Marketing to Developers: How to Build a Community of Advocates

Binpress hosted a meetup this week on marketing to developers, something that's a little less straightforward than your average B2B messaging. About 150 marketers and developers settled in at Pivotal Labs, a cool industrial space in the former Cal Academy of Sciences building on Howard. Neeraj Gupta from Appcelerator kicked things off with the story of Titanium.

Make Marketing Scalable by Rallying the Development Community

Support for Titanium grew through a small group of developer advocates. The company started cultivating their community early on, and now its members take on a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to organizing events, creating books and documentation, and spreading the word.

Appcelerator's developer community screenshot

Gupta made a good point—telling people “It’s a better product, trust us!” just doesn’t cut it. Developers trust their friends and colleagues for recommendations, and having people loyal to the product explain why it’s so great is more powerful than a marketing message from the company.

Give developers incentive to be a top advocate of the product.

Appcelerator picks top contributors from the Titanium development community and gives them more features for free. They’re also a lead generation source for developers who want access to larger customers, showcasing the most active community members on their site to give them a greater level of visibility.

Ask yourself if you’re doing evangelism right:

  • Do you have a compelling product that solves a problem?

  • Do you have a few people on your team who can drive the community and get evangelists?

  • Are you empowering developers to spread the word on their own?

Marketing and Product Marketing Should Combine Their Powers and Keep It Real

Kelly Shearon from GitHub product marketing put on a great talk on why we need to use real, human communication to reach our developer (and any) audience. She touched on the importance of marketing and product marketing to work as one, and reminded us that you can still meet marketing goals—like lead generation—while being real, live humans.

ZOMG! slide of a cartoon shark

On how to communicate when marketing to developers:

Kelly was pretty straightforward with her advice: be conversational, have empathy, be classy, have a personality, and let people be a part of it.

A great example is the way GitHub tells user stories. It’s interesting, relevant, and allows the cool things users are doing (like robot tournaments) to be seen by thousands of people.  

Ask yourself if your marketing message makes sense:

  • Do you know what people's problems are and what they're trying to accomplish?

  • Are you inspiring or just selling?

Some Smart Ideas from a Panel of People Who Know

Diane Tate from Mozilla moderated a discussion with Slava Akhmechet from RethinkDB, Thomas Sarlandie from Pebble, and Amber Feng from Stripe. The three of them ran down the list of things they’ve tried, what works, and what doesn’t.

A few takeaways:

ROI isn’t always easy to track, but it matters when resources are limited.

Pebble, a smartwatch company that got their Series A last year, puts on a developer retreat that’s been great for building community. Admittedly it won’t scale forever, but it’s an example of starting strong and early. Sarlandie pointed out one challenge in marketing—where to spend event and developer marketing dollars and how to tie it back to ROI. He didn’t mention it, but it would be interesting to explore opportunities to integrate automation software here and track leads back to developers in the community.

Manage your large community by getting a handle on your communication strategy.

RethinkDB's whole development process is open source. They have a big discussion going on with their community, especially on Twitter, and they think about communication with developers even during the hiring process. Akhmechet’s willingness to forgo hiring otherwise bright employees who can’t be empathetic to users alludes to the company’s dedication to their core audience—which, incidentally, can spawn one of their biggest challenges. A big, vocal community with a lot of clout can serve as a reminder that as your company grows, it’s important to have a process around managing some of the more opinionated developers when their ideas and recommendations clash with your own.

Be hands on with support, but train people to do it right.

Stripe, developer of APIs for the payment space, is really hands on with their users, which Feng explained has worked well for them but presents a challenge in scaling support volume as they grow. Being super aware of how people interact with the community and developing a strong hiring and training process around it can help get developers excited about becoming better users (and advocates) of the product.  

The overarching theme here is that marketing to developers should be authentic. It should focus on cultivating a community that loves your product. And it’s never too early to think about scale.

Topics Education