Content Strategy for DevRel Teams: A Primer
Business travel has all but disappeared and conferences have moved online in light of COVID-19, forcing many developer relations (DevRel) teams to pivot their advocacy efforts primarily to online content. Moving from in-person to online content delivery can be a challenge in the best of times and DevRel teams are doing this overnight.
The purpose of this post is to educate DevRel teams on the absolute basics of content strategy and identify ways that DevRel teams can use content to help their audiences without having to start from scratch.
(For DevRel teams who don't know how to get started with content creation, I highly recommend purchasing The Developer's Guide to Content Creation for your entire team. It's an actionable guide with exercises, resources, and templates that your team can use to get started identifying target audiences, planning content, generating new ideas, and even pitching third-party publications.)
The purpose of DevRel teams is to speak at conferences, right?
Until recently, DevRel was understood in terms of its most visible activity: conference speaking. Speaking engagements are definitely important in DevRel, but they are not the only community activity developer advocates participate in.
DevRel is a direct line between the business and the developer community. While some DevRel teams run in parallel to Marketing teams, others are more aligned with Engineering, Product, or Customer Success. And regardless of where DevRel sits, their activities overlap or touch all of these disciplines.
Developer advocates meet developers where they're at and create value by teaching, listening, and engaging with their communities. This is true whether your team delivered workshops to university students or spoke at multi-track conferences attended by thousands of people. When determining which in-person events to attend, DevRel teams consider budget, audience type, and the potential impact of an event. Teams weigh all of these factors together when coming up with an events strategy that will help them reach their quarterly/annual goal. The same is true when we think about translating your efforts into an online content experience.
Let’s talk more about goals. Before we delve into content, answer the following questions:
Why do we exist? What is our team's mission?
What business outcomes do we impact? What are the associated metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that we measure?
How do we do this (drive to business outcomes)? What activities have we engaged in to drive these outcomes?
What functions/teams do we support? Which teams support our work?
These questions are typically answered in long strategy documents for an executive audience, but your entire team should know what the responses to these questions are. If your team hasn't defined these yet, start here. As uncomfortable as it may seem to talk about DevRel in terms of business goals, the truth is that businesses invest in organizations and teams in order to achieve an outcome—and they're looking for a return on investment. (This does not mean you'll resort to unethical or misleading behavior in order to turn a profit! Learn more about ethical marketing.) You know your value and your community knows your value. Tie your value to positive business outcomes and communicate this to relevant business stakeholders to gain support and sponsorship as your team grows.
Great! So how does this tie into content?
Like many things in business, "it depends". Your DevRel content strategy depends on your team's mission, your KPIs, and what functions you support. While DevRel teams stream on Twitch, have personal and team blogs, podcasts, TikTok profiles, and participate in webinars, content strategy is not a blanket approach. In fact, what many call a "content strategy" is actually primarily "publishing content in as many places as possible". Content production is to content strategy what conference speaking is to DevRel; it's not the full picture.
Your goal as a developer advocate is NOT to produce more content than a colleague or a competitor. You goal is to get the right content to the right user at the right time, whether it’s an article you wrote or a product doc authored by Lisa on the Technical Writing team. Content is about your end user’s needs first and foremost.
So what is content strategy?
Content strategy is planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. This definition was created by notable content strategist, Kristina Halvorson.
Here's how that breaks down:
Creation: What will we create? Who are we creating this content for? What are their problems and pain points? What are the attributes of this type of content? What processes need to be in place to support content creation? What other resources and references can we point people to?
Delivery: Where will this content live? What format will it be in? At what point in the user journey will they see this content? When will they see this content? What channels will we use to promote this content? What do users need to do to access this content? Where does our audience hang out online?
Governance: What is our plan for maintaining this piece of content? What do we do with content that is out of date? What will we do if we migrate content to a new platform? Who "owns" this content? What is our change management process? Do we have a style guide/brand guideline document that we can refer to?
Looking at it from this angle, content might be overwhelming. Do we have to think of all of this? At a high level, yes you do. Because it'll force you to focus efforts on only what is necessary.
