You’ve planned your events, and your partner outreach.
Your DevRel team has hit the ground running gathering feedback from beta testers, hosting meetups, writing about how to use the API.
Your marketing team has created awareness campaigns – aimed squarely at the places your prospective API users congregate. And you’ve included the API in your SDK and offer some sort of free trial or freemium offering.
What are you missing?
Whether your API is only for partners, or for the broader public, you need to make sure there’s a community available that non-users, free trial users, and experienced users can all access. That niggling feeling you have is that you still need to build the relationships between the developers using your APIs so they can help each other be successful using your products.
An online community will:
- Increase engagement and API usage
- Lower support costs and reduce time to “Hello World” for your users
- Generate new ideas that will enrich and improve your offering
But … We’ve Got Documentation!
Yes, you do. And the documentation is important. But we know that developers hesitate to wade into it, especially if they aren’t certain they want to work with your API. And documentation doesn’t always cover how the API is used in real-world settings where things don’t always work like they should. Give the developers a place where they can talk to each other to help solve the issues that aren’t covered in your documentation – like compile errors, best practices and coding patterns to use.
What About Our Ticketing and Support System?
If your API is free, a ticketing system with paid support is just too expensive. Obviously, for major issues, you need that support team to put out fires and fix issues.
But you don’t want to use tickets because traditional ticketing systems don’t allow users to collaborate on how best to attack a problem between themselves. Once a ticket is filed it’s up to your support team to answer the questions without the help of your users, which means that they can end up answering the same question over and over again. I promise that once you stand up your developer community you’ll be surprised at the creative and engaging answers to issues that you hadn’t even thought of.
Think of your community as a kind of auxiliary support staff!
Community as a Subtle Promotion Tool
Getting other devs to promote your API (or your products in general) isn’t that easy. They might not have the bandwidth to attend meet-ups with you, join you on a podcast, or write articles.
But they can answer other users’ questions, upvote answers, and make suggestions via an online community. This is especially true if they get value from the dev community you’ve stood up. In other words, if they value their visits to the community, it’s not a chore or hassle to participate – developers love to help each other solve problems!
Some companies rely on a sub-community within a larger online community hosted by another company. You definitely don’t want that. You need to own the data your community generates and control the branding so it matches your company. Sure, it’s “free” – but it’s costly to lose access to the underlying usage data of your customers to some other site. Without this data you’ll never find those API champions who might (eventually) make great podcast guests and product experts!
Large, public online sites can get a little uncivil….just sayin’.
Community as a Stepping Stone Toward Paid Use
If you’re offering a free API with the idea that once users make enough calls to the API they’ll be charged, a community can help answer questions in a way that will deepen engagement. That should help increase those calls.
If you’re exploring alternative pricing models, a community can help you track visitors who might be good candidates for pitching the paid version of the API. Alternately, you can gate certain content or throttle the number of questions a user can ask before they need to upgrade to a paid version.
How Well Do Communities Work?
Unity Technologies, one of the world’s largest gaming engines, started a community to help manage their rapidly growing business in video game development. Their community grew from 2,000 to 1.7 million users without needing to add any additional support personnel.
And there’s this: 89% of developers in Devada’s recent survey say they expect vendors to provide a community.
Choosing the Right Community Platform
So what features are you looking for in a community?
Here’s a couple of features to look for:
- Searchable Q&A functionality. Forums are great, but searchable Q&A is more expedient for the busy developer who just wants to find an answer and get through their current coding puzzle.
- Moderation to highlight top answers. You want customers to answer questions. But not when their answers aren’t that good. You’ll want a platform where you can moderate and highlight top answers.
- Gamification. Offering badges for correct answers, solid ideas, and upvoting posts encourages participation.
- Flexible permissions. Will you need a micro-community within your community for employees or paid users? Ask if that is available – you’ll want to be able to have users “earn” their way into certain areas of the site based on their participation and reputation.
- Multi-language support. Development is global. And your community should be too — and at no extra charge.
- An API. Wouldn’t it be ironic if your dev community can’t easily integrate with your ticketing or knowledge management system? You’ll want straightforward integration options.
A Final Word
As you think about how best to promote your API, consider the role of a dev community. It’s much more than a ‘nice to have’ item. It provides a multi-faceted way to engage developers and develop a deeper and more long-term relationship with them. Build a place where developers belong, and they’ll help each other grow and achieve success using your product!