This post by François Dufour, Decibel’s Marketing Partner and CMO in residence, is part of our series on Product-Led Growth Playbooks. There, we share insights and advice from leaders who have built successful PLG businesses that target developers and their teams.
To grow an engaged developer community:
To ace developer events:
I have had the chance to work with Peggy Rayzis at Apollo GraphQL for over 3 years now. I have always been impressed by her incredible developer empathy. She and her team know exactly how to support and advocate for application developers. She created and grew the Apollo Developer Experience team, which manages Developer Content, Education, Video, Events (including the industry-leading GraphQL Summit), and more, making Apollo the leader of the GraphQL ecosystem.
She agreed to share some of her guiding principles and best practices to grow a loyal developer community. That matters, because when it comes to deciding on which dev tool will make it into a developer’s tool belt, it’s not just the quality of the tool that counts, it’s also the quality and size of the developer community using it. Community is a critical differentiator in the developer tools space.
“When engineers are choosing different solutions to look at, a healthy, vibrant community can really become a selling point and a great benefit”
Express Empathy Proactively
Companies can’t take a rear-view mirror approach to their developer experience strategy. Apollo proactively seeks and logs developer feedback to earn developer respect, express developer empathy, and consistently improve their product.
“Developer empathy is all about listening to developers and figuring out their pain points, and then either crafting content or building code solutions to help solve them. We have feedback widgets scattered throughout various developer properties. Developers love when they identify a problem, share it with you, and you fix it. It builds trust and makes them feel more connected to your product.”
First People, Then Product Education, But Never Selling
Before you try to build a developer community yourself, Peggy recommends thinking about what your goals are for that community. If you’re simply trying to sell a product, you’re likely building a community for the wrong reasons. And somewhat ironically, you’d be missing out on the very information that could help you drive product sales.
The first goal of your developer community should simply be to gather feedback, take that feedback to your internal stakeholders, and iterate based on that feedback. This not only helps you improve your product, but it shows your community that you’re truly listening.
Repay your community’s diligence in providing you feedback with tangible action. Sharing the news of your latest updates, features, and fixes on social media, at events, and meetups can make a massive impact in your community. It’s one of the reasons developer communities like React, GraphQL, Microsoft MVP, and Twilio Champions have seen such success.
The tricky part is bringing everyone together under one roof.
Apollo gathers thousands of developers for its annual conference, the GraphQL Summit. As more events open back up, and coming off a year of nothing but virtual events, the bar is high for attendee interest. Apollo brought their developer community together on Twitch this past year to connect with them, even from afar.
They learned a lot about what it takes to run a successful, professional, high-production virtual event for developers.
For instance, there’s no tolerance for dead air in a virtual conference. Attendees are only a click away from something distracting. To avoid this, Apollo pre-recorded all their talks on day 1 (not MC transitions though) but kept day 2 open for more social functions like networking and virtual meetups. Rather than trying to wedge social time in-between talks, they separated the two tracks.
To make sure their event was a success, after a few iterations, Apollo invests in the following critical areas:
Content is simply the most important part of the conference. Developers want to be able to learn a new skill that they can take back to work on Monday and put to use. Well-crafted technical content and talks are the way to empower developers and make the most of their time.
The odds are, no two event attendees’ developer environments are going to be the exact same. To help solve developer’s unique problems and address their specific use cases, workshops are essential. They allow for a more personal face-to-face or screen-to-screen connection between staff developers and the users they serve. And, they offer an opportunity for that developer to get more hands-on with your product.
Conferences carefully solicit and curate their list of speakers because they know that even if their company isn’t running the talk, they’re still vouching for it. Companies are responsible for all of the content at their conference, so they need to make each talk count. By the way, if you’re looking for Peggy’s favorite technical talks/demos you can find them here and here
Make a space, whether virtual or physical, for your community to interact and connect. Your conference is more than a professional gathering, it’s also a place for developers to build friendships, professional partnerships, and start new projects. Avoid getting community interactions in the way of key talks though.
Great talks never go out of season. To ensure they’re attracting the right talks, Apollo searches for speakers year-round across social media, via Orbit, and by monitoring hashtags.
Finding the Balance of Informing and Selling By Putting Devs First
There’s a delicate balance for Open Source companies at conferences when it comes to selling their product and empowering developers. The key distinction is who the main character is. In pure sales motions, the company makes the product the main character of the story, listing its features, its speed, its scale. In a true, empathetic bit of marketing, Apollo puts their developers at the center of their story. In conference keynotes and talks, they demonstrate (literally, in a demo) how their platform can solve developer problems using code and context. Instead of serving a product for a product’s sake, they’re showing developers how they can be impactful with that product.
The mindset and the events are only two of the key aspects that Peggy’s team excels at to engage developers. They also shine with their docs and Odyssey, their online curriculum for developers who learn GraphQL and Apollo. I encourage you to check out both.