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Building Blocks for an Innovative and Inclusive Developer Community, Part 3: Late-Stage, Scalable Growth Considerations Sarah-Jane Morris

SJ Morris is an experienced community builder of 15 years, 8 of which were spent building inclusive developer communities for companies like Mashery, Intel, Keen.io and Shopify. She is Founder and Principal Consultant of developer community consultancy, Listen Community Consulting, and this is Part 3 of her 3-part series on why and how to build a community that ultimately makes your product and company stronger. Want to catch up? Read Part 1 for early-stage considerations and Part 2 for mid-stage growth considerations.

Part 3: Late-Stage, Scalable Community Growth Considerations

Part 2 of Building Blocks for an Innovative and Inclusive Developer Community looked at the importance of feedback from and representation within your community as it grows. To round out this series, we’ll look at how you can ensure you’re reaping the benefits of a healthy developer community now and in the long term.

We’ve already suggested getting early-stage external validation on your developer-facing product ideas through diverse communities like dev.to. Now that you’re beyond the ideation and launch phases and you have an active developer community, how are you continuing to gather feedback? And, what strategies are you using to continue to grow a diverse community?

Community Feedback is a Gift

It’s clear that you are solving developer pain. As more and more diverse developers push the limits of your product, how are you gathering and systematizing their feedback back to your product roadmap?

Many of my clients’ early-stage communities live in Slack or Discord. Both are great tools that take seconds to set up and can provide immediate developer support, which is a must as you nurture a growing a community. But they also have significant drawbacks as your community scales:

  • Lost knowledge: As conversations stream through Slack and Discord’s chat-driven communities, valuable nuggets of knowledge can vanish into thin air, and can be hard to retrieve for both community members and your company.
  • Unscalable expectations: As your community grows, it’ll no longer be sustainable to provide immediate answers to questions as they come in.
  • Walled access: Net-new developers with questions or product feedback may not yet be committed enough to your community to want to join yet another Slack or Discord.

Slack or Discord can be a great exclusive to offer to your more active and committed developer community members, which will also allow you to respond to their valuable feedback and questions more quickly. However, your public community should be a forum (Discourse and Vanilla offer great solutions for developer communities) for the following reasons:

  • SEO: Forums get indexed by search engines, meaning answers to long-tail questions can come up in search results, and help to solve any developer pain before your team even knows about it. You’ll then be able to track traffic to specific posts, which can be a great indicator as to what answers devs are looking for.
  • Knowledge-base: Most forum tools come with a baked-in knowledge base feature that allows you to take your most commonly asked questions and make them easily accessible, freeing up the forum itself for feedback, discussion and specific product questions.

Once you have these scalable community tools in place, it’s important to create consistent and reliable feedback flows. Bear Douglas did a fantastic talk on incorporating feedback into product design here at Heavybit in 2017 when she was still Dev Advocate Lead at Twitter. Some of her suggestions:

  • Someone from developer community or developer relations should be in every Product standup. Not necessarily to participate, but to stay informed and have the shared context needed for future community conversations (reducing the need for back-and-forth emails and chats).
  • Don’t just share bugs with Product, share community love as well. You don’t want to become the constant bearer of bad news only to have Product run away whenever they see you.
  • An issue may be urgent for your developer, but is it urgent for your business? It’s important to dialogue with Product to properly triage the urgency of a fix in the greater scheme of your product roadmap before communicating a fix timeline back to a developer.
  • Translate feedback into tasks: Don’t just write email recaps; create Jira tickets or Github issues that have accountability and process behind them.

A final note on feedback – actively and transparently addressing and actioning community feedback is the key to ensuring your community members feel included and engaged. You’ll not only build a better product that meets the needs of the developers using it, you’ll also provide a positive feedback loop to the community members that have been recognized and heard as a part of the process. So many benefits!

Keep Your Community Fresh

Once you have scalable solutions in place for both gathering and sharing the feedback your community is providing, it’s important to ensure that you’re continuing to attract new voices and perspectives.

An example would be a DevOps tool. Some obvious places this tool may want to look to build out community would be local DevOps meetups or devopsdays. Indeed, these events should be a part of a scalable community growth strategy, but thinking more broadly can allow this community to grow in interesting ways. For example, given the ubiquity of DevOps at tech companies, why not speak, sponsor or host a workshop at the Women in Cloud Summit as part of your overall mix? Attracting more women developers to your DevOps tool is always a win.

Showcasing and supporting a wide variety of developers that have built successfully with your product is another way to signal the importance of diversity to folks considering joining your community. The Twilio Champions initiative is a great example of this.

Want to keep on innovating? Focus on attracting a wide variety of developers to a community that feels heard and empowered by your feedback gathering processes. Eventually, your community will be your greatest innovator of all.

Final Thoughts on Building a Scalable Community

This series has taken us through a number of recommendations to focus on depending on the growth stage of your developer startup, but the thread that remains constant throughout these stages is to think outside your own world to make your startup the best it can be. By encouraging and welcoming a diverse community of developers to grow with your products, you’ll not only be broadening your user base but building something with the chance to impact people all over the world.

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