It’s usually not big tech companies that drive innovation, but groups of developers who are passionate about a particular idea or technology. Whether it’s a framework, technology stack, or programming language, a large part of a project’s success is based on the community that surrounds it.
It is often the most enthusiastic developers who choose to become a community manager, but building a community needs more than just enthusiasm. A good community manager should have a clear vision of the goal path, planning skills, and the ability to organize suitable events to ensure active user engagement.
Activities that drive community engagement
For successful community management, you don’t just need to gather a group of like-minded people with a shared purpose and a common goal, you also need to show them how to collectively achieve it (and know how to measure your success).
A successful community can support its own codebase, evangelize its use in the real world, and continually attract new users. A well-run community can be just as vital to the success of a project as its source code. Developing well-thought-out community events, therefore, provides a means of consistent engagement.
Whether they are technology conferences in meat space or online coding jams over a long weekend, they unite members and help to encourage collective contribution. Neglecting to actively develop a community stymies growth and wider awareness, so strategic planning is key.
In every community, there will be different levels of user engagement, particularly with communities built around open source software. Some users will exist only on the periphery of a community; they may use the project and dip in for tech support once in a while, but don’t actively contribute towards its growth. More active participants will do so for professional reasons; they may be developers who use the technology professionally or freelancers looking to contribute for their portfolio.
Ultimately, all users need a reason to care about a project and to get involved, so the trick is to convince them that it is worth their time to do so by planning events that accommodate their motivations.
Building DevRel through demographic assessment
DevRel puts a project‘s developer directly in touch with the wider community and helps generate engagement. But success depends on ensuring that events are a fit for a particular community’s demographic.
If there are enough community members in a local area or the community is made up of a lot of developers that use the tech professionally, for example, consider hosting a conference in meatspace. This is an excellent way to engage with a community and it provides great networking opportunities for everyone involved. Hosting conferences is expensive, though, so there must be some degree of certainty that enough people will attend to justify the effort and expenditure.
If a community is much more loosely knit or geographically diverse, then holding something like a virtual conference or an online code jam might be more appropriate. These kind of events are particularly well-suited for projects that are relatively new, particularly as it encourages code innovation and spreads awareness.
Many video game developers participate in game jams, where they are challenged to create a small, functional game within a short time frame – typically 48 hours. There are so many game jams constantly being held that websites like Indie Game Jams exists to help consolidate them all. Their popularity is a testament to how successful they are in bringing community members together.
Plan strategic activities for your community to maintain momentum
A poorly managed community not only impacts innovation but can also damage the reputation of the project. Lack of support, distant DevRel, and no engagement opportunities for users can destroy an otherwise promising idea.
With the fast pace of development in the tech world, there’s rarely a second chance before something new takes its place. This is where planning strategies come to the fore. By creating a structured activity framework, growth momentum and community engagement can be maintained.
There are a variety of strategic planning models that can help when developing a calendar of community events. From SWOT Analysis to a Strategy Map, through Gap Planning and the Hoshin Planning approach, the processes may differ but the methodologies have a common theme. In all cases, planning starts with defined inputs, goals, and outputs, then builds-in adaptability.
In terms of community events, each event needs to have a specific purpose, collectively moving towards a definitive milestone. Based on an assessment of the community demographic and designed to accommodate varied motivations, coding and programming exercises should be chosen with an eye to how they help and support the community‘s common interests.
But it’s not enough to simply announce events. Just like the project at the community‘s heart, there has to be a reason for users to become involved. By logically adding events to a calendar in line with a pre-defined schedule, successful community management uses a detailed roadmap to guide and encourage the community‘s journey.
Plan for the needs and expectations of the individual
With DevRel becoming an increasing focus for engagement, it is important to assess the usefulness of a community event for the individual. While programming and coding are the core activities impacting community growth, each activity and event also needs to provide an emotional net benefit to those in attendance.
In short, people need to enjoy themselves. Irrespective of the ultimate project goal, a good experience is vital to the community culture. A successful, well-planned event with carefully considered (and achievable) goals can have an invigorating impact on reach and awareness. If an attendee feels they have benefited personally from their involvement – through networking, for example – they are much more likely to encourage others to do the same.
By getting multiple users actively and enthusiastically involved, an event can organically create buzz; by providing a net benefit to the individual as well, that buzz can have a far greater reach.
