For the past 20 years, the team at DZone has been building a site that gathers developer-focused content, tutorials, research, and now job postings from thousands of experts in software and IT development. Perhaps best known for their Refcardz – what they describe as the world’s largest library of technical cheat sheets – they’re also responsible for AnswerHub, a developer portal and community platform used by Microsoft, Amazon, SAP, and GE Digital, amongst others.
Their COO, Jesse Davis, spoke at DevXCon back in May and I caught up with him there to learn more about AnswerHub. I started by asking what the team at DZone is looking to achieve.
Jesse: So, DZone’s mission is really all about sharing knowledge and we do that by building and creating the world’s greatest developer communities and programs. It started 20 years ago, in 1997 — turn of the century if you will, with our founder Rick Ross.
The Java programming language was fairly new, so he started this site called Java Lobby, where Java developers could get together and exchange ideas. Over time Java Lobby evolved into DZone.com to cover more topics that developers care about and give them a place to learn and grow. So, at its core, DZone is a developer community that’s 20 years old.
Matthew: Over those 20 years, what has DZone learned about building developer communities?
Jesse: If you want developers to come back, you’ve got to get them to trust you. Developers need to have trust in the sites and the content that they use. And you do that by building really high-grade, expert, user-generated content. This content needs to solve their problems and continue to improve their skills. Fluff won’t cut it with this audience.
Another component of building trust with your community is listening. In developer communities, the community exists to serve the audience’s need, so you need to take their feedback in stride and act on it. If you don’t, developers will find what they’re looking for somewhere else. You want to build strong relationships with experts to fuel advocacy and give them a platform to be recognized for their expertise.
Lastly, don’t make the experience painful. We learned our lesson at DZone with a long registration form in previous years. It wasn’t necessary for us and it deterred our target audience from joining. The community experience should be enjoyable – which is one of the reasons all of our content is free.
Matthew: People reading this are largely developer relations people. You’ve opened a developer marketing section on DZone. How does that fit in?
Jesse: While developer relations and developer marketing are distinct, the key commonality is that in order to do either effectively, you must understand your audience: developers. We introduced DZone’s Developer Marketing Zone to give those whose job it is to engage developers a glimpse into what makes developers tick, and share insight into what engagement tactics have worked well for us at DZone.com. Our ultimate goal is to help people targeting developers understand how to connect with them and engage them in meaningful ways that provide value to their audience.
Matthew: There are so many more APIs and so many more languages and frameworks now, which creates so many more opportunities for developers to be marketed at. Do you see any fatigue from developers who are feeling like they’re now being bombarded by developer marketing?
Jesse: No, I wouldn’t say that they’re fatigued, but developers will tune out bad marketing even faster than the average Joe. In our case at DZone.com, we’re very selective about who we let be our zone sponsors. Trust between the developer and our community is paramount. It can disappear in an instant, so we ensure all companies we work with are adding value to the community.
As humans, we were made to interact, and sit, and talk. Companies who create their own communities will be more successful because they’re bringing together users to help one another and carry on conversations. Marketing can guide the conversations and protect messaging, but developers and evangelists will create the real marketing value. And by keeping that more of a developer-to-developer relationship, instead of a marketing-to-a-developer relationship, we can help those communities grow naturally.
Matthew: Does DZone have a set rules for effective, authentic, credible developer engagement?
Jesse: Absolutely. First is quality. Developers want answers. They don’t want to sift through useless information. So high quality, expert, user-generated content is number one.
Number two, use a system that developers want to use. For us, the reason that we developed AnswerHub was because it’s in our DNA to build the right tool for the job. We at DZone are developers. I’m a developer. Our founders are developers. As such, we’re high-grade fact finders. We root out problems and solve them with a level a tenacity that would astound most people. So, we built a platform that makes it fun and rewarding for developers to provide and find answers.
And then, number three is to make sure that you have a process for evolving your culture. At DZone we firmly believe that, “knowledge sharing in developer communities is 90% culture, it’s 5% tools, and it’s 5% magic.” So, we come up with processes that help companies grow their culture, so that it becomes more open and more conducive to sharing knowledge. We put processes in place – little bits of magic dust if you will – that we sprinkle amongst the community, that gives that delightful experience to entice a developer to keep coming back.
So, those are three of the top things that I would say that we really focus on at DZone, both for the broader DZone.com community and for all the other communities that are powered by AnswerHub. Because we’re driven each and every day to create those world-class developer communities and help people all along the knowledge spectrum, no matter where they are.
Visit DZoneSoftware.com, and you’ll see everything that you need to know about AnswerHub. Your community is unique, right? Embrace that uniqueness. Build that into the product. And then use your 5% of magic to cultivate your community.