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Shifting to Online Community: Q&A with HashiCorp, LaunchDarkly, and Moesif Heavybit

During a recent Speaker Series on the future of DevRel, panelists from HashiCorp, LaunchDarkly, and Moesif discussed how DevRel teams are adjusting to the shifting landscape and equipping themselves for our new collective reality. If you’ve already watched the panel, read on to learn more as they respond to some questions from the audience.

Tools and Platforms for Video and Audio Training

Jana: YouTube Live, Twitch streams, and Crowdcast have been awesome. I think every dev advocate on your team needs a good camera and microphone. For our events, we sent each speaker speaker kits. Now that we’re always using video, having good lighting and sound are important.

Jessica: I would almost prioritize the microphone over the camera, especially if you’re doing a demo or presenting something on your screen because the image of yourself is going to get smaller. Being able to hear and understand you is what’s important. Allow your team to experiment a little bit. There’s Twitch streaming and YouTube Live, even try Zoom’s webinar functionality. There’s so many tools out there from an IC perspective of communicating.

Hopin and Loom are great tools that we use at LaunchDarkly. We launched a new integration and so we started using Loom to make videos talking through the project. We also use it internally for our quarterly hackathon, Moonshot or as a tool to for everyone to give presentations on what they’re working on. For some of the community work that I’m doing with conferences like CascadiaJS, we’ve been combining homegrown tools with tools like Remo, which mimics table networking. There are a lot of options in terms of platforms you can customize that are also within your budget.

Derric: On top of that, have a process for what happens after that event is done. Not everyone has the time to watch a video so make sure you can format it in a way that’s digestible for anyone asynchronously. We use tools like Rev for audio transcription services. After an event, we put out a blog post that has key takeaways from the event and we’ll share the post on different platforms and the video on YouTube. People still want to build relationships even though everything is virtual today so if someone had a question you couldn’t get to, follow up with them in a one-on-one.

Jessica: On that note, we launched something called the Docking Station so if people want to request a Zoom call to talk with someone on the team like a developer or a sales person, they can set up a 15 minute call. It’s a fun way to engage with the community and also helps bring that community piece to an event without making it really intimidating.

Where DevRel Sits in the Org

Jana: At HashiCorp, the three teams under DevRel are education, which was under engineering, community, and my team, which were under marketing. Now we’re all under one org but we still report to marketing. Open source and our practitioners are always the most important for HashiCorp and our top goal is to enable them and as we grew, we realized all of the activities happening in these different departments were intertwined and fell under developer relations so we decided to become one team.

Jessica: DevRel at LaunchDarkly is under Platform and Platform reports directly up to the CEO. Where it sits in the org can change. Jana’s explanation of HashiCorp is a great example of how these responsibilities started out in different departments and as they grew and the skills needed changed, they bought it all under one. It can start in marketing or engineering depending on what your company needs at the time and as you continue to grow and scale, it might evolve into its own department. It’s important to remember who your executive sponsor is and making sure those goals are in line. It doesn’t really matter what department you’re in, as long as you’re empowered and have the support to do your job, which is helping developers.

Derric: We’re an earlier stage company so DevRel is actually separate from marketing because we wanted to keep the goals separate. However, it’s always interesting to see, what are the goals of the organization from the executive level? Is it to focus more on advocacy and top of funnel and getting the word out or if the focus on developer experience and what people do once they get to your website? Once you understand those goals then you can figure out whether it’s a product org or a marketing org, and where the budget comes from.

The Role of Open Source and DevRel

Jessica: At the core, a lot of things that your team’s going to be doing for the community is open source anyway. As an advocate, when you’re creating content, you’re putting it out there ideally to help someone do better. If you create a demo, it should be public. Contributing to big open source projects like Terraform shouldn’t be the only thing DevRel does but it should be a part and can definitely be a strategy.

Derric: Be careful about how your sales team interacts. Most open source projects are going to have some type of open core model but you don’t want your enterprise sales team going in to try to convert some of those folks. Open source can be a lead gen strategy for the company but make sure that DevRel is independent and is about helping folks get educated about the different use cases, rather than just being an extension of sales. DevRel shouldn’t be commission driven, otherwise you lose that authenticity.

Jessica: You can use your DevRels to help make warm intros. But their performance shouldn’t be measured by leads and making sure the sale is closed. It should be about helping influence revenue. It’s a very fine line you need to balance and make sure you don’t tip one way or another because that’s when you lose that authentic voice.

Jana: If your goals were tied to sales goals or if you were just focused on leads, your activities might become inauthentic and the community will definitely feel that.

Navigating the Commercial vs DevRel Teams

Derric: When you start, you still have to somehow attribute your DevRel activities to ROI for an organization. Leadership will be looking for something. Whether it’s increasing top of funnel growth or closing more deals. So you need North Star metrics like get more folks to test out your APIs or share your content with others to drive referrals. If you don’t set metrics that are clearly separate from sales or marketing, those lines can get blurred and messy.

Jana: Building a community focused on your developers should be embedded into the core of your work. All of your activities, whether it’s the speakers you find for conferences or the activities that your team does, should always be for your community of developers. Don’t approach things with the lens of, will this help us close this deal?

