As an API provider, you need to ask yourself: what’s the most important thing to your customers – or more accurately – your technical partners? Chances are you’re thinking along the lines of product benefits and features or ease of use. While these factors are indeed extremely important, the number one priority for most developers is the availability of support.
It’s often said that developers are a tough sell. They’re busy people, working on complicated projects that need to be completed within tight deadlines. They have neither the time nor the patience to evaluate new products or listen to how great your product is. In other words, it’s pretty much safe to say that developers, as a community, hate marketing - at least in its traditional sense.
No doubt, developers and marketers speak very different languages. This disconnect is usually what stops API providers from becoming the next industry standard. Oftentimes, a lack of community is to blame; without a thriving online community, busy developers have nowhere to share their ideas and solve problems. Sure, they may have access to in-depth product documentation, but that will never be a replacement for the vast wealth of tribal knowledge afforded by a popular online community.
How Do Developers Communicate?
A skilled marketer mayexcel at communicating value to an audience of consumers, but it’s a very different picture when it comes to developer relations. While driving home the real-world benefits of your APIs may be a good way to get developers on board, it won’t go far if you don’t speak their language. Rather than being seduced by features, developers are more interested in why a particular feature matters.
They’re not interested in being spoken to either; they need a platform to collaborate with other developers and have direct access to your team. That’s why developer relations – as opposed to public relations – are now a driving force behind some of the world’s largest technology companies, such as Google and Microsoft.
Whether they want support or feedback or are simply looking for the next big idea for an upcoming project, developers and other technical partners don’t have time to send emails and wait for replies or wait in line on the phone. They want instant access to a shared informational resource where they can connect with other experts in their field. They may be looking for ideas, support or even just a snippet of code to use for their projects. Either way, an online knowledge base serves as a one-stop shop for all their informational needs. That’s how developers prefer to communicate in the constantly evolving and rapidly changing world of technology.
What Does it Take to Build a Strong Developer Relations Strategy?
Developer relations act as a liaison between your platform, product engineering teams and third-party developers. While there is some crossover between developer relations and public relations, the two share some important differences, especially with regards to their core competencies. The ongoing relations cycle looks like this: your team builds the platform, along with the SDKs and APIs, while a developer relations expert engages third-party developers by giving them the resources they need to work with your product.
A functional developer relations process goes full circle, meaning that developers provide feedback through the developer relations department, which ultimately feeds into the continuous improvement of the platform. As such, developer relations personnel are responsible for providing documentation, curating the best practices and real-world usage scenarios, offering training materials and more.
That’s why you need to have someone on board who speaks the same language as developers – in other words, they need to have a software engineering background themselves and be respected as peers. Remember, they’re not there to sell anything – they’re there to solve problems through excellent communication and a thorough understanding of the pain points that developers experience.
What Are the Benefits of a Developer Community?
Everything in developer relations comes down to communications, and there’s no better way to enable communications than through a strong community platform that brings together both internal and external expertise under one roof.
A community platform is, by its very nature, a collaborative effort that gives rise to a vast wealth of knowledge shared by your internal team, developers, technical partners and other experts. To speak to the diverse and unique needs of your technical partners, you need to engage them directly both with your team and with other experts.
Without that infrastructure in place, there’s little chance that your product will become a go-to platform in its industry niche. It’s hard to imagine, for example, how Windows could have become the world’s leading desktop operating system had Microsoft never implemented the Microsoft Developer Network as a resource for developers building applications for Windows.