Many DevRel teams spin up new content channels because they see other teams do it. There is little thought about how this channel or this content rolls up into team goals. It is one more place that you have to add to your content calendar and one more channel you need to manage. If the person who maintained the TikTok account leaves, who will take it up? You want to avoid treating content creation like a pet project and more like a new workstream that needs to be properly managed and accounted for.
What is your goal with creating new content? What are your KPIs? Who are the audiences you’re trying to reach? Keep that in mind as you continue reading.
If your DevRel team is moving to content first, start with what you already have. Take stock of what content channels are readily available to you. Some of these you may own, and others may require conversations with other teams. But there are always opportunities for alignment! Examples include:
The company blog or engineering blog (if they exist)
The company podcast
Webinar platforms (talk to the Sales team about this)
Company YouTube channel
Your goal is to understand what types of content are published on each of these platforms, which teams own them, what the guidelines are for contributing to them, what tracking is in place (analytics) and what metrics are tracked, and how your team can help these teams add more content to the pipeline. DevRel is in a unique position to maximize the work internal teams do already. Position yourself as a resource and ask other teams what they need and how you can help.
The benefit of starting with what your company already has is that creation, delivery, and governance for existing channels have more or less been defined; there are guidelines for what makes a blog post versus what constitutes an API doc, and many of these channels already have robust analytics to help you track against your business KPIs. (You should always try to measure the impact of your content, by the way.)
Ask other teams what they're producing so you can promote it in novel ways. Your company's Technical Writing, Marketing, and even Customer Success teams produce a lot of content and often in silos: guides and articles for the "Help" knowledge base, step-by-step tutorials and API docs, blog posts and video walkthroughs. Offer to be the conduit between these different teams and help them surface this content to your audiences.
Some interesting ways of producing new content that don’t involve writing a blog post from scratch:
Answer questions about your product on community forums and social media. Stack Overflow, Reddit, Indie Hackers, DEV Community to name a few—go to these places, look up mentions of your product and answer questions and link out to relevant documentation. The single most successful piece of DevRel content I saw last year was a Reddit post that listed new documentation. Here's the thread I wrote about it.
Offer to do a content review for the technical writing teams. If you want to improve your technical writing skills, befriend your Technical Writing team! Offer to review their work and provide feedback, and ask them about setting up a process for delivering customer feedback that can improve the docs. (Before you do this, read this post with tips for editing other people's work.)
Promote new documentation, blogs, and other content to your audiences on your channels. Consider syndicating your older (but still relevant) blog posts on other platforms. (Read my blog post about syndicating content.)
Repurpose an existing piece of content. Turn an old conference talk into a blog post, turn a company blog post into a video tutorial, do a live-stream of you walking through product documentation. (Read my blog post on repurposing old content.)
Organize a virtual meetup around a topic and record it. Publish it to your company YouTube channel and add relevant links that point back to the company blog or docs in the comments. Those conference talks you were planning? Consider delivering them directly to your audience as part of a meetup, webinar, or virtual conference.
Curate content for the company developer newsletter. If your Marketing team produces a company developer newsletter, ask them if they'd like your help curating resources.
(For more ways to generate new content ideas, read "4 sources of endless content ideas" on Changelog. Full disclosure: I wrote it!)
Do this for a period of time and track your team's efforts. By track I don't mean "surveil", I mean "record". Record your team's content-related efforts somewhere and measure team impact; partner with Marketing to understand how to define and measure key metrics and ask for tips on how to report these out to leadership. Over time, you want to see these activities translate to impact. You also want to know all the places your team is producing content and/or engaging with your audiences and communities.
While pivoting fast to content can be overwhelming, the best news is that DevRel teams don't have to go at it alone. DevRel's work delivers a better customer experience and maximizes the work done by other teams. Start by working closely with other content creators in your company to understand how content drives business outcomes and how your team can tap into these channels to continue reaching your communities. Over time, your team can start building its own content practice.
Sometimes you will be the content producer and at other times, you will be the digital librarian who directs your community to relevant, existing resources that will solve their problem.
DevRel Teams: Work with me 1:1 via DevRel CMS, my content coaching program. And purchase The Developer's Guide to Content Creation for templates, best practices, guided exercises, and resources to help your team become better content creators!