Today’s organizations are more reliant on IT than ever before, which is why software development and support have become some of the most sought-after skills in the modern world. Whether it’s something as simple as a mobile app or a website or a much larger project, such as a fully cloud-enabled ERP infrastructure, software and its increasing role in business processes has become far more multifaceted than it once was.
There’s a constant need for ongoing support, regular updates and continuous improvement, and that means strong collaboration is now a priority.
That’s why online communities have become essential for building and maintaining relations with your technical partners, product teams and support personnel. Forging these meaningful and lasting relationships means creating a platform that grows to become an in-depth knowledge base that you, your developers and other technical partners can refer to whenever they need assistance or to share their ideas.
How to Recruit Devs & Engage Your Advocates
It’s often said that developers and marketers speak completely different languages. However, especially now that we’re in the midst of the cloud revolution, the need for developer buy-in has become greater than ever. Technology integrations continue to drive the need for stronger collaboration between developer communities and others, and that requires implementing a robust platform for meaningful engagements and the sharing of ideas, technologies and best practices. You can’t simply market your APIs as the best in the market – you need a community of developers that proves it.
The first step is to identify your target developers and determine where they already hang out. Among the biggest communities are Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, Hashnode, Hacker News and various Reddit communities. You’ll also find major public communities that are targeted towards developers and engineers involved with specific platforms and programming languages. For example, Microsoft has its MSDN network, which exists to manage the relationship between the tech giant and its technical partners, such as those who develop apps for Windows.
The above resources are great for getting a birds-eye view of your target developer community, as well as setting the standards upon which you can create your own communities. For example, a high-tech firm providing online payment systems will want to make it as easy as possible for third-party developers to find the resources they need to integrate the system into their own apps. In this case, building your own developer community presents the opportunity to liaise with technology partners and customers by providing a real-time knowledge base where people can share the best practices and collaborate on project designs.
Developer communities don’t just provide your organization with a platform to recruit new developers; they also present the opportunity to build developer advocacy. That means having more developers being willing to integrate your product into their own software, since it will become a recognized and widely respected industry standard. One way to achieve this is to implement a system for formally recognizing the most valuable contributions to your community.
Gamification has already become the norm across a wide range of industry sectors, and it’s no longer a mystery to non-gaming or even non-technical audiences either. That’s because it provides a fun, efficient and engaging way to reward constructive participation in online communities. It might not resonate well with every developer but, overall, it’s now an expected part of the online social experience.
Although much of the attention these days is squarely focused on digital activities and online relations, offline events are also still as important as ever. The challenge lies in bridging the gap between purely online interactions and real-world relationships. By building an online community for your technical partners, you’ll have a go-to place for organizing and advertising offline events, such as trade fairs and conferences. After all, there’s no quicker way to reach your developers with a ‘Hello World’ than by making a beeline for your developer community forums.
Community Benefits for Technical Partners
Having a strong community platform for your technical partners provides advantages for both technical support and marketing teams. From a marketing perspective, it’s all about increasing developer advocacy by providing everything they need to get more out of your products. An owned developer community platform is a one-stop resource for exchanging knowledge and fostering a collaborative environment that gets people talking about your products and spreading the word. This approach to community problem-solving can become one of the most powerful marketing resources of all, since it allows you to speak directly to the needs of your technical partners without resorting to the sort of marketing tactics that don’t deliver any value.
Onboard Developers Faster with Your APIs
Software integrations have never been easy, and that’s not likely to change any time soon given the increasing variety of IT infrastructures and the important role of cloud computing and mobile app development. That’s why you need to make life easy for your technical partners by providing them with instant access to a constantly growing knowledge base that provides a more complete informational resource than a product manual alone could ever hope to. This will allow you to onboard developers faster by greatly reducing the time it takes them to become accustomed to your APIs. Now that the main priorities of developers and systems engineers include ease of use and fast deployment options, that’s an invaluable selling point to have on your side.
Give Them a Space to Collaborate with Your Team
Software developers, testers and engineers are busy people tasked with solving a dizzying array of complex technical challenges. That’s why they need immediate access to your team through a platform that’s tailored specifically to their needs. A strong community is characterized by a consistent and high-value presence of your internal teams. That’s why you’ll want a functional homepage that greets visitors immediately after they sign in, providing a welcome, the latest announcements, a list of resources and contact information and a well-organized knowledge base where people can quickly find the answers they need.
Learn about Use Cases for More Effective R&D
While businesses should always be deeply invested and constantly present in their owned communities, it’s your members that will end up sharing some of the most valuable information for your brand. That’s because a healthy online community is a hotbed of innovation with access to real-world use cases and insights that you probably hadn’t even thought about. Perhaps, for example, developers might be interested in integrating your products with systems that go beyond your original target audience. By keeping tabs on usage cases, you’ll be better able to capitalize on opportunities and tailor your marketing and development strategies accordingly.
