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Developer Relations: Social Media

Social media for developers

Marketers use social media very differently than developers do. Marketers use social channels from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn to promote and engage and build awareness. Developers? Well while , social media is just as important if not more so to developers, it’s not all memes and rants; but a practical and strong source of information.

I spoke to with Kris Vanderwater, Technical Consultant at Acquia and Tim Plunkett, Senior Engineer also at Acquia about how developers use social media, why it’s important to them and how marketers in developer relations can best use social media to interact with developers in the right way.

Q: In your own words, explain why social media is important to developers.

Tim: In an open source community, social media is extremely important. Information is spread rapidly, and you become aware of interesting or important things very quickly. When new to a community, interacting with other devs on social media is a great way to break into the group, and feel welcomed. It's also helpful to maintain personal connections, especially across timezones!

Q: In addition to collaboration, is social media a place where developers can promote their own work?

Kris: Developers operate on a network of trust. Building tools others will like and use can be futile if you have no way to get adoption. Social media fills the gap for developers providing free tools in the same way it might a traditional marketing institution with regard to their products except, as much as a developer is giving away something cool, they're also asking for help building it. Most developers personal projects can't scale beyond nights and weekends, so finding other interested parties capable of contributing is huge.

Q: What do you think about “thought leadership” for developers and promoting it through social media?

Kris: Developers find “thought leadership” on social media all the time, but make no mistake; developer thought leadership is not the same as marketing thought leadership.

What thought leadership means to developers is talking about the right way to do things, when to do things in particular ways, and what the new emerging standards are shaping up to be and whether that's good or bad. If someone truly is established they might have significant docs and/or blogs on the topics of best practices, when to use X over Y, recognizing design patterns, etc. This site is a good example: http://blog.ircmaxell.com/. It’s totally normal for me to find this sort of stuff in my twitter feed on a daily basis. Usually something like ‘here’s a great breakdown on why [some standard] is going the right direction and why we should all care’ with an attached url.

Q: What social media sites do you use?

Kris: “Twitter is where things of note actually happen and devs have big conversations in 140 chars one message at a time. It’s not odd to follow a 20-30 comment long exchange.

Don't waste a dev's time’ is basically the litmus test for everything. If you're doing something (anything) that's wasteful time wise, odds are, you'll draw ire. Don't market directly to devs if there's not something to actually play with.

Tim: “One major rule I have with Twitter is to never ask favors or demand someone's time via social media. Discussing something you found worthwhile is fine, but if you have any expectation of another person, keep that to the appropriate sphere (issue queue, IRC, etc). Twitter is very personal to some people, and being hounded to look at a bug or other issue can feel invasive.”

Q: What should marketers absolutely avoid when it comes to interacting with developers on social media? What’s the best way to participate in social media discussions with developers?

Tim: I recommend not just jumping into a conversation, even if you see an opening. As a brand or product, you shouldn't reach out directly to devs just because they mentioned something relating to your product. It can feel very Orwellian. Known and trusted evangelists should fill the role, leaning on the personal connections they have with the developer community.

Kris: Don’t waste a developer’s time. There are devs who won't even watch videos of things because they can speed read their way through the content faster and get back to what they need to do. So that's the principle against which everything else basically has to be valued. As a marketer, if you're asking for a developer's time, then you need to give them something of value in return.

Final thoughts:

So to summarize for those of you playing along at home, if you want to connect with developers on social media, you better have something worthwhile to share. If you’re looking for insight (like I was with this post) have your questions ready. Better, yet, leverage internal community members and evangelists if you can so that they can either connect you with the right people or serve as an ambassador for you. And above all else, be respectful.

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