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Developer Outreach - Start With Why, Then Ask How
Many people agree that developer outreach is a key component of API program success for anything from mobile enablement to digital distribution – we’ve seen this happen in companies like Edmunds, Best Buy, and Rotten Tomatoes, to name a few. But as easy as it is to follow the trend and ramp up developer outreach efforts, it’s important to first ask the question – Why do you want to engage developers? When you think about the why, you begin to ask, with whom do you want to engage (audience), and how does that engagement help you acquire users/customers/revenue/whatever metric you choose (ROI)?
With developers, the "if you build it they will come" concept doesn't tend to work well. They look for a compelling value proposition. This is a product management and product marketing exercise that is no different than what you would do for your any product, except that you are marketing it to a different group of people who have different needs and different motivations. It is not easy, it takes a ton of work, and it doesn't sell itself. Even though it often looks like people just naturally adopt some product or API, this is rarely, if ever, the case, and it is certainly not something you can count on.
Firstly, you want to make sure that you offer something that developers actually want to use, and on the terms and conditions that they will find compelling. There needs to be a benefit for them somewhere – and it needs to be easy for them. Be sure that a developer can go from finding your API to being signed up and making calls in five minutes or less. Provide lots of code samples and links to a directory of apps that have been built on your API so developers can get ideas and see how others have implemented your API. Make the developer site easy to navigate and easy to use. Easy is key.
Once you have a compelling API product in place, you can begin to evangelize. There is no singular methodology or playbook for marketing to developers, unfortunately, but there are a lot of valuable resources and services out there on how to do it right. Mashery, Intel Software Services, has more than 245,000 active developers using the APIs we power, plus an entire team of developer marketing and evangelism experts who are here to help with just this challenge. Our annual fee for this is a small fraction of what you'd pay to hire someone to do the work, and because this team is purpose-built for developer outreach, we can hire true experts rather than finding people who need to do other work to fill out a full-time job. You can follow our developer marketing team's blog and Twitter stream to see the kinds of events and outreach we do.
The money you would pay for our service versus someone else's is the least of the "cost" to you – your time, and the time to market for your product (and the ability to capture customers and market share ahead of your competitors) is the ultimate business gain, not to mention that you don’t have to divert any of your engineers and executives away from their actual day jobs.
Mashery, Intel Software Services’ Developer Outreach is about more than the community – it is a team of experts who have done this dozens of times before who take your API to developers and events and teach them how to use it while encouraging them to do so. We don't invest money in developer outreach because it is fun; we do so because we know of no other way to be effective. It is a differentiator that no other company on the planet offers, and it is hard work. But if you look at the companies who have successfully built followers on their platform in any meaningful way, you will see a significant commitment to building and managing the developer community, even if their brand is already well known, like Getty Images or Coca-Cola Enterprises. For companies without well-known brands, it is even more important to establish and nurture a relationship with the developer community.
Effective developer engagement is more than just having a public API. Before you invest the time, money, and resources into a developer outreach program, treat your API like a product offering and consider the business reasons for marketing your API to developers. When you’ve decided that developer outreach is right for your business, we have a team of experts on the ground ready and waiting to make your API wishes a reality.