Developer Relations How Practitioner Marketing Can Help Developer Relations
What is developer relations, you ask? Put simply, it’s the process of building and interacting with a developer community. But this simple definition belies the fascinating complexity of developer relations, also known as “DevRel.” Many people see DevRel as the proverbial red-headed stepchild within a software company, which is why it may be its own department. But developer relations is more likely to be part of the marketing team. Or, it may be assigned to a tech evangelist (more recently known as a developer advocate) or split across more than one cost center.
Many people have written about how developer relations is not marketing (which is true). But the reality of DevRel is that the role is often under-resourced. Fortunately, organizations can leverage practitioner marketing to help developer relations.
You say developer, we say practitioner
When it comes to developer relations, organizations, businesses, and even DevRel professionals often lose sight of the opportunity to use tech evangelism and tech advocacy to create a multi-sided economic platform. This economic platform takes advantage of two types of user populations, one of which is paying customers. The other is developers whose interest in your offering motivates them to create third-party platforms that surround your product with an ecosystem. This makes your product more attractive to new customers — and also more “sticky.”
DevRel is a critical business strategy that supports a company’s growth and economic health by maximizing market share. What interests us is that this strategy relies on third-party developers — experts, practitioners — to accept and build upon a product. While we aren’t experts in developer relations, we are experts in practitioners and practitioner content marketing—and so, we wade in.
Oh, the humanity
As with anything involving a person, we highly recommend beginning your developer relations strategy with persona development. Focusing on diversity will ensure that you cast a wide net, allow for developer creativity, and obtain broader feedback. This way, you can attract the right types of developers and interact with people who aren’t already drinking your Kool-Aid. Your ecosystem will be stronger for it.
However, even with a diverse source of developers, there may be some audiences that you need first — or more. Some might be easier to attract. Chances are, your marketing team and developer advocate can help you research and build a persona. Or, you can find a firm or consultant that can focus on your developer relations requirements.
DevRel and the developer experience
Reaching your developers isn’t your biggest problem. What to do with them when they come to you is your biggest problem. Before you invest in outreach, remember that they need a good developer experience in order to stick with you. This begins with your developer portal.
There are a few key steps you need to take to create a successful developer portal strategy and deliver a supportive developer experience that will help developer relations:
- Create a budget: Cost centers aren’t fun. But remember that the role of developer relations is directly linked to top-line increases. DevRel is leading an important and sustained revenue growth strategy. Fight for budget.
- Taxonomy is important: The structure of the content found in your portal is just as important as the content itself. Create a fit-for-purpose information architecture that is predictable, intuitive, and also flexible.
- Assume multiple entry points: Like most things marketing, you can’t deliver your message in just one form. You must be able to provide the information that your developer community needs in multiple formats. That way, it doesn’t matter how they come to it. Docs will only work for existing API users. Use cases don’t give enough detail for the developer diving deeper, and promotional content won’t get someone to “hello world.”
Making use of practitioner marketing strategies, content, and authors to help developer relations
You aren’t necessarily selling something to your developer community, so you may think a practitioner marketing strategy misses the mark. You aren’t using content to persuade your developer community toward anything. However, you do want them to stay.
Practitioner content marketing has one underlying principle that makes it an effective strategy for marketing — the empathy practitioners have with a developer audience. And that empathy IS something you need to harness in developer relations. Sit back and let a practitioner from outside your organization empathy-write the content you need to keep your developer community engaged and developing.
- Documentation: Your internal developers are probably great at documentation — but they are often documenting for another in-house developer. For the developer who is new to your platform, that’s probably not so useful. Enter a practitioner — another developer from outside your organization who can write documentation from the perspective of someone new to using your platform. And since it was written by a practitioner, that content is technically sound and empathetic.
- Use cases: Use a practitioner who can write from experience. You need someone who can write tailored content with specific common examples and address your chosen vertical markets.
- Blogging: Practitioner blogging is the best peer-to-peer communication channel for sharing how to leverage tooling. And a good practitioner blog will get to the nitty-gritty and talk about the real-world challenges of implementing frameworks and APIs.
- Running code samples: Again, nothing proves like social proof. If an outside developer can pull together compiled and running examples of the API in action with existing apps, your nube developer will be convinced they can, too.
- How-tos/Walkthroughs/Code samples: Let a practitioner outside your organization deploy their developer empathy and expertise to create step-by-step examples or modifiable source code that developers can use to build the skeleton of their application.
- Case studies: If you can find a practitioner who has used the technology, then run — don’t walk — to them. Beg them to write about it before you deluge your new community with the potential of your platform.
The good news is that building a developer portal is mostly a science (except the promotional material and running samples). But it does require a lot of effort. That is why we offer turnkey developer portal creation services — so organizations that need a credible and quality destination for developers (without selling to them directly) are not left with a developer portal which is more of a risk than a benefit.
This post was originally published in July 2018 and updated in July 2022.