If you’ve worked in the tech industry long enough, it’ll come as no surprise to you that developers are a tough audience to intrigue when building a community and receiving adoption at an early stage. I’ve found that it is critical to engage them by taking a long-term approach to developing a relationship and building trust.
First and foremost, your product must actually confront an important pain point for developers. There’s no amount of marketing that can make an inefficient tool work well. But beyond this, providing a regular cadence of fun and informative content is also essential. For example, recently, in an effort to engage developers in an engaging and exciting way, we at Nimbella came up with a way to gamify the developer experience with a Star Wars-themed, serverless robot-building hackathon called FaaS Wars (FaaS – Function-as-a-service). In this article, I will go in-depth on some of the best strategies to build trust, provide valuable content and think creatively about the developer-centric campaigns you run.
Meet Developers on Their Turf
A crucial element of building trust with developers is to engage them with respect for their time, knowledge, and abilities. It’s important to articulate a clear value proposition for the product with multiple demonstrations and templates, and also to be able to explain to a developer in an elevator pitch how, exactly, your product improves their lives. Using examples to tie it to concrete outcomes is essential in demonstrating this effectively to a group of professionals who are often unmoved by ambitious marketing language and the vague buzzword salads that often populate technology product pages.
This skepticism also means that developers are far more likely to listen to a recommendation from somebody whose opinion they trust than they are to be swayed by even the most sophisticated marketing language. The developer community has its own luminaries and thought leaders, and it’s important to engage individuals in the specific product niches that apply to your company. A recommendation from an industry “guru” goes farther, and is more cost-effective, than almost any social media ad campaign.
In order to build trust, companies have to demonstrate respect for developers by meeting them where they are. Rather than trying to sell a product quickly to an individual, demonstrate why yours is the tool to help them. Don’t get bogged down in puffery and industry jargon — keep it simple and direct with the goal of showing value, rather than chasing trends.
Focus on Valuable and Educational Content
In addition to building trust, a company, at the end of the day, has to be useful to developers. Especially when it comes to vendors, users want solutions to their problems rather than fluff. In our case, we provide a 60-second onboarding experience and resources for building a serverless cloud application.
How-to guides are perfect for this type of content. Clear instructions on how to leverage your tool to maximize its impact on a developer’s project is one of the best ways to encourage developers to use that product. Digital Ocean, for example, enjoys tremendous popularity among developers because of its “How-To” posts.
Developers are far more likely to listen to a recommendation from somebody whose opinion they trust than they are to be swayed by even the most sophisticated marketing language.
For example, over 24,000 people monthly in the US are searching for the keyword phrase “DigitalOcean tutorial” and other 228 related keywords, leading to a significant volume of additional traffic to their website.
Correspondingly, don’t be shy to present your product value when you see the need! It’s valuable to know about the solutions that confront particular needs. However, this kind of promotion should be very carefully considered. Promotional content should be shared very carefully with the community, and only in instances where it solves developer pain. Nobody likes to be sold 24/7. Companies must position themselves as solutions to concrete, material problems, not simply providers of products.
Gamify the Experience and Make It Fun
It’s also helpful to take content a step further than simply being helpful; it can be fun, too. By gamifying the experience of developer education, you open up avenues for deeper engagement as well as linking disparate segments of various developer communities together through a common exercise.
An example of this that we executed was our #DeveloperIPL game, a regional campaign in India that brought its diverse developer communities together through the country’s shared love: cricket. Participants loved the concrete links between the game that spoke to their specific interests (in this case, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar) and concretely useful prizes, such as cash and enabling Nimbella Pro to every participant in the hackathon at no cost.
The campaign was a remarkable success, and we followed it up with market research to examine why it resonated. It turns out that by meeting developers where they’re at, and respecting their time and abilities by offering useful information and usable prizes, the #DevloperIPL campaign returned hugely positive results. Our research further indicated that there’s a massive overlap among top developer tools and gaming websites. It’s based on these elements that the idea for “FaaS Wars” was born.
Hackathons have always been popular among developers, as they offer elements of competition, excitement, and education, all within a social framework that encourages relationship-building and connection with like-minded professionals. “Star Wars” also serves as a type of age barometer — those who grew up with “Star Wars” are largely working professionals, the exact demographic cloud companies want to engage. With FaaS Wars, we hope to continue to provide developers with tools and information they can use to confront the real-life challenges they experience in their day-to-day projects in a format they can enjoy, and perhaps even derive value beyond the technical, whether it’s through the people they meet or concepts they absorb.
After all, developers are a diverse group of people with deep and specific expertise in a field that many view as arcane and inaccessible. To connect with developers, it’s essential to demonstrate your own expertise as a company, of course, but also to demonstrate that you view your relationship with developers as a long-term commitment, predicated on trust and sustained by the continuous availability of resources that address elements that are directly relevant to solving developer challenges. If you make it fun it only amplifies the experience. Companies that are able to become such a resource and a partner will be far better positioned to engage developers than competitors who make no similar effort, and consequently remain just another vendor in an ever-more-crowded technology sector.