Managing a community of developers includes a lot of things, from writing articles to promoting a new feature or release, to making sure all members feel comfortable and safe. But what happens when we are trying to improve our social presence? Are we going the right direction? Are we reaching the intended audience? Are we using all the resources we can?
First, you have to start from the basics. Use the tools and knowledge you have – don’t spam your members with channels you don’t control or have never used before – and don’t pretend to be someone you are not.
Social presence and my community
Back in the day, communities mainly relied on their sites, forums, or offline events/meetings. Nowadays, there are a lot of places where we can promote and evangelize our community, but having several options also means that sometimes you will have to choose where to promote and publish your content.
Publishing the right message on the right platform will boost your message and increase the chances of more people wanting to attend your events, read your news, and ultimately enrich your social presence.
The basic issue here is to find the space in which your developer community “lives”. Are your target audience social enough to follow you on a platform, or are they “old school” and prefer a forum? Also, keep your expertise level in mind. If your community uses a specific social network, you should focus on increasing your expertise in that channel rather than on creating a new one and forcing all your members to move there.
It is not worth creating a TikTok account if your members are primarily on Twitter (and vice-versa). Each community is different and will use different channels, platforms or tools. Every platform has many different approaches, and ways of using it (and some tricks as well), and each channel has its own limitations.
It’s up to you to understand which channels suit your community the best, and to find the best way to approach your members.
Different tools, different approaches
Having an online social presence means carrying a lot of responsibility. Maintaining an account on any platform requires persistence, and a plan. If your community is on more than one platform, you will need coordination as well, and a communication plan to share the same message across different channels.
If you are promoting something on Twitter, and nothing on the other networks you manage, people will think that those channels are abandoned or that you have no interest in maintaining them, and you will lose the chance to reach new members.
Is your community making podcasts? Take a look at where you should be publishing your episodes – you can find a list of places to publish by following this link.
Podcasting is back in town (if it ever left), and thanks to current technology, audio quality is higher than ever.
Does your community lean more towards videos? Fine. But the world doesn’t start and end on YouTube! This article offers some insights on alternative platforms that might suit your target audience.
Videos are the best way to go viral, but are also a great way to showcase what your community is doing.
Regardless of the channel/s you use, it’s important to choose the tone you want to give to your community in advance. As a general rule, do not pretend to be someone else, don’t be pretentious, but equally, don’t try to be funny if you want to be taken seriously.
People will initially choose your community because of the subject matter, visibility, competence level displayed and activities, but their decision whether or not to stay with you mostly depends on them liking you. Pretending to be someone else for the sake of your community can become the hardest challenge of all, and doesn’t often provide much reward in the long run. It’s not worth it, and it’s not really fair.
Research your target audience
It may sound too much like “marketing”, but you need to understand your community, and come up with a profile of your ideal member (someone interested in joining the community).
In Marketing this is called creating a Persona, or profiling. Your own knowledge of your community may provide you with a clear picture of the typical user profile. Nonetheless, interviewing the early members of your community is strongly advisable.
Ask them about their interests, needs, knowledge, and even some personal background questions (income bracket, qualifications, hobbies). Once you have a general profile of the existing members, consider whether or not this corresponds with the profile you are looking for. This is particularly relevant when you are looking to acquire new members.
By constructing Personas for your membership and ideal members, you will also gain insight into how and where they communicate, or where they look for information or resources. You will also have a clearer understanding of the kind of messages that will be most effective and are likely to have a strong impact on your members.
If this all sounds like it’s “just marketing” and not the kind of community you have in mind, you are on the wrong path. Unless you study your target audience and develop a strategy, you’ll likely soon find that you are simply blowing in the wind. No one will notice your community.
Think about the physical shops in your town that use neon signs and the goods displayed in the windows to attract customers:
- If your message is effective, it will attract more views;
- If it’s clear, people will get immediately the scope of your mission and what the community is about;
- If your message has impact, it will stick with your potential audience.
Set your goals and metrics
Having a clear message doesn’t come easy, of course. Once you profile your ideal member and understand where they communicate the most, or where they seek information, you need to establish some goals or objectives, and measure your performance against those ideals.
Setting goals is not always easy when it comes to communities – mainly because we tend to be over-optimistic or think that we can grow in a way that even the most successful startups aren’t capable of doing! Unfortunately, you have to be realistic.
For example, a good goal would be: “To increase the members of my community by 10% in six months”.
This goal starts with a precise, measurable number (in this case, a percentage) with a clear objective, and a deadline. That done, it’s time to work on the really tough part: measuring success.
Keep in mind that sharing your goal with the rest of your community will help both you and the members to understand where you are headed, and what success truly means to their community. Ultimately, this is crucial to raising your community’s social presence.
Metrics will help you measure your goal. It’s up to you to decide whether you measure visitors, new members or clicks, but regardless, there should always be a single, clear, main objective: the level of engagement on the Discourse forum, or how many Pull Request/Comments/etc. a Repo has after you promote it on Social networks.
Measuring impact and optimizing results
Nowadays, it is easy to get the tools to measure your community’s impact and see how well it is performing. Almost all platforms offer a way to measure impact – some are easy to understand, while others require you to cross-check with different metrics to see the whole picture.
The metrics you generally have to focus on in social media are how many followers, visitors, and clicks you are getting, and the level of awareness.
Followers could be new members in your Facebook group, fans of a page, or followers on Github or Twitter. Visitors can be easily tracked with tools like Google Analytics and clicks can be tracked through bit.ly or other shorteners.
‘Awareness’ is the term that describes how well your community is known on the web. This can be increased in three ways: through paid campaigns (when you buy more visibility on a Social network), Organically (when you only publish the content and people see it on Google) and Earned (when people talk about your community positively with others).
While tracking all these metrics manually can be exhausting and time-consuming, you can automate some reports:
- Google Analytics offers several options to create reports after a certain period of time.
- Hootsuite has tools to help you keep a record of what you want to track.
- Meetup has an open API with which you can create your own reports.
- ElasticSearch is an OpenSource tool that helps you measure activity – if you are curious about how it can be implemented, I strongly recommend taking a look at cauldron.io, which helps you analyse a project across several sources.
There’s no magic solution to increase your social presence and earn more visitors/followers/fans or whatever name you want to give them. Managing a community involves a lot of work, nurturing and making it grow is complicated and requires even more work and time.
Being active on one Social network or another doesn’t give you more credibility. You have to create valuable content, and be as honest as possible.
Here’s a summary of recommendations for you to consult at any time.
- Build a trusting relationship between your community and its members.
- Keep your communication with members direct and clear to build trust.
- Be viral, be honest and be yourself.
- Talk to the people you want to reach right where they are.
- Offer your audience a place where they can share the same passion about technology, coding languages or projects.
- Don’t forget to take care of your members, and make them feel safe and secure.
This is the best, and most honest way to build a community. Some communities take more time to grow than others, but all rely on one thing above all else: connections. Creating good connections with your members is essential if you want to succeed.
By delivering quality content and projects, you will then be able to bring in high-profile members who, in turn, will make it easier to promote your community and make it more attractive.
Of course, there are many more ways to grow a strong and wide audience around your community. We have written an article on how to become a better developer community manager that might really help you to reach better all-round results.