There is a website out there providing an answer to the question “What is Developer Relations?,” a question that this author, whose job title is precisely that one, gets a lot. According to this resource, Developer Relations is an umbrella term encompassing three major areas of activity: “Community,” “Content,” and “Product;” a perfect description of a job role, at least as far as this author is concerned.
Communities are so important for product marketing these days, that the major book in the field of Developer Relations, “The Business Value of Developer Relations” by Mary Thengvall, focuses almost entirely on the subject of community management. Part one is about describing the value of the community, and making a business case out of it (a much-needed step in traditional corporate structures); part two is about building and maintaining it. Case in point, during a recent CentOS podcast episode hosted by Shaun McCance, Justin Flory, the “Community Architect” for the Fedora project acquiesced, stating that his job essentially consisted of community management.
The size of those communities can be measured: according to page 26 of the 2022 State of Developer Relations Report, 30% of respondents report that they actively manage communities from 100 to 5000 members, with another 10% managing humongous communities with over 2 million members. Of course, not all members are active, with an average of 35% of active users.
Technical communities provide software businesses with an audience, a test bed, and eventually, a customer pool for their products and services, but this only works if the products are good enough to begin with. This insight was clearly defined by Guy Kawasaki, arguably the person who invented the field of Developer Relations, during his tenure as Chief Evangelist at Apple from 1983 to 1987.
Please pay attention to the word “Evangelist” in the job title. As both Guy Kawasaki and Wikipedia correctly explain,
The word evangelist comes from the Koine Greek word εὐανγέλιον (transliterated as euangelion) via Latinised evangelium as used in the canonical titles of the Four Gospels, authored by (or attributed to) Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (also known as the Four Evangelists). The Greek word εὐαγγέλιον originally meant a reward given to the messenger for good news (εὔ = “good”, ἀνγέλλω = “I bring a message”; the word “angel” comes from the same root) and later “good news” itself.
He wrote about his experience at Apple in the 1990 book “The Macintosh Way”, now freely available to download. In chapter 6 of this book, Mr. Kawasaki literally refers to some audience segments as “The Cult,” adding yet another layer of occultism to the work of technical product marketing:
There is a small part of emerging markets called The Cult. It is the “head” of the market and contains hardcore power users and aficionados, plus a small percentage of luminaries, analysts, press, and dealers. The Cult is intrinsically elite, more discerning, less tolerant of mediocrity, and more willing to accept new ideas. It categorically rejects some products as forcefully as it accepts others.
If The Cult likes your product, the rest of the market and all of the layers are more likely to follow.
To summarize, he was evangelizing to a cult. Not very reassuring, if you ask me.
In any case, this month’s Vidéothèque movie is the recording of a 2017 Facebook Live session, where Guy Kawasaki explained his experience as a software evangelist at Apple. In this video, he points out several self-evident yet important truths about technical product marketing, the first of which is that it is easier to evangelize a great product than a crappy one. Sounds obvious, but it is always important to remind companies about this simple fact.
Evangelizing great products turns quickly into a self-fulfilling prophecy, with strong viral effects; users will start convincing others of the benefits of a great new product, without further spending by the original company. This is the Holy Grail of technical product marketing; when a technical community becomes a Tupperware party.
The key to achieving this self-fulfilling prophecy consists in planting many seeds, and listening to those first customers; your marketing message might as well be hidden in their early feedback. Put in other words, “there is no wrong consumption of your product”, which means that the primary use intended by the product designers might not be what the market wants to do with it. Are you open-minded enough to adapt your marketing message to whatever the market is doing with your baby?
Ironically enough, on the dark side of community management, we find Apple itself. The Cupertino company is well-known among tech companies for being the one that ignores its community the most. This author made the bitter discovery of Apple’s disdain for external communities in 2008, while co-organizing the first iPhone Conference in Switzerland, when we received a literal “cease-and-desist” letter from Apple. Also comes to mind the Fucking NDA; those with memory will remember. Such behavior is a relic from the Jobs-era, fueled by a furious tendency to control the message around and about their products.
This attitude is an integral part of the company’s DNA, for not even during the darkest moments of the company, around 1996, did the company acknowledge the immense work done by the Macintosh User Groups. Guy, however, rightfully recognizes the role of the MUG at minute 17:00 in the video, providing a pure form of evangelism, without any support from Apple. Driven by the unshakable mantra whereby great products beget great user groups. Even nowadays, Apple communities are driven by outsiders, passionate individuals such as John Sundell and many others, without any support whatsoever from the “mothership.”
Cover snapshot chosen by the author.