This post explains how to scale developer advocacy by creating content in a way that answers current user questions and makes it easier to generate additional content in the future.
Developer advocates help engineers leverage technologies to get their jobs done efficiently. Successful software projects grow exponentially, so the number of user questions also grows rapidly. The virtuous content cycle allows developer advocates to scale themselves and meet the needs of a quickly growing community.
- Answer user questions generically
- Create content that makes it easy for users to answer their own questions
- Answer questions with reusable content
- Use content to make other content (e.g. convert a successful blog post to a tech talk and a educational video)
- You will be able to handle more user questions by answering common queries in a scalable manner
Start by answering user questions
The virtuous content cycle starts by answering user questions in generic, minimal, and reproducible manner. That’ll make your answers easier to reuse by other developers.
Question askers often intermingle business logic and unrelated details in their technical questions. They may talk about running code on a specific cloud for a question where the cloud isn’t relevant for example.
The developer advocate should simplify the user question and make it generic / minimal. You want to make easy for developers with related issues to grok the example.
You should also publish a fully functional code snippet or notebook in the answer so interested parties can easily reproduce the example on their machines. Bonus points if the code snippet is checked into source control.
Preventatively answer new questions
When new developers Google the same question in the future, you want to make it easy for them to find your answer. If they see your high quality response, chances are they’ll be able to figure out the answer and won’t have to ask again.
Good content often prevents you from having to deal with repeat questions.
Developer advocates should obsess over providing users with a wonderful experience for all commonly searched keywords related to their technology. Delighting existing users and proactively answering their questions helps developers love your tech!
Your high quality responses will come in handy, even when developers re-ask the question.
Use content to help answer questions
Some users will inevitably re-ask questions that have already been answered in forums or in chat channels. It’s possible they couldn’t find your response via their Google search or they can’t figure out how the generic answer relates to their particular question.
You can help these users by sending them a link to the blog post and/or the notebook with the minimal code example. Leveraging existing content when answering questions is more efficient than starting from scratch every time.
Sometimes you’ll need to help the user connect the dots between their specific question and the generic response. You can help them simplify their question and that will usually show them the light.
Watch out for the “chat trap”
The “chat trap” is when you answer questions in a chat application like Slack and don’t reproduce that answer in a medium that’ll be easily searchable by other developers in the future.
You’ll inevitably have to re-answer this question again in the future if your answer is in a chat application that’s not indexed by search engines.
In these situations it’s better to generically answer the question in a blog post and send the user a link. You can occasionally answer user questions in chat applications, but should be wary because this isn’t scalable.
Find what content resonates with your users
You want to continuously gauge how your content engages users. You’ll want verbal queues from users that your responses help them get past their issue. You should get comments like “thanks, that worked!”.
You also want objective metrics that indicate your answers are helping. In Stackoverflow, you should check to make sure your answers are getting views and upvotes. For blog posts, you should check pageviews, time on page, and Google ranking for targeted keywords.
Objective metrics let you periodically check in and make sure you’re generating content with the highest return on investment for your developer community. It also lets you iterate and develop a communication style that’s most engaging for your audience. Content with more upvotes and a longer time on page is more engaging.
Use content to make other content
Once you have a large body of content with performance metrics it’s easy to repurpose it for other mediums.
A blog post can easily be converted to a tech talk, a video, part of a course, or a section of a book. Some blog posts are best repurposed in a book chapter. Other blog posts can be easily adapted for an amazing talk at a programming conference.
Once you have objective metrics indicating your content resonates with the target audience, you can be more confident that it’ll also hit the mark when presented in another form. For example, suppose you have a blog post on a catchy subject with an average time on page of 7 minutes. This content is clearly engaging for your audience, so it’s likely to make for a great tech talk as well.
Growing traffic; an inevitable byproduct
When you’re in the virtuous content cycle, all your metrics should get better each month. Your blog and video traffic should be growing every week. You should be able to handle more user questions without growing the team.
Better metrics are a necessary side effect of scaling your developer advocacy efforts. The only way you can preventatively answer more user questions is by creating content that ranks well and gets more traffic. Remember that preventatively answering questions is helping a user to answer their own questions via Google searches, so they don’t have to answer the question again in your chat channel.
Traffic that grows month-over-month is a good indication you’re in the virtuous content cycle.
Content on first principles
A first principle is a fundamental building block. Content on first principles is the most easy to repurpose for user questions.
Answering a user question and providing them with a few links on related first principles is a great way to teach them more about the underlying technology. When a user is trying to work through an error, they usually won’t want to learn about unrelated first principles, but are willing to read a post on a related fundamental building block.
Boiling down your tech into fundamental building block and using these first principle blog posts is a great way to enter the virtuous content cycle. Keyword research can help you identify the fundamental building blocks of your technology.
Keyword research is finding the search terms that users are entering into search engines related to your technology. Popular keywords are often first principle building blocks for the technology you’re evangelising.
You should prioritize your content based on the most popular keywords. This will allow you to help the greatest number of users.
Thriving with a virtuous content cycle
Developer advocates on successful software projects can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of user questions.
Answering user questions with reusable content is the best way to scale developer advocacy efforts. Tailoring responses for individual users isn’t scalable or feasible at a certain point.
Scaling your developer advocacy efforts with reusable content has a bunch of wonderful side effects:
- it gives you ideas on the best topics for tech talks
- it encourages keyword research and user empathy
- it forces you to boil down concepts into first principles
- it encourages you to create minimal, reproducible answers
Once you’re in the virtuous content cycle, your metrics will get better every month and you’ll be able to keep up with all the user questions. The volume of questions should not grow excessively because many users will be answering their own questions.
Your content will allow you to easily make other types of content, so you’ll be able to evangelize the technology more extensively. Once you have all the baseline content created, you should have time to make more videos, give talks, and participate in meetups. For a passionate developer advocate, the virtuous content cycle is a wonderfully satisfying way to work.