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Cover image for Tactics for Building Developer Awareness: Part One
Jamie Langskov
Jamie Langskov

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Tactics for Building Developer Awareness: Part One

What is Awareness in the ADKAR change management framework?

As the first stage in a person's experience of change, awareness simply means that they know the 5 Ws about the change:

  1. Who does this change impact?
  2. What is the change?
  3. When is this change occurring?
  4. Where is the change reflected?
  5. Why is the change required?

How does this apply to developer relations?

The translation into the DevRel world is much easier when we are implementing a change to an existing tool. These will be the first questions that a developer will ask when you tell them a change is coming.

However, I would encourage you to consider that launching a new product, service, tool, language, or process is also a change management opportunity. Humans operate on a continuum of behavioral patterns and adding something new is no different than changing something that currently exists when it comes to our response to change. Ultimately, we are trying to influence behaviors that we consider desirable.

I. What tactics can we use to influence awareness with developers when launching a new product or service?

This is a great opportunity to partner with other parties at your company who also talk with developers, e.g. your developer marketing, community, education, and product organizations. Using digital marketing tactics like strategic paid advertising, can reach a new audience of developers. Community tactics, like partnering with existing developer communities (e.g. those built around programming languages) to cohost content, events, and other value-add activities and resources, can help you build loyalty and affinity for your brand, while also raising awareness of your offering. Educational content that, again, provides value without asking anything in return, can help your developers learn and grow in their own careers, while also getting them familiar with and loyal to your ecosystem. This could be videos, live streams, tutorials, podcasts, or blog posts.

Working with visible people (call them thought leaders, influencers, or whatever yucky corporate word you want...) in the industry you are targeting is one of the most powerful ways to gain awareness amongst your target developers by power of peer advocacy. Be cautious though - developers have a well-developed bullshit detector and will not follow the lead of someone who is thought to have "sold out" to a brand. Give those visible people free access to your product and if they are happy, ask them to share with their friends. Don't pay them. (Sorry, not sorry, "professional influencers.") The minute money changes hands, they lose their credibility.

The community approach to working with developers

Developers can tell when they are being sold to and most of them strongly dislike it. To take advantage of many of the more "traditional" digital marketing tactics, you'll need to be very careful about your messaging and delivery.

  1. Go to where your audience is. When you are looking to get the attention of developers, you need to go where they are already motivated to hang out. Places like here on, HackerNews, Reddit, and StackOverflow are common haunts for many developers. BUT, each of those communities has their own set of cultural standards. Use vendor or advertising spaces for advertising. Don't encroach on other spaces with pure ad content. You will only breed bad feelings towards you and your company.

  2. Be authentic. When you enter spaces that belong to developers, you must respect the culture that already exists there. Don't create a new account and immediately start spamming the channel with links to your site. Don't show up to a meetup and start hyping your company when you promised to do an educational talk.

  3. Give freely and selflessly. The best way to win devs to your side is to be a real human, contribute meaningfully and selflessly, and build partnerships. (This is why community-building is a long-game, but that's another post...) Remember, this is the population who embraces free open source software. Devs deeply believe in the power of the community tide to lift all boats.

  4. Speak in their language. In addition to adapting cultural norms within developer communities, you'll need to use the right language to ensure that you connect with your audience in a way that feels natural to them. This likely means working with your marketing team to do some user research to understand the persona you are trying to attract, what their daily life is like, what is important to them, and what problems in their lives cause the most pain. Ideally, you will be sharing a solution with them that will help them to reduce or eliminate that pain.

  5. Lay the foundation. Hopefully, your product is something that you feel passionate about - it makes community work so much easier. By joining groups where people are talking about the problem that your product solves, you can organically enter the conversations happening there and start to lay the foundation for introducing the community to your product. Once you become a recognized presence in the community, you can start to introduce the idea behind your product.

Ready to launch

When you are ready to ask for the community that you've built to help with launching your product, they will be more ready to partner with you. The interaction will feel more like a partnership and less like a transaction and you both will be enriched by it. In the earliest stages of launching your product, you can even tap them to help you build to their needs through early feedback (at Unusual, we call these Design Partners). When it's ready for a broader audience, ask these early adopters to be active advocates by sharing their experiences with their own networks.

You can also ask partner communities to feature your product in their newsletters and spotlight articles by creating ready-to-go content (again, focused on education) and events. Even though you're technically promoting your product at this point, you are still delivering value for free. The main difference is that now you are asking them to get hands on and try the product out.

And lastly, request that tech publications like TechCrunch feature your company by building a strong narrative on how your company is different from others in the space and what makes it newsworthy.

Well, wait a minute. How do I grow adoption on a change or new feature to an existing product?

Ah, yes. I may have gotten a bit derailed there, reader. Forgive me. But now you know how to launch a net new product the community way,'re welcome!

Back to business...

Next time, on ADKAR for DevRel...

How do I make my current developer users aware of impending changes to my existing product or service?

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