Providing a quality API to your customers is the minimum you can offer to them. Developer tools, good documentation, and developer communities around your product are highly requested by developers and that’s where Developer Relations (DevRel) can help. Having an effective DevRel program in place helps your company meet the expectations of developers and grow into a successful business.
What is Developer Relations?
Developer Relations can cover a lot of things, but I like to think that DevRel has two main responsibilities.
DevRel needs to understand who your users are, how they feel about your API, what they want to build, and what they need from your company to be successful.
Be the connection between your company and developers
Internally, DevRel raises the developer’s voice in order to evolve your product roadmap and externally represents your company in the developer community.
Developers have diverse needs and expectations, so your DevRel team needs members with different skills, backgrounds, and interests. It's useful to have some members more into public speaking and others that prefer coding or technical writing. For DevRel, diversity is definitely a strength.
At Amadeus for Developers, our Developer Relations team focuses on these main areas.
- Developer experience - ensuring that developers can integrate the APIs easily and efficiently into their applications.
- Developer community - building a developer community to drive awareness and adoption of the APIs, and making sure that the community is active and engaged.
- Product feedback - ensuring that developer feedback makes its way to the API product team so we can build an attractive product roadmap.
Below, we'll explore the role of DevRel in each of these areas and I'll share some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way.
The developers who use your APIs expect a reduced technical complexity. Below there are a few things we do in order to help developers integrate the APIs in their applications.
There is nothing developers appreciate more than tools that reduce complexity. This is especially true if you work in a complex industry, have junior developers in your user base, or if your users will combine your APIs with others such as payments, analytics, or maps APIs in their application (which is probably the case).
SDKs make it easy for developers to build with your APIs in their own environment, and usually offer:
- Simple authorization process
- Access to all your APIs in their own environment
- Error handling to help with debugging
- Code samples that developers can easily use in their applications
Docs & Guides
First and foremost, DevRel needs to ensure that your API documentation is clear and consistent, especially if your APIs are developed by different teams that could potentially use different terminology.
But good documentation is only the starting point. Your users' expertise and industry knowledge can vary greatly, so you should also create educational content like guides or video tutorials to bring users up to speed on the concepts around your product or walk them through complex processes.
Demo applications give developers a taste of what your APIs can do and can help promote new or underperforming APIs in the process. In particular, demo apps are useful to:
- Give potential customers an interactive way to explore your APIs and functionalities
- Inspire current customers with new use cases
- Give students and hackathon attendees an easy starting point for their projects
What's more, building demo apps is easy and straightforward. The only thing you need is a few interesting use cases and the time required to build.
When you're done, publish the code as open-source - it not only helps developers find them, but it also simplifies onboarding by giving them a base off which they can build their own applications.
DevRel knows your APIs, users, and industry, so they're well equipped to provide support on both technical and functional questions.
Customer support is also a great way to get feedback and ideas for product improvements. You not only get insight into your customers' needs, struggles, and ideas, but it also helps you stay on top of new use cases and emerging trends.
When providing support, remember that developers live in many online places - GitHub, Twitter, or Stack Overflow come to mind - so you should make a point to be available on these channels as well as through your support email.
To keep support from getting out of hand, be also proactive. At Amadeus for Developers, we perform regular automated health checks on our APIs to ensure we identify bugs or issues before our users do.
The developer community has been one of our main priorities, especially how can we build a community and how can we really engage the community we've built, with the following actions.
When you sponsor or even organize a hackathon, you'll bring hundreds of people together to code with your API. You'll also get to see how a variety of profiles - developers, designers, data scientists, etc. - engage with your product from start to finish. Not only is it a great chance to get feedback, but it's also an opportunity to interact with your users directly and start making connections.
Attend conferences & meetups
Conferences and meet-ups are great opportunities to share your product and expertise with the world and, of course, learn lots of new things along the way. They're also a good way to meet potential users or network with peers from other companies.
Virtual events are an effective way to reach a wider global audience, but they're no substitute for physical events and the connection that come with meeting people face-to-face.
Build an online community
If you find that your user interactions are spread out among different channels like email, Stack Overflow, GitHub, and Twitter, consider creating a dedicated online community space where your users can come together, network, or get support. We created our community on Discord, but you can use whatever platform you prefer.
Now, launching a community channel is easy. The real trick is to keep it lively and engaging. There are tactics you can use to keep your community active, including:
- Offering office hours where users can get live support
- Hosting networking sessions
- Creating discussions around topics related to technology or your industry
- Sharing articles or other resources your user might find interesting
Don't be afraid to experiment - you might be surprised by what works. We doubted that anyone would show up to our first live support hour, we launched it anyway and were surprised by the enthusiastic response of the community. We found users sharing their open-source projects, asking about contributing to our SDKs, or wondering if they could write articles for our blog. This gave us the encouragement we needed to continue building the community.
Finally, developers love using and contributing to open source. Releasing your demo apps and SDKs as open-source is a helpful way to build transparency and trust with the community.
One of our main challenges had been how to consolidate the feedback we had gathered and these are the main points that we found useful.
Invest in a dedicated tool
We've found that having a dedicated tool for tracking feedback is much more efficient and scalable than storing it in long documents or scattered files. Our team uses Trello, but there are plenty of other tools that can work. Every time we get user feedback, we just add it to our board and tag it so it's organized, prioritized, and easy to share with our product teams.
Don't forget to follow up
Follow-through is also important. Whenever you make a product improvement based on user feedback, it's a good idea to send the user an email thanking them for their feedback and letting them know the improvement has been made. This builds trust and keeps your user engagement high.
In this article, I've shared a few reasons your API needs a DevRel team and some simple tips to provide a good developer experience, build community, and effectively translate user feedback into product improvements.
In the end, DevRel is all about helping your customers be successful. By providing the right tools, you'll significantly reduce onboarding times for your API, and your transparency and responsiveness will help you build a community of happy developers who love (and love to talk about) your API.
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