6 principles for growing a worldwide developer community
This is a guest post by Ramsey Pryor, Head of International Expansion at Branch, a mobile deep linking solution.
If you’re a developer looking to acquire new users, it’s not always just about relying on “traditional” digital marketing strategies. Sometimes you have to think outside the box to meet your goals, as we have at Branch, a mobile deep-linking solution headquartered in Silicon Valley. Indeed, when we sought to expand our business by focusing on driving organic, user-to-user growth around the world, we turned to organizing local meetups. The strategy proved to be a terrific success: what started as an experiment in reaching developer communities across continents, time zones, and cultural divides became a lynchpin of the company’s marketing strategy. As the initiative grew, rather than promoting Branch or deep linking specifically, we zeroed in on building a knowledge-sharing community focused on sharing mobile growth tips and best practices. Today, we organize meetups and events in 52 cities, and have nearly 20,000 members in our community.
Here’s are some best practices any company can follow to leverage meetups to build a global developer community:
- Start small. While it may be tempting to do a big-bang event and spend a lot of money on bands, food, promotion and glitz, some of the most profound mobile growth discussions we’ve been part of have taken place over beer and pizza in a company cafeteria. Meetups are a great way to find like-minded people in virtually any city, and to put the focus on content rather than show. Smaller events allow participants to bond, and those relationships grow organically over time as the meetup continues to meet and grow in size.
- Don’t sell. We were advised early on to put the focus on our speakers and participants rather than on ourselves during events. No one appreciates an infomercial disguised as a meetup or community event, and if you’ve been to a few meetups, it’s really easy to tell the difference. At the beginning of each meetup, we allow ourselves 5 minutes to describe what problem we solve, and the same amount for our co-sponsors (usually the company providing the meetup space). After that, our job is to facilitate a stimulating discussion and tease out as much knowledge from each other as we can.
- Nail down the format. Then scale. We’ve experimented with a lot of meetup formats, but the one that has been most successful is having drinks and pizza, a panel discussion with 3-5 growth experts, followed by a Q&A session and networking. While it sounds simple, it takes a surprising amount of planning, effort, and tools to ensure that the speakers arrive on time and prepared, the food arrives hot, the beverages are cold, the AV is in place and working properly, and that participants have a great experience each time. It was important to build a system around the logistics before expanding to new locations, and when making changes the format, we test it out in our most active chapter (San Francisco), before rolling it out to other locations.
- Localize, but be consistent. Weekends are a dead zone for meetups in the US but work well in Istanbul and India. Dinner starts at 10pm (or later) in Spain, while in Palo Alto you’d have a hard time eating anywhere at that hour. We’ve learned a lot of local customs and preferences in the last two years, so sticking to a set formula would be a mistake. That said, we want a Branch meetup to have a consistent quality and experience in every location. We’ve built a playbook to guide local chapters on the logistics and expectations, and we’ve refused to compromise on aspects that violate the community ethos; like paying for speakers, or charging participants to attend.
- Be good citizens. If you manage to build a large community, you suddenly have the power to impact local communities and the industry as a whole. We don’t take this power lightly. Inclusion and diversity are important cultural values at Branch, so when we organize meetups, we strive to have speaker panels that reflect the ethnic and gender diversity we want to achieve in the tech industry as a whole. While this is an unfamiliar concept in certain locations, some of our best-attended events feature all-women panels, and we’ve even seen other meetup groups adopt similar policies.
- Share what you learn. After hosting hundreds of discussions on mobile growth, we have made many attempts to capture and share all of the incredible information we’ve gathered with the global community. We tried recording each meetup (too long), tweeting out highlights (too short-lived), livecasting (pretty helpful, but not always feasible), and distilling the highlights into launch checklists, annual handbooks (the most effective method so far). We’ve launched an online community to continue the discussions between events.
Like many technology companies, Branch is incredibly data-driven, and we often discuss how to measure the return on the investment we’ve made into building our community. While it’s easy to track how much an event costs and how many people attend, we don’t sell widgets at events. In fact, this would violate one of the very principles I just mentioned. But we can observe the uptick in partners as we enter a new region, and we can also compare the LTV of cohorts who have attended an event versus those who have not.
Anecdotally, some of our largest customers have cited that participating in one of our meetups was the critical factor that led them to integrate our technology. We know that developers trust other developers over any other source of information, and by providing a positive experience to tens of thousands of developers around the world, we’ve earned a lot of goodwill and trust. Lastly, the mobile ecosystem is still evolving week by week. We learn an incalculable amount from the individual developers, marketers, and entrepreneurs we meet each week, hearing about the projects they are working on, the experiments they’ve run and best practices they’ve learned, and the general trends we get to observe across the globe. You just can’t get that perspective by reading the news.
In our experience, meetups are a great way to build organic, user-to-user growth. It’s just a matter of starting small, being conscious of regional differences if you’re taking a global approach, and being sincere about building a learning environment rather than a selling environment.