Building a developer community can have numerous benefits for your company, from reducing support and onboarding costs to increasing adoption and generating valuable feedback. In this post, we’ll share our approach to engaging and growing a developer community in a sustainable way, based on a 5-phase framework. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to improve an existing community, we hope our insights will empower your team and scale your community.
Let’s dive in!
Setting Goals and Tone
No matter how large or small your company is, there are many, many benefits of building a vibrant developer community: reducing support and onboarding costs for new users, increasing adoption of your platform through referrals, retaining existing users, generating valuable feedback for your high-level product roadmaps, encouraging novel use-cases of your product, and more. Figuring out what you value most will help you better measure your results and prioritize initiatives effectively.
Setting the tone early for your community is crucial. It can establish an identity for your community and its members, and help make process-related decisions later on. For example, if you choose to emphasize creating a welcoming environment for inexperienced community members, this will naturally lead to policies later on that emphasize low response times for support questions and other newbie-friendly processes.
Phase 1: Identifying your Developer Audience
The first phase of this process involves identifying the specific group of developers you want to target. The developer community as a whole is huge - there are currently 28.7 million developers in the world, and that number is growing every day! It is therefore essential to pinpoint a specific group to allow you to focus your efforts initially.
You can choose a target developer community based on many different criteria, including region, tech stack, shared interests, or language. For companies with a live product, this group often starts with a self-selected group of users, but it’s still worth taking note of underlying similarities among your most passionate existing fans to see where your community can grow into.
Once you have successfully identified the audience you would like to focus on, you can move on to the second phase of the strategy.
Phase 2: Conducting In-Depth Research
The goal of this phase is to understand your developer audience's pain points, values, and interests, and the best way to do this is to be embedded in your target community. Find where they congregate and go in with genuine interest to understand what they value, what tools they use, and their developer pain points. Some examples of this include:
Attending existing community events, conferences, meetups, and online webinars
Identifying and talking with respected people within the existing community
Pay particular attention to people excited about engaging with and helping others and their style! Get to know them by name
Reading online forums and spaces where the community congregates like Reddit, Dev.to, Hackernews etc
Phase 3: Crafting a Strategy
Once you have an in-depth understanding of your target developer audience you can use this expertise to help your team craft a strategy to engage and help the developers within that audience. Use what you learned about your audience's values, interests and pain points, and bear in mind your initial goals and ways that you can guide the community towards them. Some examples could include:
Planning a content calendar covering topics that address the identified interests, pain points, and values
Planning meetups and events that will pique their interest
Planning workshops that teach a valuable skill or tool that they can apply to their development workflows
Planning incentives like custom swag or other special recognition that you can offer your most passionate champions
For this phase, you want to consider ways you can encourage potential members to take part in your community and give back to it. Providing them a place to meet, support, and network with like-minded individuals is a given, but offering learning opportunities, social clout, or material benefit can also be powerful.
Planning is important, but execution is everything and that leads us into the next phase of our strategy.
Phase 4: Execute and Engage
The ultimate goal of this stage is to build trust and genuine relationships within the community.
Sticking to the planned schedule for content publishing and delivering
Setting firm dates and times for events and meetups and delivering
Encouraging growth by guiding new community members from your events and content to your online platforms and integrating them in a welcoming way
Sharing updates and roadmaps to keep the community excited and engaged
Providing opportunities for competition and collaboration within the community
Ensuring consistent staff presence to ensure community members feel heard
Elevating and recognizing active and helpful community members to encourage a sense of pride in their efforts
By executing your strategy and engaging with your audience you are building a strong foundation based on availability, consistency, and demonstrated value. You want your community members to feel proud to contribute to and be a part of your community (while being wary of elitism!), and therefore spontaneously encourage others to join. When done correctly, this creates a powerful feedback loop of growth!
Phase 5: Measure and Iterate
Finally, it's necessary to measure the success of your hard work in relation to your initial goals and go back to Phase 3 to adjust your strategy as needed. Some metrics could include:
Content: Traffic to your site, social media engagement, downloads of projects
Events: NPS (% of promoters - detractors) from surveys, special signup codes
Online Community Growth: Measure the number of new community members coming from meetups, conferences and other engagements. Bespoke invite codes can be useful here!
Product and tool adoption: Track the usage of your product or tool and identify trends that may suggest an initiative is working
It is vital to take stock and use metrics that map to your initial goals for your community in some way to inform your community engagement strategy. This will enable you to improve your approach over time. Remember that building a sustainable community takes effort, iteration, and consistency but with the right strategy and commitment to your metrics, you will always move toward building a sustainable community.
Sustainability and Beyond!
Sustainability is achieved when community members can take the lead in the initiatives your team has modeled. This can involve:
Community members publishing tutorials, open-source code snippets, and apps
Community members providing support and sharing resources
Community members volunteering to become moderators
Reaching this point is a huge milestone, and you’ll notice that your team’s role will start to change. While the amount of direct involvement they’ll have with day-to-day tasks like answering support questions will decrease, it is important not to distance yourself from the community and maintain a firm, consistent presence. Your team will take on more management-type duties where they actively look out for and spotlight quality community content, create guidelines for contribution, and keep an eye out for rising stars who can make up the next wave of champions.
However, don’t let the fact that your community has a feedback loop going lull you to sleep: keep your foot on the pedal and continue to foster engagement and growth through your content calendar or other strategies that have led you this far!
We hope reading about our process helps you form strategies for building communities of your own! No two communities are exactly alike, but this general framework can help you stay organized and measure the success of what’s working and what isn’t. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to us on Twitter @janeth_graziani and @Hacubu. Thanks for reading!