Here’s a statistic we often quote for good reason: Ninety-two percent of developers expect companies to provide an online developer community (Evans Data Corp. – 2017).
It was probably one of the first stats I encountered when I joined Devada. So, when I was working with our subject matter experts on the “8 Questions to Ask Before Selecting Your Developer Community Solution” guide, I was like, “Wait, there are companies that don’t have communities?”
Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: There are two types of companies that don’t have communities. Start-ups typically don’t add a community until the business starts to take off and assorted pain points emerge. The second type of company that might not have a dev community (yet!), has a growing software developer team that is increasingly spread out. The Slack channel just can’t keep up.
Both of these kinds of companies reach a point where they need to consider starting a community or moving to one that is more dev-focused. Our guide goes into more depth, but here’s a look at the highlights.
You are Going to Need to Talk to a Lot of People
Start blocking time on calendars. You’ll need to poll stakeholders, influencers, and users to understand goals and objectives. Will outside developers, or technical users, need the community? If so, it’s important to include their voices as you establish objectives. Ask internal stakeholders what they need from the community and ask external voices about what they want.
There will also be a lot of tactical considerations — from figuring out how many users need support to security, moderation control, languages, and permissions. You’ll need to consider how the community will fit into your customer and developer support ecosystem. Talk to internal stakeholders about their expectations for having the community integrated (via single sign-on) with social networks, marketing solutions, ticketing systems, workflow tools, and chat programs.
From these discussions, you’ll begin to outline a use case.
Now dive a little deeper.
Is Case Deflection My Most Critical Need?
If so, you need to make sure the community is designed to collect, organize, and provide access to shared knowledge through Q&A, knowledgebase articles, and ideation. The community can be internal (for developers and tech tool users) or external (for customers using the company’s tech-enabled product). Many communities serve both types of user.
The first goal of these communities is typically to move toward self-service. It’s moving from a one-to-one support model to a many-to-many, peer-to-peer model where a question can be asked once but the answer lives on for quick retrieval by many subsequent searchers.
Do I Need to Fuel Deeper Engagement and Sales?
If you have a freemium model, a site rich in content highlighting what devs are doing with the paid version is a softer way to sell developers on paying for your product. In addition, product managers can keep an eye on who is asking a lot of questions – a hint that the time is right to reach out to offer a paid subscription. You’ll want to track users and content creators to understand who your advocates are. A key with this type of solution is easy visibility to find emerging experts and top contributors.
Shut Down Suggestions to Build the Community In-House
Hardly anyone does this anymore, but you might be at one of those companies that love to throw programmers on in-house projects. Resist.
Regardless of the size of your IT department, it’s unlikely anyone on your team has the experience to build a community solution from scratch. And if they insist, they do, discuss ongoing costs for maintaining and supporting the community. Do you really want a technical debt issue to emerge with a solution that is supposed to deflect costs and gain engagement?
Ask Lots of Questions About Cost
Does standard customer service come with the contract or do you pay extra? Does setup require a separate professional services contract and how much will that cost?
Understand the subscription model. Are you charged per user? If not, how many users are included in a standard package? You’ll want a solution that scales economically as you grow. You should also ask about language localization and whether there is an extra charge for it. And ask if the platform is designed for mobile responsiveness and whether users will need an app to use it on their mobile phones.
Ask if support is included (and at what level) or how much it costs. Do they have the right support level for your needs? Is online-only support acceptable? Or do you prefer dedicated live support? Also, ask whether version upgrades are included in a subscription or cost extra.
Look Into the Solutions Similar Companies Use
Identify the solutions that competitors use and review case studies to gauge effectiveness and satisfaction.
Also, look at who the company markets to. If you specifically need to build a developer community, a platform that touts its consumer brands might not be as focused on the kinds of features and functionality you need. Use that same logic when reading reviews on Capterra and G2 Crowd.
And Ask About Analytics
It kind of goes without saying that’ll you want to understand how your platform is performing. A basic dashboard is a must-have, but you will also want to be able to integrate with Google Analytics and other third-party analytic packages.
At a minimum, you’ll want a dashboard that can show time-series data, top contributors, and answered/unanswered questions. You’ll want to see top posts by content type, page views, and what the trending topics are. If you have a platform with gamification, your analytics should track that, and you should be able to run reports on traffic, unique users, and time on page.
If you are just at the point where you are big enough to start a community, are thinking about one to make your in-house developers more effective, or aren’t sure your current community is doing what you need it to, check out “8 Questions to Ask Before Selecting Your Developer Community Solution” for a more in-depth look at questions to ask.