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While developer communities have huge potential and can offer organizations a wealth of benefits, they aren't without their own unique set of challenges. According to the State of DevRel 2019, the biggest challenges in developer relations fall into four main themes:

  1. Hiring and Scaling

  2. Management Buy-In

  3. Community Growth and Engagement

  4. Strategy and Measurement 

This blog will discuss these challenges and how to address them. However, before we dive in, note that this blog is a chapter from our eBook, How to Build and Scale a Successful Developer Community. If you like this blog and want to learn more about building developer communities, be sure to download the full eBook.

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5 min

Sarah Robinson-Yu
Victoria Burt

Common Developer Relations Challenges and How to Address Them

10 minute read

July 21, 2020

While developer communities have huge potential and can offer organizations a wealth of benefits, they aren't without their own unique set of challenges. According to the State of DevRel 2019, the biggest challenges in developer relations fall into four main themes:

  1. Hiring and Scaling

  2. Management Buy-In

  3. Community Growth and Engagement

  4. Strategy and Measurement 

This blog will discuss these challenges and how to address them. However, before we dive in, note that this blog is a chapter from our eBook, How to Build and Scale a Successful Developer Community. If you like this blog and want to learn more about building developer communities, be sure to download the full eBook.

Now, let's dive in!

Building a Developer Community

Hiring and Scaling

Currently, 76% of DevRel teams have ten or fewer members, which is quite a small team to work with given that developer communities can be huge. Nevertheless, developer relations teams find it challenging to secure the resources necessary to hire additional team members and scale. 

The solution to this issue actually ties into some of the other challenges that these types of teams face: in essence, to obtain the resources necessary to scale, developer relations teams have to convince management that they're worth investing in (challenge #2). This is done by providing solid data and numbers to back the case (challenge #4).

Once the resources are in place to actually scale the developer team (we'll discuss how to do this later), many teams actually struggle with finding appropriate talent for the job. To address this challenge, teams must look to hire people who are strong multitaskers and fast learners—this is because 89% of developer relations professionals say that they simply learn on the job. Moreover, only two-thirds of developer relations professionals have a degree in tech, making the candidate pool for these types of roles quite diverse.

Ultimately, while securing resources can be a challenge to grow a developer relations team, once these resources are obtained, hiring should focus on those who understand tech but also have a strong grasp on time-management and communication skills.

Management Buy-In

As noted above, the key to getting the resources necessary to hire and scale a DevRel team depends greatly on securing management buy-in. Proving the value of any community is a struggle for all community professionals—indeed a recent research study revealed that this is actually the second largest overall challenge for branded online communities, next only to community engagement.  

The best way to go about securing executive buy-in is twofold:

  1. Understand your organization's goals and tie your community to these objectives

  2. Lead with a story and end with statistics

Executives care most about the bottom line—they want to know that they're allocating company resources in a way that'll have the most impact. And the fact of the matter is, selling community of any type has been a struggle for most organizations. In fact, The State of Community Management 2019 found that only 48% of executives were “fully supportive” of community approaches, while an additional 15% “saw potential”. And believe it or not, these statistics are actually "not bad" when comparing it to even a few years ago—in 2017, only 21% of online communities had executive sponsorship. 

The key to successfully obtaining executive buy-in is to tie the community to business objectives that executives actually care about. That being said, you need to first know what your organization’s key objectives are and then show how the community helps achieve them.


Example

Xamarin is a great example of an organization who procured a developer community with executives leading the way—it was made clear from the beginning that community tied directly to business objectives. Xamarin is a leading platform provider for mobile app development, which was acquired in 2016 by Microsoft, to be included in their broader portfolio. To an organization like Xamarin, who is fully integrated into Microsoft Visual Studio and is one of the most popular platforms for cross device app development, developers are everything. Since developers are integral to the company’s success, they knew they needed a dedicated developer community to ensure that these developers get the best experience possible. This would empower their developers to engage, collaborate and continue to build on their product. 

Xamarin community

The Xamarin developer community (shown above) only continued to impact the bottom line, solidifying the community hype across the organization. This included the ability to quickly identify the top contributors, 25 of whom are now employed by Microsoft, in part because they  could onboard and train more quickly than those not accustomed to the software.


Ultimately, understanding what matters to your executives and tying community to these objectives is one of the best ways to secure buy-in as Matthew Revell, Founder of Hoopy, says:

“Community acts as a substrate for all of the things that need to happen in order to market, sell and support your product in the long-term… [so shape your buy-in] strategy [to] align with the things that your executives care about, and that you understand what numbers they care about.” 

This leads to the next strategy that's used to successfully obtain executive buy-in: telling a story and then following up with numbers. Numbers, statistics and data—this is the language spoken by executives. 

Being able to have these types of conversations, however, takes some research and analysis on your part. If you haven’t already, you need to start measuring your community’s analytics and correlating your activity with real results within the company. For best results, be sure to frame your discussion like this: “We’ve been doing X, and it's been contributing to Y.” This is a powerful formula: money and results talk. 

