy.

The Solution: Leverage Developer Relations and Practitioner Content Marketing

The only way to ensure that developer empathy is baked into every aspect of your marketing and developer relations programs is to incorporate developers into them. And the easiest way to do that is to leverage practitioner content marketing.

By bringing your consumers into the fold, you can maintain contact with the people who use your developer portal. After all, they are the only ones who can really tell you if your portal is successful or not.

Practitioners can help you bake developer empathy into your developer portal in the following ways:

  1. Outside practitioners can create the majority of your content. Instead of writing your own blog posts, and tutorials, let your user base create your content for you. That way, it will be free from your own assumptions and biases. Better yet, practitioners will automatically create it with the developer journey in mind.
  2. Practitioners can provide crowd-sourced validation. Engage practitioners in regular and ongoing reviews of your content. This includes things like having them do a sanity check prior to a new feature announcement.
  3. Engaging practitioners allows you to focus on strategy rather than execution. You probably already know what sort of content you need to engage and support your users. If you can get practitioners to create your content, you can spend your time optimizing your strategy. By focusing all your efforts on your strategy, you can design an excellent developer portal while boosting your developer relations. Meanwhile, your target user base will be the ones making sure that your strategy is working.

The Takeaway: From Conversation to Results

Actually doing what you know you need to do should be one of the most gratifying aspects of your job. Even if it’s not, it’s paramount for your users and your company’s ability to engage and maintain credibility with developers. It’s also key to the success of any developer program.

Embracing developer empathy can seem overwhelming. And you might think that the only solution is to make periodic, project-based updates to your portal’s structure and content. But it’s better to have your team concentrate on strategy while you bring in practitioners to execute it. That way, the people who will benefit most from your focus on developer empathy will be helping you implement it.

As the only practitioner-run content marketing agency, developer empathy is at the heart of everything we do here at Fixate. To learn how we can help you bake developer empathy into your developer portal and more, just reach out. You can also start planning and optimizing your practitioner content today!

This post was originally published in August 2018 and updated in August 2022.

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