The four most important questions to ask before launching a developer community

Steve Ellis

09 February 2021

Community management has always been at the core of any good developer advocacy strategy. Hackathons, meet ups, collaborative open-source projects, online communities – Reddit, StackOverflow, Github – all enable a culture of word-of-mouth recommendations and collective learning. Untrusting of traditional marketing, these channels are critical to reach developers. Leveraging them creates second opinions from unbiased sources.

Developer native companies have always sought to establish strong communities to attract developers. Communities are sticky, success attract a highly engaged audience, building adoption and a deep reservoir of skills.

Many more organizations have now realized the value of communities as a result of the pandemic and our inability to attend events.

This is a positive trend – we want more high-quality communities giving developers the chance to connect and learn. But it comes with a word of caution.

The increase in interest towards building online communities is inevitably partially be fueled by short-termism – marketers looking for a band aid to stem the flow while we’re all stuck at home. However, any developer community that wants to be remotely successful cannot be viewed as a short-term tactic.

At Metia we’ve experienced clients and prospects jumping to engage developers through virtual events and community building. Needs must, we understand that. But before jumping in, assess the situation.

Ask yourself these four questions:

1. Will you get internal buy in for the resource and cost?

Before you even think about approaching questions two to four in this list, you must get buy-in. It’s a frequent misconception that brands can hire a social media manager (intern, anyone?) and expect them to build a following on third-party platforms. It might work… but developer communities need dedicated specialists in order to thrive.

Not only will building a developer community require a financial investment: content creation, platform choice, audience engagement – but it is also costly in terms internal bandwidth and resources. To compound matters, developer communities aren’t quick fixes. They take time to build.

If a developer community doesn’t get long-term commitment to future growth over a period of years, it’ll be dead on arrival with a heap of sunk costs to see it on its way.

2. Can you provide developers with a fair exchange of value?

The Internet is abundant with content, as a result audiences cannot be duped into dialogue. Developer audiences are especially distrustful of anything that smells like a sales pitch. Why should they invest their time with you? What are you giving them back in return for their attention?

The notion of a ‘fair exchange of value’ is essential to any and every developer interaction, whether a one off tactical activity or a long term program.

Brands must go into developer community building with the right expectations. Its not easy. Its not simple. You’ll need to run regular content planning, initiate open conversations, encourage user participation and actively analyze both third and first-party data. What is your audience talking about? If they’re not engaging, is it because you’re not engaging them or because your topic is irrelevant?

This is even more important for a developer audience who are short on time. It’s essential you make their lives easier and help them get to grips with information efficiently. How quickly can they learn from your community and how quickly can they get to try your product or service?

Understanding what resonates with your particular sub-set of developer audience will allow you to create relevant content, generate community engagement and ultimately provide genuine value to members.

3. Do you have the right team?

A dedicated community manager is a necessity. They'll be the hub of activity and the face developers see when they join the community. In fact, they’re so important that community-facing roles should really come ahead of sales for any developer specific strategy.

Community managers need to be empowered to have honest conversations about your product and provide open communication lines generating feedback from the community. Community managers are not just brand advocates for you, they represent the voice of your audience back to your organization.

And community engagement doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the community manager. Active executive participation signals that the community is important to you and provides an incentive for engagement: “my feedback might be heard by the CTO”. It’s also key to identify the subject matter experts within your organization who will need to play an active role in nurturing community participation.

Developer advocates are critical for community management. It is necessary they have a good understanding of the technical landscape, architecture, toolset, languages, developer concerns and full knowledge of the product proposition.

4. How will you measure success?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) should demonstrate how users are interacting with the community, while also measuring progression through the critical measures of adoption and consumption.

Step away from wanting to gain as many members as possible, at least to begin with, and instead focus on engagement. Are developers spending time contributing, are contributions positive or negative in sentiment, are developers moving through the community and user experience, or are they just signing up and disappearing? Building a highly engaged, small community is more valuable long-term than attracting thousands of disengaged members.

Having trophy metrics for bragging to execs is great. But if the commercial imperative is to drive consumption of a service (and hence revenues), then best be laser focused on the drivers of consumption.

Key takeaways

Developers are distrustful of traditional marketing. Online communities are the default mechanism for talking to developer audiences. However, it’s important to temper your expectations and be certain you have buy-in from the wider organization in terms of expectations, cost and contributions.

Successful developer communities are incredibly valuable assets to any business, but they are not created without significant investment. Its possible to get it right. Its possible to get it wrong. Get it wrong and it will be difficult to earn back developer trust.

If you’d like to learn more about building communities download our report “Building Active Communities” here. Or get in touch with our developer community team and learn about the services we provide to developer native organizations.