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Developer Relations: Collaborating With Internal Technical Experts

As the counterpart to sales, marketing is fast-paced and cutthroat. It’s not enough to hit your numbers; marketers want to “crush” them. Marketers, by nature, are often aggressive, fond of hyperbole and hype, and can come off as overly-ambitious; all of which usually works when selling Ginsu Knives and Sham-Wows, but can backfire when it comes to “developer marketing.”

Developers — and that includes the ones inside a tech company who create the products and services you are tasked with promoting — have just as much disregard for the hype machine that is marketing as the big audience of external developers you’re trying to reach and influence. Your own experts are just as skeptical of clickbait headlines, listicle blog posts, deceptive subject lines in spam, ad-tech, tracking cookies, and “white papers” that have way too many adjectives and superlatives -- so rely on their reaction and opinions as a proxy for the developers you’re trying to reach.

Marketers are never going to think like developers and vice versa, but there are some steps a smart developer relations person can take to have better collaboration on content while respecting the valuable time and concerns of their most technical subject matter experts.

Be Humble

Even though you may be an expert digital marketer with years of experience in lead generation, managing successful campaigns, and creating engaging content, accept the truth that this is not your world. When it comes to topics, ask your own developers, builders, and engineers: “What is bugging you lately? What do you want to talk about?” It’s always easier for someone to contribute to something they actually care about.

Approach each piece from the standpoint of “I’m here to learn.” If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Repeat the answer back to make sure you’ve understood. Developers are some of the smartest people you’ll meet so take this opportunity to really learn something from them.

Value Their Time

As busy as you might be, developers are probably busier. Just look at the Drupal community and the contributors who are prepping for the next Drupal 8 release, migrating modules from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, fixing issues to move towards the next milestone, creating new modules, etc. Developers in the midst of a sprint have very little time for content creation.

Make it as easy as you can for them. Email them questions to fill out. Or if you decide to meet in person to work on a piece, record the meeting and have it transcribed. Create a draft from the Q&A or the transcription for them to edit; it’s much easier than confronting them with a blank page. Draft something for them to review -- don’t ask them to simply create. You want to make the process as collaborative as possible.

Build Trust

Building trust is arguably one of the hardest things to do in pretty much any aspect of life. But it’s super important to build trust from the start when working with developers. How? Don’t edit their work (with the exception of basic spelling and/or grammar) without informing them. Throw your best practices for SEO out the window. The last thing a developer wants to see is a published piece they have invested their time in which has been significantly changed by an eager search marketer determined to use the content to improve rankings on a search engine results page. Deliver drafts when you say you will and stick to deadlines and editorial processes.

Become an Evangelist

Giving the developer community props is always appreciated. Don’t just look for content that benefits your agenda, but rather content that showcases the work your company’s developers do, as well as the work being done with your technology by customers, partners, and even contributors working for competitors. Write bios for them that highlight their contributions. Share their content even if you didn’t work on it with them yourself. Celebrate their achievements by sharing them.

When Drupal 8 was released, we decided that in addition to the usual “Drupal 8 is here!” type of blog posts, we looked at who had the highest number of contribs to Drupal 8 and profiled them on the Acquia Developer Center. It wasn’t just to promote the release of D8 but to showcase the people who made D8 happen; the people who poured their time and energy into its release, even those who didn’t work for Acquia.

The Module of the Week program is another example. This was a way to not only showcase Acquia developers and engineers working on the Drupal 8 module migration, but other members of the Drupal community as well. Developers work hard and appreciate when that work is recognized.

In order to be successful at developer marketing, you pretty much need to go against what you’ve learned to be a successful marketer. Put your ego aside. A personal tip? Find common ground with your interests outside of work. That helps build the relationship, leading to better collaboration down the road. But above all, be open, curious, and patient. It will go a long way.

Any other tips? Leave them in the comments.

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