But what if your community is relatively new, or worse, not yet in existence?

If your community does not exist yet, you'll actually create a business plan—a proposal for a new developer community. Be sure to include any relevant case studies of organizations that are similar to yours who have benefited from a developer community. But you can’t solely rely on pointing the finger at others. The question the executives will want to know is, how will you make their success your success?

That being said, some things to consider when planning your buy-in strategy include:

  • Determine how you will present your plan (powerpoint, report, etc.)

  • What aspects of your plan are open to iteration and which ones you’re set on

  • What the benefits will be for each department get from your plan (if applicable)

  • What stats (if any) do you have that show that your plan is likely to succeed?

  • How your plan will help each department reach their goals (if applicable)

  • Anything you may need from them (resource amount, etc.)

  • Any part of the plan that they would be responsible for

  • What they think “success” will look like for this plan, and any KPIs they want measured

One other piece of advice: before you make your case to your executive team, try to get at least one of them fully on-board. This person will serve as your champion and help you make a stronger case. 

Building a Developer Community

Community Growth and Engagement

Community engagement will naturally contribute to the growth of your community, namely due to the SEO value that constant traffic emits, but actually getting community members engaged is the biggest challenge that organizations face.

The reason engagement is such a challenge is because it's not solved by doing just one thing—heck, it's not even solved by doing two or three things. Member engagement is a complicated thing that requires a ton of moving parts and a comprehensive strategy that spans every inch of your community. Generally speaking, there are many different things that communities should focus on in order to increase engagement, which tend to fall into 1 of 6 categories:

  1. Effective UX and UI Design

  2. Understanding Your Developers 

  3. Leaders that Forward Community Goals

  4. Engaging Community Content

  5. Strategic Community Gamification

  6. Strong Member Onboarding 

Community engagement is so much more than being unique or dynamic. It's about having the right foundations for success, knowing what strategies will be well received for your community and then refining these strategies for maximum effect. 

Let's take a closer look at what these categories entail.

1. Effective UX and UI Design

UX and UI are incredibly important when it comes to getting your members to actually use your community and keep coming back—in other words, UI and UX play a central role in influencing your engagement levels. These things matter, especially when it comes to developers who seem to have a knack for detail.

2. Understanding Your Developers

Any successful engagement strategy is informed; that is, it’s not just slapped together and put out there. The key to increasing adoption and engagement in a developer community is actually knowing your community. You need to know the segments, personas and personality types of the developers within your community, and understand what drives them to visit. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions when crafting your engagement plan.

3. Leaders that Forward Community Goals

Be sure that your developer community has a Super Fan program in place to recognize your top contributors—these individuals will actively communicate with other members to increase engagement. These people are crucial to the success of any community, and can also be given special statuses that allow for additional privileges, which can help developer relations teams manage larger communities. 

4. Engaging Community Content

As discussed in Chapter 2, content is incredibly important. Make sure that your developer community has a ton of content that is written in the type of jargon that developers actually used. Additionally, be sure that your community is public so that you can get the most from your SEO efforts. 

5. Strategic Community Gamification

As discussed in Chapter 2, gamification is a tool that's most commonly used to increase community engagement. This is because gamification acts as an achievement system, where members can level up and are recognized for their participation. Gamification is a must-have for many developer communities, including Xamarin, who “wanted an achievement system that included badges and a leaderboard; it was important that we could reward developers for their engagement and participation in our forums."

6. Strong Member Onboarding 

Having tactics specifically crafted for developers who are new to the community is important because their attitudes and behaviours haven't been influenced yet, so they're essentially a blank slate. Doing the right things from the get-go can assure new members that your community is a place where they want to be.

Strategy and Measurement 

The last major challenge for developer communities is strategy and measurement—in other words, how and what metrics should be collected, analyzed and used to inform decision-making.

While we discuss how to measure the success of a developer community in greater detail in Chapter 3, a list of common KPIs for developer communities can be seen in the chart below. 

Action Taken by Developers

Benefit for Organization

Metrics (KPIs) to Quantify Value

Provide peer-to-peer support 

Reduce call-center support costs by offsetting workload via the community

  • Number of support tickets deflected
  • Total amount saved in deflection
  • Average time to first response
  • Average time to solution

Connect with other members and share ideas

Improve brand image and awareness

  • Number of non-support related peer-to-peer conversations
  • Number of discussions created
  • Amount of positive reactions

Provide product feedback

Improve existing products by quickly identifying errors, and also help shape the development of new products

  • Number of new ideas from the community
  • Number of ideas that have been used for product/ service development
  • Number of bugs identified by the community

Generate peer-to-peer content

Free content, created in developer "jargon" provides a boost in SEO

  • Amount of user-generated content created
  • Amount of traffic generated by user content
  • Total unique visitors to the community
  • Total inbound links to the community 
  • Total community pageviews

 

While not all of these KPIs can, and should, be measured, be sure that the ones chosen to represent the value of the community best reflect the objectives of the organization. 

Building a Developer Community

Developer Relations

Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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