Jessica: That comes back to your executive sponsorship and the understanding of your program, being clear about what you’re tracking and the value of the impact that you bring. By communicating that you’re already setting that boundary because you’re saying, “here’s what we do, here’s the value, and here’s what we’re measuring.” It’s going to be a lot harder for someone to say,”I know that’s your value and that’s your impact but can you do this thing anyway?” That’s where you can fall into the trap of everyone being on all the sales calls, which is more of an SE role. You have to signal to the rest of the org what the charter of this team is and what lines you won’t cross.

Communicating the Impact of DevRel

Jana: Not everything can be measured which is tough for Founders who care about the data and metrics. How do you measure brand awareness and how do you measure community building? I remember I did HashiConf in 2015 and we had Capital One as one of the first customers to speak on stage about how they were using Vault in production. Three years later we closed a multi-million dollar deal with them. How can I attribute that to the 2015 activity?

Jessica: I think there is a way you can track that. You don’t have to frame it as, “Because of X, then Y.”You can track the history and relationship with that partner. You can look at Capital One and say, “we’re so glad that they’re our customer now, we can trace back to 2015 and see that they spoke at this conference, and that activity drove all of these things.” Whether it’s in Salesforce or some other tool, as long as you’re reporting on that and centering that conversation around your event recap or around your reporting, you are communicating impact. What you can’t track is human connection. You’re wasting your time if you’re trying to track authentic human connection with a score.

It takes multiple touch points and multiple activities. That’s why you have DevRel, because we do the range of activities that move people along. That’s why we try and take that same idea and put it through a written piece of content, video, code, events, and any kind of format for people to digest. Sometimes it takes three different ways or three different times to fully get it and understand the value or to move past that point.

Building Interpersonal Relationships Virtually

Jana: It’s interesting because we found the different tools out there that work, that foster that connection, but we also found that people got tired. All of a sudden, all of the teams like my team, the field marketing team, the product marketing team, everyone started running virtual events. At some point, people reached Zoom fatigue. If you are running these micro virtual events or digital conferences, spend some time thinking about how many you’re doing, what the message is, and producing the most worth-while content.

We thought about why people attend our conferences, it’s really for education and the connections. So we spent a bunch of time trying platforms like Crowdcast and Zoom webinar. We wanted community engagements like chat to ask questions, polling, and smaller meetups for the hallway track so we decided to build a custom platform. There are ways to do these engagements online in a meaningful and thoughtful way.

Jessica: There’s lots of tools that can turn your in-person events into digital ones but if I was asked which one offers the most impact or value, it’s still too early to say. We can say that X amount of people showed up and Y questions were asked, but we still can’t compare the impact of that to an in-person event that might have happened in March. I don’t have enough data to make a statement on the effectiveness of virtual events.

What I think we should be doing is experimenting and adapting and trying to make that intuitive change. What does the hallway track look like, how do we shorten these events so people aren’t just sitting without a break. Eventually, we’ll have more data as an industry to say how these things are working and what we can do better.

Derric: If you do a 30 minute presentation, people are going to want to check Slack or are getting pinged by their colleagues. If your presentation is a narrative, people can’t just jump in halfway through and understand what’s happening. It’s a format designed for in-person events. So, experiment with micro decks that might be only couple slides long, highlight a couple key points, then jump right into discussion. Make sure that whatever micro event you’re doing is engaging the audience.

SWAG

Jana: We had over 8,000 people registered for our digital conference, we just couldn’t afford to send swag to everyone but we sent our VIP ticket holders curated boxes. For our employee summit, we also sent everyone curated boxes that they opened up every hour with the start of a new session. It was part of the experience. For conferences, I suggest digital swag gifts like Slack backgrounds, laptop backgrounds, playlists, and custom emojis. For speakers, send them t-shirts that they can wear during their talk or we sent them cards with customizable LED lights.

Jessica: We’re still experimenting with a couple things. We’ve moved away from swag being something everyone gets to something some people get. So we’ll have giveaways that people can enter to win different types of packages that we send out, because it’s a little bit easier to scale.

Setting Up DevRel at Early-Stage Companies

Derric: As an early-stage company, for us, the first steps were about focusing on what the goals are for DevRel. As we discussed, it’s a very ambiguous term. Some folks thinks in terms of community, there’s also content, which I consider a single-user mode. I would take advantage of asynchronous, single-user mode projects, like demos, instead of jumping straight into having a huge forum with no one on it. You can also start with small-scale webinars and take advantage of getting your partners or customers involved.

Jana: I’ve been early at a few startups and was pretty early at HashiCorp. I would start with, do you already have your branding defined, do you already have your messaging and how you communicate it, do you understand your audience? Work with the founder or someone in marketing to define those things because you need to know these things in order to decide what activities are going to be the most effective to do.

During the early days at HashiCorp, we had a “how to communicate with our audience” document. It was our messaging style guide and when we were answering support tickets or Twitter tickets or writing messaging for a webinar, we referred to that. We had a unified voice across the company. My other piece of advice is to test and iterate as early and as often as possible.

Jessica: The number one thing I would do in the first month or so when you’re being onboarded is, look into data like where the gaps between your company and the stakeholders are or where people are falling off in the cycle. Figure out when and where to start and then look into how you want to communicate that with the community. Experiment and see how your audience reacts.

Especially with a team of one, a great thing to do is go partner with the DevRel person at another company that your products work really well with and do activities like a joint webinar or demo and amplify your efforts.

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