6 Criteria for Determining Whether an API Event Is ‘Worth It’

This is the fifth part of our series How To Build a Strong Developer Community. In part 4, we looked at how to take control of the onboarding process by minimizing the hurdles developers will face when they decide to move forward with your product.

Face it: We work in a very event‐heavy industry. Especially in locations like London, Berlin, New York and Silicon Valley, you could attend several events a day and not hit them all. Do you have to participate in events to have a successful developer program? In a word, yes, but there is such a thing as being too event‐driven, so it's important to be able to pick and choose the events that make the most sense for your API program.

There are two main reasons we go to events. First, it helps develop critical mass--getting a large number of like‐minded people in one place. This makes it easier to distill your message, leverage group dynamics and meet new people. Second, even though we operate in a technology‐driven sector, face‐to‐face contact still matters. Particularly when we are building communities and ecosystems, building trusting relationships is more efficient in person. In addition, the people you really want on your team--the leaders, influencers and the risk takers--are the ones who tend to show up at events.

But, make no mistake: Not all events or event organizers are created equal. In addition,if your program metrics track only the number of events your team attends or number of attendees at them--without having a strategy and a way to track outcomes--events can be very expensive and generate limited returns.

Here are six key areas to review when considering participation in an event (and how to participate in it):

  • Does it match our segments/targets?
  • What is the reputation of the event and the organizers?
  • Can we meet our goals/expected outcomes?
  • What type of resources, budget, time commitment is required?
  • Can we customize our role (speaking, booth, giveaways, after‐hours activities etc.)?
  • What is the value/ROI?

We tend to harp on segmentation, but it really is the first place to start. What type of developers have you targeted to make your API successful,and what type of events do they attend? Also take a look at where your API is at in its communication phase (awareness, onboarding, retention/commercialization) and where a developer is within his or her development journey. If you're still in the awareness phase, you may want to attend larger tech events to get the word out and target business or product managers who will make the decisions on integrating new technologies. If it has been challenging to get developers to test and use your API or tool (the onboarding phase), it might be more effective to organize a hands‐on workshop.

Hackathons have become very popular during the last five years, but they are not the panacea for growing your developer community and making your API program a success. As long as you are clear about your objectives, they can be a way to both spread the word on your product as well as get some early feedback as to its technical merits.

Meetups have also grown exponentially around the world and can be a great place to target developers based on particular technologies, verticals, interests and geographies.  Keep in mind as with most events, meetups are as successful as the organizer, so they will vary from place to place and you may have to dig in and provide more assistance that you originally intend. Generally (except in Silicon Valley), they tend to be a cost-effective way to reach new audiences that are very receptive to having visitors with cool and new technologies.

Here are a few more suggestions on making the most out of your event presence:

  • Have a plan and a message that all of your staff know about.
  • Make sure your staff engages with the attendees and not just each other. (This happens a lot!)
  • Developers love swag; it’s best to be fun and subtle with your branding.
  • Be flexible and have a plan B: Something is bound to change, not show up, not work, and so on. (Oh, those demo gods!)
  • Be “on”--you have to be a great cheerleader to get others on board.
  • Take names and follow up after the event.

This is part of our series How To Build a Strong Developer Community. Part 6 will provide a step-by-step guide to determining who the development decision makers are and how to match your messaging with their current and future needs.

Caroline Lewko I've been in the mobile and tech sector since 1995 in a variety of roles from coder, funder, business developer and entrepreneur. Today I lead our team for our consulting engagements through our "WIP Factory" strategic marketing and consulting agency. The WIP Factory is the first B2D -- business to developer -- marketing agency, and we help companies build the developer community around their APIs, devices, platforms and other tools. Some of that includes: Traveling a ton to support our clients and team, speaking at events on developer marketing, MCing hackathons, meeting the most interesting and creative class around the world, and trying to envision where technology is going and how to meet the needs of developers on their journey.