Inspire Developer Advocacy
Developers are often more interested in how well a product is supported rather than by the features and specifications of the product itself. After all, you could have the best product with the most user-friendly API in the industry, but it means nothing if you’re not offering the support and collaboration that today’s developers need. That’s why a healthy community is itself a key selling point and one that developers will happily tell others about. Simply put, there’s no better way to build brand advocacy, particularly in the software development sector, than by having a thriving community.
Benefits of Online Communities for Product Teams
Behind every great product is a strong team, one that’s cross-functional and makes use of a mix of different perspectives. Oftentimes, product teams aren’t only tasked with development strategy and feature definition; they may also have responsibilities in marketing and forecasting. As such, product developers need to work closely with sales, support, marketing and operations, hence the need for a solid community infrastructure. Since they have a lot of different people to please, they can’t get away with operating in a vacuum. That’s why a product team community helps assist with the collaboration effort and is essential for ensuring clear communication throughout.
Have a Space for Testing and Feedback
Every software product requires extensive testing before it’s ready to be released to the public. Oftentimes, and particularly with larger projects, product-testing teams can include hundreds or even thousands of individuals. During the early stages of testing, it’s vital that internal teams have a space for sharing their experiences and providing feedback. Even once the product is complete, an online community offers an invaluable resource for collecting feedback and aligning product development with support and marketing goals. For example, you might have a community forum for internal testing teams, a private one for beta opt-ins and an open forum for users.
Manage the Ideation Process
Aside from using a community platform for team-driven testing, you can also use it for identifying the next big opportunity. After all, the ideation process isn’t only about developing countless ideas and features – it’s about finding a focus on what works best. Community forums help you identify challenges and start conversations around those challenges. This innovative approach will give your product teams the focus they need to provide ideas and immediate feedback. With the added feature of gamification, you can give members an additional incentive by rewarding them for great ideas and driving constructive conversation.
Gain Access to Real-World Examples and User Stories
A community platform provides a place for product teams to connect with end users, giving them the opportunity to have a say in the direction of the project. No longer is this approach just for the world of open-source software; it’s about gaining access to real-world use scenarios that allow product teams to better tailor their software to the specific needs of the customer. For example, you might be developing an application or platform with a wide scope, yet user stories reveal that it’s gaining traction in a specific industry vertical. Having a community where people can express their needs through real-world examples gives you ample opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition and tailor your solutions to the needs of the individual.
Benefits of Online Communities for Support Teams
These days, consumers and business customers don’t just expect fast gratification – they also expect to be able to help themselves. Whether it’s finding the right solution for their needs or seeking support for said solution, they want answers quickly. While a self-service knowledgebase isn’t a replacement for traditional customer support, it does offer the chance for you to strengthen your brand by empowering customers to help each other without always having to open a support ticket every time they need help. Now that customers are demanding faster and better support options, building a community support forum has become essential.
Reduction in Support Tickets
Having to deal with a huge number of support tickets isn’t just the worst nightmare for a support representative; it’s also a major headache for developers who are often tasked with working within tight deadlines. As such, they probably don’t have time for waiting in line on the phone or for an answer to an email. That’s why you need a self-service knowledge base that provides your technical partners with instant access to all the information they need to get back to work as quickly as possible. This also offers enormous benefits to your customer support teams, who will spend less time answering repetitive questions and more time helping solve more complicated problems that might the existing knowledge base might not cover.
Easier Support for Freemium Models
Given that the market across virtually every industry sector is now more competitive than ever before, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that customers prioritize support as much as they do product features and functionality. However, companies are also in business to make money, which means freemium models can’t turn over much of a profit when a lot of people are using your products or services for free, yet still need technical support. With a community knowledge base, you’ll be in a better position to offer free support to both paid and free users, while offering personalized support only to higher user tiers.
Developers Helping Other Developers
Especially when it comes to software development, online communities are often where the next great ideas are born. The convergence of product development, support and user experiences through online communities fosters a collaborative environment where everyone can share their knowledge and help others learn. For example, thousands of developers turn to Stack Exchange daily to seek answers to their questions and build authority by helping others. With an owned community, you can create the same sort of environment, which will help people get more out of your products to the extent that your APIs might become the next industry standard in your sector.
The most important thing to learn here is that developers are often skeptical people who aren’t likely to be swayed by even the most personalized and carefully thought-out marketing campaign of all. They’re more interested in recommendations from their peers and solutions that have a proven record of getting the job done. That’s why you need a developer community that serves as a one-stop shop for product support and feedback where expertise is constantly and immediately available. In the case of developer relations, that alone can become your most valuable marketing asset, support platform and R&D platform all rolled into one.