One of the most common mistakes in developer marketing is being overly broad in defining your target audience. For example, I recently spoke to a prospect who told me their intended audience was “anyone who writes code.”
While it’s tempting to think a large addressable market is better for the business, it makes it nearly impossible for developer relations and marketing teams to effectively reach them. There’s a lot of nuance and segmentation possible between developer audiences, so the panel discussion titled “One Developer Program, Multiple Audiences” at SlashData’s DevRelX Summit 2023 was really interesting to me.
Led by Ray Stephenson of Cisco, panelists Tessa Kriesel (Snapchat), Kevin Blanco (Appsmith), and Esther Agbaje (Directus) talked about the various audiences they serve, the channels they use to reach them, and the types of content they create to meet their needs. In this blog post, I’ll recap their conversation and point out some of the key things I took from their discussion.
The Many Segments Within Developer Audiences
Before diving into specific questions, each panelist discussed their background and the audiences they’re focused on today. Tessa’s team at Snapchat is focused on helping creators and developers build augmented reality (AR) experiences. As you can imagine, creators tend to be less technical (i.e., not writing code) but more interested in knowing what’s possible and how Snapchat’s tools can help them better reach or serve their audience. On the other hand, the AR developers using Snapchat are more interested in the implementation and integration of Snapchat’s tools.
Kevin’s team at Appsmith helps technical and non-technical users build dashboards on top of their API or database. Typically, these are used for internal tooling, but because Appsmith is a no or low-code tool, there are many creative and interesting ways to leverage it. Kevin has the challenge of showing both these audiences how the platform works for them and helping them get the most out of it.
At Directus, Esther creates content and helps manage their community efforts to reach frontend developers. But, even among frontend developers, there is room for a lot of segmentation by framework choice, experience level, and business use case.
And finally, Ray, who has worked at Microsoft in the past, pointed out that their audience at Cisco is very different from developers he’s worked with before. He called Cisco’s product “developer plus,” adding that their primary audience is network engineers working on the command line and not actively writing code. That said, they also have a DevOps persona and a software engineering persona, so his efforts have to work for three very different types of technical users.
With this context in mind, let’s dive into the questions the panelists discussed and some of the advice they offered to developer relations teams who are defining and segmenting their audiences now.
Question 1: How do you think about audience segmentation?
The most obvious forms of developer segmentation are by easily quantified traits like framework, language, experience level, and job title. Esther pointed out that they have to address many different segments of frontend developers, so they plan out content aimed at each based on their frontend framework and how experienced they might be.
This type of segmentation is a great starting point, especially for products that are still building up awareness, but there are other more nuanced ways to segment developers as your product offerings grow. For example, user motivation becomes really important as you try to design experiences for many types of users:
“What are they motivated by? What’s going to bring them in and keep them here?” - Tessa Kriesel, Snapchat
Tessa pointed out that the marketing personas help, but they can miss the user’s intentions for the product if taken out of context. Understanding motivations will help you know which product features, integrations, or user experience factors you should be focused on as your product matures.
Kevin Blanco agreed, mentioning two resources that he found helpful as he learned about audience segmentation: Start With Why, a book by Simon Sinek and Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done framework.
“It’s key when you’re trying to define your audiences or personas to think about, what are their whys?” - Kevin Blanco, Appsmith
Kevin added that it’s important to also understand where these users are in their “customer journey.” Are they completely new to your platform? Are they experienced users who aren’t fully using all of your platform’s features? Are they using your platform for personal projects but not work projects?
Combining knowledge about each user’s place in the customer journey with their motivations will help DevRel teams greatly when segmenting and targeting different audiences.
Question 2: How do you think about using different channels to reach different audiences?
With multiple audiences defined, the next challenge most DevRel teams face is how to reach them. By having well-defined personas and understanding each’s motivations, it becomes easier to connect with them, but you still have to know where they spend their time.
