How Marketers Can Play Nice with Developer Evangelists and Advocates

Three developer advocates talk about the right way to engage them.

Whether they are called developer evangelists or advocates (and title choices could be the subject of a separate blog post), you’ll want to work closely with these key contributors.

But, it’s important to respect boundaries and keep the relationship positive.

Although you’ll be a team working toward the same goal, you need to recognize that you’re both motivated and measured differently. You are measured on specific metrics around retention and lead generation, while the evangelist/developer has a broad role that can be harder to measure.

We thought it would be helpful to ask some established evangelists and developer advocates how they think dev marketers should work with them. If the names look familiar, all are regular contributors to DZone.

The Marketing Division of Street Cred

Eric Schabell, Red Hat’s global technology evangelist and portfolio architect and a DZone contributor, views the role as adjacent to the marketing team. “A developer evangelist is a special breed of marketer with the intention of magnifying the voice of their products to developers. They bring ‘street cred’ from their hands-on experience to their message. And they understand what the developer in the trenches would need to choose their products above others.”

He says it makes sense to measure advocate/evangelists in areas like demo development, publishing, speaking, and other social activities. But some of their job can’t be measured. “The remaining time should be left to the evangelist to explore, create, and further expand their reach in your markets. It takes trust to manage developer evangelists, but the best ones I’ve encountered have always flourished when their passions lead their evangelism activities.”

Or Maybe Marketing Should Steer Clear?

Adron Hall, developer advocate at DataStax and a DZone contributor, takes a contrary view. He said he believes developer advocates are better off being completely separate from any marketing function.

“I have learned through years of experience . . . if marketing is ‘deploying’ a developer advocate, or evangelist, the company has already devalued and put this individual in a bad situation. Advocates have to prove their technical credibility.

“When the advocate is on the marketing team,  anything they say can be devalued among the technical community. They hold these individuals in doubt by default, less likely to encourage or seek an advocate or evangelist to speak at meetups, conferences, or the like because of this doubt.”

Hall believes the better solution “is to have developer advocates work autonomously, not under marketing, but in a space with their own authority to act on behalf of customers.’’

A Wearer of Many Hats

John Hammink,’s developer evangelist and advocate, sees the role as having an outward component more aligned with marketing, focused on making sure the product is user-friendly.

“Advocates are there to evangelize and demystify a technology, product, or API and increase its visibility. They represent the technology to a community of developers or potential adopters,’’ Hammink says. “And, when possible, make using the technology as pain-free as possible by making the pathways to resources and known knowledge a clear as possible.”

Schabell and Hammink view the role as a very social one. And Hammink notes that some of the best advocates he’s encountered don’t come from a highly technical background. That’s not a bad idea in his mind because, for some products, the “people using a technology may be technical, people buying the technology are often less technical, or even non-technical, so there must be bandwidth to address them, too,” Hammink says.

I also asked the three developer/evangelists what one thing a marketer should never ask them to do.

Since complete transparency is critical, Hall says, “Don’t ever ask an advocate/evangelist to shill. Always ensure that all individuals are identified as advocates before any meeting, meetup, or other organizing efforts to bring people together.”

And while Schabell believes evangelists should be measured on what they produce, he wants them to have freedom also. “The one thing a marketer should never ask an evangelist to do is not really an ask, but it happens, and that is to take away their artistic freedom. Evangelists need that freedom to explore, create, and further expand their knowledge reach in their domains of expertise. Taking this freedom away from them is the fastest way to lose both effectiveness and to see your evangelist team wither.”

Hammink’s answer should remind dev marketers of the value of people in your organization with both technical and right brain skills.

“Under pain of attrition, a marketer must therefore NEVER, under any circumstances, commit (an evangelist/advocate) to a technical project and timeline without having a very clear understanding of precisely the impact, time, knowledge, and resources required.  This is seriously demotivating at best, and at worst … let’s just say the unemployment rate in the US is currently at a record low.”

And that is how you keep your developer/evangelist.