Developer Marketing: The Rise of The Community Evangelist

the-new-kingmakers-eclipsecon-130326092252-phpapp01-thumbnail-4“Developers are kingmakers.” 

I first heard this tagline in 2013 at the SenchaCon conference in Orlando where I was to present a session on some interesting mobile enterprise analytics stuff that I and my team had been doing with Sencha Touch. To say that statement struck a chord would be an understatement.

And to rollback the years, it’s hard to believe that a couple of decades back, the term ‘developer marketing’ virtually did not exist. Developers were considered a bunch of nasty geeks and there’s no way you could sell to them. If they like it, they’ll use it. If they don’t, they won’t – as simple as that.

How times have changed over the years is remarkable – developer marketing is now a maintstream play for any platform. While it’s no surprise that companies – big and small now deeply invest into developer evangelism teams to drive adoption, a lesser known aspect is the role community evangelists play in driving this ecosystem.

I’ve always believed a good read is one that not only prompts you to read the piece again and again, but also encourages you to write.

Last month, I read a brilliant article by Quinton Wall (Director, Developer Relations at Salesforce) about the ‘Secrets To Successful Developer Evangelism Teams’ which emphasises the following key points

  • Think advocacy, not evangelism
  • Advocate the mission, not the company
  • Measure everything
  • Start general and lead to specialisation
  • Build an ecosystem

While the article hits the nail on the head and does a great job of narrating how Salesforce built an envious developer evangelism team which grew its developer community from a few hundred thousand to nearly two million developers, it does not tell the complete story.

I have no doubt that companies like Salesforce, Google and Microsoft have some of the strongest developer evangelism teams across the globe. However, it’s not just these people but also the who’s who/ the experts from the community who play a key role in evangelising a platform or a service.

Let me elaborate with a few points and examples

One of their own (OOTO)

It was in year 2001 when I attended my first community conference on a development platform that was built by my employer. It was not an ideal setting – a small town near Rennes in France with 50 odd non-English speaking participants and yours truly – who back then didn’t know the French language beyond Bonjour and Tres Bien. Thankfully, I had my manager with me who happily played the role of an interpreter. I still remember that conference because although it was sponsored by my employer, 3 of the 4 speakers were from the developer ‘community’.  51cf3091c856117099000018_736

For me, it was a great learning experience to see the breadth and depth of the community experts as well as how they wonderfully complimented our team. Although I could not understand most of what they said due to language barriers :), that was my first introduction to community evangelism.

The essence of the OOTO theory is that these are individuals who’re from the community – not employed by the company/ brand/ platform whom they advocate, yet they are the “Been there, done that and let me help you” folks who’ve earned the respect of the community at large.

Having been in the Salesforce developer ecosystem for more than 7 years now, I strongly believe there’s no shortage of such names. Think of Apex and the first name that comes to mind is ‘Dan Appleman’ and his amazing book on Advanced Apex.

Talk about using Salesforce and Node.js and there are folks like Kevin O’Hara and Jeff Douglas who’ve eased the life of thousands of developers with their contributions.  Excited about using Angular.js with Salesforce, Kevin Poorman and ng-force is popularly considered a great starting point. Looking for Force.com training, Don Robins is perhaps one of the most well respected trainers globally in the Salesforce community. Looking for help in the forums, there’s a good chance that your query will be answered by Bob Buzzard who spends an amazing amount of time voluntarily answering questions and getting others up to speed.

And there are hundreds (if not thousands) of such examples – the common denominator being they are all community evangelists – not employed or paid by Salesforce.

Bias

The best thing about community evangelists is that they can be both strong advocates as well as the harshest critics at the same time. Since they’re not paid for employees but understand the ecosystem better than most people, they provide unbiased opinions on what’s working best, what needs to be improved and what should simply be run down the drain.

bias

Of course, advocacy is not just about what the best practices but also about the honest horror stories and Don’t use that recommendations backed by solid evidence.

The Community Spirit

They key aspect to community evangelism is that they keep the ‘community’ spirit alive. These are the people who are examples from within the community who help others with no vested interests.

community_spirit-183741

I’ve come across many brilliant individuals who would be poster boys for how to evangelise the spirit of a community. Romin Irani – a well known name for Google technologies (Google App Engine, Android etc.) is one such name who’s earned respect for himself because of the way he’s helped nurture the community spirit and contribute to building a healthy ecosystem.

Connecting the Dots

All in all, I strongly believe that community evangelists along with Developer Evangelism teams help connect the dots and complete the jigsaw puzzle of technology evangelism. And it’s time to wrap up this post with one of my favourite quotes

connect-the-dots-looking-back-steve-jobs-picture-quote

What your’s take on what makes a developer community or a platform click? I’ve love to know your thoughts on this – please leave a comment.

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