Social media, for example, is both a blessing and a curse. With an immediacy of impact, positive reviews have the chance of going viral leading to incredible boosts in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, a poorly run event or one with no clear purpose can see exactly the same level of attention – and ratios for reporting poor experiences are much higher than for good. People are more prone to criticism than praise, so keep that in mind when planning anything for the community.
How to track programming and coding events
Successful communities require constant monitoring and clear communication. As with all projects, things go much smoother with a roadmap. As well as developing an activity and planning events, a good developer community manager needs to be able to track progress, coordinate collaboration, and communicate change.
This is actually an area that programmers are likely to have a lot of experience with, even if they don’t realise it. Working on larger tech products involves coordinating with other developers and breaking down software development into discrete tasks – tracking planned events and activity schedules is no different.
Someone needs to have an eye on things at both a macro-level and a micro-level. They need to know at a glance the highlights of the year, while also being able to view the specific details of individual events. Having a way to visualize this data can help to grok everything in an easily digestible format.
Happily, there are tools available to make it easier by providing structure, keeping track of information in a central location, and supporting community involvement.
Eventually, communities become too big to be coordinated by one person on an ad-hoc basis. Having an on-hand process that can induct new administrators helps managers stay on top of burgeoning communities, while providing valuable oversight into the various components that make up a collaborative project.
Keep it manageable with a one-year calendar
Communities can vastly increase in size within the space of a single year, particularly those managing communities for projects that are in their infancy. It’s not inconceivable to be managing a community that doubles, triples, or quadruples in size within the space of a few months, especially if the project behind the community starts getting attention and adoption from major players in the tech industry.
In fact, many large communities started with a single developer, like Laravel by Taylor Otwell and React by Jordan Walke. Laravel is now used on over 100,000 websites and React on over 1,000,000. As community management needs to be able to adapt quickly to speed and volume of growth, imposing a manageable timeline is vital.
As a product grows and evolves, so does the surrounding community. By keeping the in-hand event timeline to 12 months, managers can tweak a monthly or quarterly schedule with the next milestone in mind.
This ensures not only that events remain relevant and engaging, but also that an activity can be responsive and reactive to new developments. Strategic planning involves anticipating change, but the domino effect of either a missed deadline (or premature goal achievement) can play havoc with a multi-year set calendar. Instead, planning should be broad-stroke, using larger community events as the anchors, and ‘fill in the gaps’ as project needs warrant.
How to breakdown a community management plan
Breaking down any planned activity into individual components helps make a task more manageable. This is also something that transfers quite smoothly from software development processes, particularly when dealing with large-scale community events.
It helps to think about it like spinning plates: each plate has a specific function but needs to act in concert with every other part in order to keep spinning. Start with the big picture (for example, one meatspace event a month for 12 months with a relevant online activity each week), then drill down to the constituent pieces of each individual exercise. Who is involved? What do they need? How long do they need to do what they do?
When using a 12-month timescale, it can be much easier to view the year as a whole. By using SWOT Analysis in tandem with Gap Planning, community management can be focussed on ensuring that every area identified as vital (demographic assessment, activity momentum, individual expectation achievement, monitoring and communication processes, and long-term goals) are covered in each event breakdown.
Look at the Big Picture, move into the small details, then take a step back to make sure it all matches up. Community involvement at this stage (in line with the Hoshin strategic planning model mentioned earlier, where the buy-in is sought from top-to-bottom of an organization) is also beneficial. A new set of eyes can often see a new route forward.
Consider successful DevRel models
When planning a community management schedule, consider the lessons learned by other community builders and use their experiences as a springboard to success. Back in 2018, Powderked reported that Cincinnati, for example, had a tech community that utilized a unique demographic. With Fortune500 companies, innovative startups, venture capitalists and a local university full of talent, the city has taken a naturally competitive demographic and turned it into globally-renowned collaboration.
By considering and amalgamating the skillsets of each available resource, any community management system can be equally effective. It’s clear by Cincinnati’s experience that success isn’t an individually-weighted event, but is instead the collation of multiple ‘threads’ of expertise in a structured and logical whole. As with any programming project, it’s important to consider the available information in line with the desired end goal in order to be able to effectively detail every stage of the project.
But remember: keeping the ‘fixed’ structure to the broad strokes allows for reactive efficiency when faced with unexpected change. Every type of activity will have certain commonalities that can be applied should events require.
Somebody more used to coding than comparing will likely find the prospect of hosting a conference or game jam to be quite daunting, but that’s where Codemotion comes in. As developers who host tech conferences and both local and online community events, we’ve developed a free purpose-built toolset that can be helpful in providing a sense of structure in community management.