An Introduction To Developer Relations: What It Is And Why You Need It

Mike Stowe

Over the last several years, the dramatic shift from brick and mortar stores to cloud service offerings has made programmers, developers, and engineers some of the most sought-after professionals on the planet.

However, unlike many market segments, developers seem to live in their own world, with their own values. As such, they’re not as receptive to traditional marketing tactics.

This disconnect, along with the new need to reach and engage developers, has brought about a new concept of marketing: Developer Marketing (otherwise known as Developer Relations, Developer Evangelism, Developer Communities, Developer Advocacy, etc.)

But what exactly is developer marketing/relations?

Developer relations vs. traditional marketing

Chances are, if you’re reading this post you’re either considering developer relations tactics, or have already been tasked with creating a thriving developer community.

And chances are, your background is either in engineering or marketing—two very different cultures that you’re now expected to marry together.

When building out my first developer relations program, this was one of the challenges I ran into. Working as an engineer for 10+ years, I now had a barrage of new expectations and terms to learn—like ROI, SQLs, SALs, ARR, etc.

A peer of mine, who came from a marketing background, ran into the opposite problem—his highly-passionate community challenged every marketing pitch he threw at them. For example, statements like “Companies save hundreds of dollars with our solution” were immediately met with “Why, what would be different about solution x?” and “Why can’t I just write some code myself?”

what is developer advocacy

“Wow tough crowd to impress…”

To complicate matters, each company seems to have its own idea of what Developer Relations is—whether it’s product, outbound marketing, sales, talent acquisition, PR, or engineering. The truth is, a successful Developer Relations program is none of these and all of these.

What is Developer Relations, exactly?

At its core, Developer Relations is best defined as building relationships with the developer community. It is acting as the liaison between your company and existing developer communities.

Developer relations is most effective when it’s focused on highly relevant developer communities. For example, if you’re a mobile ad company, focus on mobile developers, and not just the developers already engaging or using your product.

It’s also important to remember that every relationship is one of give and take. It’s not just about getting developers on your platform—it’s about making their lives easier. This means supporting their growth by:

  • Engaging them in meaningful ways, especially through meetups and conferences
  • Sharing emerging ideas, best practices and technologies—not just your products and thought leadership
Engaging Developer Advocates
Gaining buy-in from developer advocates is critical to growing and maintaining your customer base and creating a developer community. However, getting the attention of…
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The great thing about developers is that if your product or service is amazing, you don’t HAVE to sell them on it. Developers are always looking for the next best thing or the newest technology, and ways to make their lives easier. Just being a part of their community will make them not only appreciate your involvement, but will also make them want to engage with your company and your products/services.

Lastly, Developer Relations isn’t just about evangelism (being out in the community) and education (helping them grow their skills and learn about new technologies); it’s also about creating a thriving ecosystem for your own community of developers.

The Developer Relations toolkit

Developer relations isn’t as simple as throwing together a mailing list or a forum (although both of these are great starting points!).

It’s really about finding ways to let your community members express themselves and encouraging them to contribute back to the community. Many developers WANT to do this, but can often be hesitant, especially as they are still learning themselves.

As Luca Filigheddu shared in Influitive’s Engaging Developer Advocates guide, developers are highly social and collaborative. This means that beyond finding ways to enable your developers, you’ll want to take advantage of social platforms including Twitter, LinkedIn, StackOverflow, Instagram (Yes, some developers use Instagram), Snapchat (I don’t even know what this is), and Slack or IRC (Internet Relay Chat) to help them connect with your brand and each other.

And as the community grows, you’ll want a way to manage it all: to empower your developers, help them to evangelize your product/service through writing and speaking opportunities, and provide them with continuous education and a strong community for them to engage with each other (and you).

While I was at MuleSoft, we chose Influitive for this tool, and saw our community grow exponentially. More importantly, it provided a strong central community for our developers and encouraged inclusiveness, openness, and professional growth. (Learn more about MuleSoft’s advocacy program on page 8 of this eBook.)

Over the next few months, I’ll be covering how to set up a Developer Relations Program, including:

  • Which metrics you should choose to gauge your community’s success
  • Creative engagement tactics for developers
  • How advocate marketing can help you better empower your developers to drive brand recognition and adoption

More developer relations and advocacy resources:




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