API Developer Outreach Checklist

This guest post comes from Brian Koles, Business Development Manager at ChallengePost. Brian is a startup junkie, sales consultant and frequent technology columnist.

This is the first installation of an ongoing "Developer Evangelist Playbook" series in partnership with ChallengePost. Part two looks at five ways to make your hackathon stand out.

Software developers are the new rock stars of the business industry. Grabbing their attention is hard, and actually maintaining it is even more difficult. Here is a quick look at the tools you’ll need to get developers using your API.

  • Dev Page: Make it a real website. It shouldn’t be just a blog, discussion forum or GitHub page; it should feel like a community hub directing people to the resources they need to use your tools.
  • Documentation: Be clear and concise. Be thorough, too, or they may get frustrated and ditch it altogether.
  • Monetization Policy: Be upfront. It’s OK to be in business to make money. Just be transparent about it.
  • Onboarding Process: Make it easy. Don’t create hurdles by requiring lots of information that you don’t necessarily need to know from the developer. And don’t keep them waiting with long or complex approval procedures.
  • Code Samples: Help them out. If there are some core functionalities that developers can copy and paste instead of reinventing the wheel, help them out so that they can focus on the truly innovative work.
  • Community Support: Answer questions publicly. Be honest and respond quickly. Even a simple “That’s a bug” answer is more trustworthy and helpful than silence.
  • Social Media (including blog): Be social. Create a Twitter account and blog to separate developer-facing info from the company’s other marketing initiatives. Communicate often and openly, and make sure to celebrate success stories.
  • Gallery/Showcase/Marketplace: Show it off. Don’t be afraid to showcase or highlight what developers have built with your API. Better yet, help market the apps.
  • In-Person Hackathons: Get out from behind your monitor. Hackathons (one to two day live events where teams sprint to create software) are a fantastic way to get face time with developers and spread the word about your brand. These events can spark new ideas, generate meaningful feedback on using your API and can even play a key role in recruiting fresh engineering talent. But, if you want these hacks to evolve into viable businesses, more is needed -- like an online challenge (see the point below).
  • Online Challenges: Run one. Running an online app competition that lasts several months gets people excited, embraces a global audience, and provides enough time for participants to develop market-ready apps on their own schedule.
  • Marketing Assistance: Help them market. Third party apps that use your API are an extension of your product and brand. Plan to market them accordingly, meaning dedicated budgets and personnel to help developers find end users through your marketplace, blog, social media, mentoring (maybe even a few ad dollars).

This is just a quick overview of what it takes to build a thriving developer ecosystem around your API, but each element is crucial. For more insights, check out  ChallengePost's App Contest Best Practices page.

Be sure to read the next Best Practices article: MMS APIs are Unlocking the Mobile Future