How to Connect with Your Developer Audience

If your organization provides any kind of technology or service that is consumed by developers, you’ve likely asked “How do we build our developer audience?” In Which Department Does DevRel Belong In? I mentioned that it’s a myth that “developers hate marketing.” Let’s dig a little deeper into the developer audience and what we (I am a developer myself) are looking for when we evaluate products, technologies, and even the very companies that market to us. How can Developer Relations teams form a positive and lasting connection with their developer audience?

What Does Your Developer Audience Want?

The first step in understanding the developer audience is identifying what developers want. And this shouldn’t be surprising: developers want the same things everyone else wants. Developers want:

  • High quality tools, products, and services
  • To be able to trust the brands they support
  • Their lives and work to be more seamless and efficient

What are the characteristics of developers as an audience for your products and services?

  • Developers are technologically savvy and have a keen understanding of the digital space
  • By virtue of their profession, developers have highly developed critical thinking skills
  • Most developers are sensitive to and repulsed by dark marketing tactics
  • Developers are good at spotting BS
  • Developers can also be somewhat unforgiving — get on someone’s bad side once, and you may very well lose them forever

Developer Relations is About Building Great Relationships

Developer Relations is about relationships. This is no surprise. But what are the foundations of great relationships that thrive and endure?

There are several things we should focus on in order to connect with developer communities and form positive relationships with developers. This can be boiled down in a straightforward sequence:

1. We Act With Integrity and Empathy

Developer Relations does not practice lip service or sycophancy. We don’t flatter or agree with influential people or companies just to gain an advantage from them; we don’t butter people up or shine apples.

In DevRel, we don’t just say what people want to hear. We don’t support something if we can’t back it up with actions. Developer Relations is about relationships, and great relationships are built on trust. Developer Relations aims to have a great relationship with developer users, and to do this, DevRel’s core philosophy and communications must have integrity and empathy, and this fosters respect.

Solve Problems, Have Conversations, Be Open to Criticism

We listen. This means listening to the good, and to the bad. In DevRel, we listen to what people have to say without rushing headlong to provide default solutions. We have conversations instead of Q&As and take the time and care to understand our developer users and their challenges and needs. Emotional intelligence and empathy are key qualities that anyone working in Developer Relations should have in abundance.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

We recommend what we honestly feel works best for the user, not what serves only our own interests. Tech is not one-size-fits-all. We don’t sell a user on a tool that isn’t the right fit for them or their needs. Recommending the least-best — or even second-best — solution (if we know the best solution is elsewhere) will only backfire and result in negative sentiment overall. We aren’t selling or shilling; we’re forging relationships.

Keep Promises

We are honest and realistic about options and next steps, and then we back up what we say with actions. When we make a recommendation or a promise, we stand by our word and take responsibility for the outcomes.

2. Build Trust and Respect

When we act with integrity, we foster trust and build respect with our developer audience. Developers tolerate (and occasionally even enjoy) sales and marketing, but if they sense you might be disingenuous, you risk losing them forever.

We build trust and respect by acting with integrity, solving problems, and providing honest discourse and high-quality resources. This is true for products and also for the organizations that provide the products. In many cases, a company’s reputation can become entwined with the level of respect a developer has for the service or software being provided.

To continue to build trust and respect, Developer Relations teams should instill quality and integrity in all of their work. This includes conversations and communications, but also presentations, blog and video content, event participation, documentation, GitHub interactions, and more.

3. Inspire Loyalty and Confidence

Acting with integrity and building trust and respect inspires loyalty and confidence in products and in the organization providing those products. In Developer Relations, we are working to satisfy and serve our developer product users. But that’s not all: we’re also brand ambassadors representing an organization to a developer audience.

A company whose products are represented with integrity, thoughtfulness, and high quality resources inspires confidence in its users. Trust and confidence inspires loyalty, and your developer audience will come along with you and continue to support your products and organization as long as you both serve their needs and prove worthy of their respect.

Connect With Your Developer Audience

To really connect with your developer audience, you don’t need to have the most followers on Twitter, be the most famous speaker, have the shiniest reputation, work at the most prestigious company, or even have the most popular product. You need to act with integrity and empathy, and provide high quality resources and insights. This builds trust and respect in your developer community, and inspires loyalty and confidence with your developer audience.