Tessa noted that her audiences are very different in where they can be reached. Snapchat’s creators are typically on the platform already, so they can be contacted directly, but developers may not be. Tessa’s team looks out for niche communities of developers at the cutting edge of AR and spends time listening and learning about their needs.
“We play a role [in niche communities], but don’t come in and sales pitch…I’ve found the most value by going where developers are, and eventually, they start coming to my channels.” - Tessa Kriesel
Having experience at both large and small companies, Kevin added that the challenges are very different. At Google Cloud, developers already knew who they were and would sign up to come to their events. At Appsmith, developers might not know they need them or they might be evaluating the platform against other options.
Despite these differences in awareness level, Kevin said that the channels he uses really aren’t that different. He goes to physical events where his audience is already attending and interacts with developers on the platforms they’re using.
Esther added that for her, creating content that works for both internal channels and external channels is key.
“Internal channels are the ones that your immediate community follows, for example, a Discord community…You want to make sure you’re creating content for your immediate community, but don’t just focus on your internal channels. There are also external channels where developer congregate, like Dev.to.” - Esther Agbaje, Directus
She brought up cross-posting content to multiple channels, and trying new channels periodically to maximize your reach. On that point, Kevin and Esther mentioned success using TikTok as a way to engage with developers.
While creating content for lots of different channels can be time-consuming, Ray pointed out that it’s a great way to reinforce your message and Kevin noted that the AI tools available are making it easier than ever.
Question 3: How do you use feedback from different audiences to improve your product or company?
One of the most valuable opportunities DevRel teams have is to marshal feedback from developers to improve documentation, support, and the product. Everyone on the panel had examples of how they’ve been able to achieve this, so this portion was really interesting to me.
Esther gave an example of a content versioning feature they recently launched. The pre-launch version was made available to internal community members and their feedback helped guide the product team as they iterated before the public release. She also mentioned that they include feedback forms throughout their documentation to gather in-line feedback from users about improving features and documentation.
Kevin gave the example of Appsmith’s OAuth 2.0 support. Their product supports the standard, but OAuth is notoriously tricky to implement due to its many variations and technical nuances. They’ve created lots of content around it and the DevRel and support teams use questions from customers to help the product team continue to streamline its implementation.
He also pointed out that making audiences feel heard and valuable is a key part of DevRel. “DevRel is about supporting a community that people want to be part of,” he said. You can’t just publish content and forget about it; you have to listen when feedback comes in.
Ray offered a similar example from his time at Microsoft. They had a lot of preconceived ideas about how their C++ product was working, but after doing 100 workshops with top customers, they realized that many of them were using the tool on top of a 15-year-old sample code implementation. What they really needed was help modernizing their apps, but Ray’s team didn’t even know that would be an issue before talking to these customers.
Finally, Tessa pointed out the importance of having clear and defined CTAs or goals for every DevRel effort, and that she thinks about feedback the same way:
“What is the piece of feedback that comes in?...And what is the value that comes out of that? For example, the value from documentation feedback can be huge! So ask yourself, what is that traffic? What is that opportunity?” - Tessa Kriesel
The panel ended on some final words from each participant about their advice for DevRels. These are all really encouraging, so you should definitely watch them in the video, but I’ll summarize them briefly:
Esther encouraged DevRels to focus on quality of work over quantity. “Why would someone care about this content? What will they learn?” You can add value to developers in any audience by either teaching them or entertaining them.
Tessa drove home her point about being CTA-driven. Avoid vanity metrics and think about the real business value of your efforts. Focus on the actions you want users to take rather than high-level numbers like traffic or likes.
Kevin’s final advice was to simply be authentic. He mentioned a recent livestream by Appsmith where they were able to solve real user issues and get lots of positive feedback without having a set agenda or script. Polished video and content is great, but you should also connect personally with your users.
Developer audiences continue to grow and get more nuanced, so keeping these segments in mind is becoming more important every year. DevRel is all about building trust, and trust comes from understanding, so spend more time with your audience, and figure out what makes each of them tick.