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Developer Enablement Unpacked: Developer Experience, Relations, and Marketing

Matt Hawkins
Co-founder and CEO of Hoss.com. We help companies build better API-driven products by tracking and managing the APIs they consume.
Originally published at hoss.com ・5 min read

Public APIs create value—for the provider and the consumer—only when they’re used. That’s why fields that attract and support developers have grown in recent years. These individuals and teams enable developers to discover and better use APIs and other technical tools. Once a part of only the largest companies, these roles are now more common at medium-sized businesses and even startups.

We’ll cover three common areas companies use to interact with a developer audience:

  • Developer Experience
  • Developer Relations
  • Developer Marketing

You may find these by other names, but they’re the core pieces of developer enablement—and they’re crucial to both attracting and retaining developers.

Developer Experience: How You Guide the Developer Journey

Once a developer has discovered your API, they may want to use it. Your developer onboarding will determine whether they can quickly get started. These earliest interactions determine their initial developer experience. How you further guide them will determine whether they stick around to be successful with your API.

There are many factors that go into this hands-off developer enablement. There are product decisions, user interface elements, and technical education that all need to come together. If you’re clear about why and how to use your API, you’ll enable developers to accomplish their goals.

A robust developer experience will quickly answer what is possible and help them take the next step. The most valuable tools of the developer trade are all varying forms of documentation. Yes, there are various types of documentation you need to provide a developer to enable them to succeed. Make sure you have at least all of the following, if applicable:

  • A getting started guide;
  • Tutorials;
  • An up-to-date reference guide;
  • Sample applications

For example, Deepgram meets developer needs in its documentation portal:

Deepgram

For someone brand new to Deepgram, it provides a guide to get started. The complete reference is useful for a quick glance at what’s possible or an experienced developer checking on syntax. Finally, guides and samples bridge the gap between first interactions and complete integrations.

Of course, the specifics of your documentation will vary based on your API. This is a great chance to use your product knowledge to customize the documentation with the context needed to truly empower your users. Just make sure you avoid these 10 common developer experience mistakes.

As great as your self serve experience should be, remember developers are people, too. Sometimes direct interaction and the support of others unlocks their full potential. Let's look at how developer relations can amplify your developer enablement.

Developer Relations: Coders Helping Coders

Communication is a crucial element of your developer onboarding, but it doesn’t all have to be in your developer experience. Self-serve signup is great, but so is a friendly face to point out the time-wasting gotchas. No documentation can cover all of those, nor have the same empathy as another person. The field of developer relations can fill these gaps.

Some of the common titles you’ll see in developer relations include:

  • Developer advocate
  • Developer evangelist
  • Community manager

The exact responsibilities may vary, based on title and organization, but the overall duties are to enable fellow coders to be successful. Google first popularized the “advocate” title, which it meant to include bringing product feedback from the outside into the company (being an internal advocate for external developers). By contrast, “evangelists” face outward and spread the good word of the company. In practice, some advocates may be promotional and some evangelists bring tremendous insights back to their employers.

While the example of a new developer onboarding can look like customer support, that’s only one type of communication. Developer relations practitioners attend events, host live coding sessions, and jump into open source forums, among many others.

Even after integrating with your product, developers run into issues the documentation may not answer. It might be specific to their situation or industry. In traditional developer fashion, they could just go down a rabbit hole of hit-or-miss StackOverflow threads. But often an advocate, evangelist, or community manager can provide a quick, helpful point in the right direction.

Once you develop those relationships, it's important to take steps to maintain them throughout their time using your product. A great way to be helpful to developers and to support those relationships is through having a presence in the communities where they congregate. These communities can be of your creation, such as product-specific forums, or be of pre-existing platforms, such as Twitter and Reddit. Just look at all the ways developers can interact with each other from Twilio's website:

Twilio

Making use of one of these should not be mutually exclusive from using the other; each has its own advantages. By having a presence on pre-existing platforms, you'll reach developers who might not have realized your product is the solution to their problems otherwise. And by having your own product-focused community, you create an informative, communicative dynamic between people using your product.

We believe that communicating with developers is important, as you can see, but that assumes you’ve helped them discover you in the first place. Let's look at what you can do to address that concern.

Developer Marketing: Go Find Your Technical Audience

Before a developer can enjoy their first experience or ask a question of your advocate, they need to find out you exist. As with other fields, marketing can help you find an audience. Unlike other fields, developers are especially uncertain about most marketing activities, so you’ll need to be careful how you reach out.

Luckily, most developers are always looking to learn and expand their abilities. If you can help them on their journey—before they’ve even used your product—then they’re more likely to trust what might otherwise come across as promotional messages.

Some common and successful developer marketing tactics are:

  • Events and webinars
  • Content marketing
  • Community sponsorship

You can use any of these approaches to show up where developers already participate.

Bring information to developers when you participate and host events. Help them find the next new thing, or understand better how the current things work. Keep your product promotion low key or non-existent and instead focus on how you can communicate about the problems to developers before working on the solutions.

You can do the same in SEO-focused content marketing and advertising-focused community sponsorships. Show yourself to be a key resource and developers will be willing to hear from you. Use other tactics like retargeting and email newsletter to stay top of mind.

For example, cloud database Snowflake puts it all together in this email:

Snowflake

It’s an event related to specific problems that Snowflake solves. A Q&A session offers the chance to ask questions of experts (perhaps their developer relations team?). All of these resources could then be bundled into content to attract more developers to their platform in the future.

Naturally, you’ll want to include all of these resources within a framework that provides the best experience and access to your own team of experts. How you treat developer enablement in your organization will greatly determine the success of your API. Consider the Hoss developer hub to host not just your documentation, but the full enablement experience.

Reach out to us to learn more about what we’ve built.

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