Jul 18th, 2023

How HubSpot finds the balance (and business value) in DevRel

Developer relations can (and should) touch every part of a business, from product development to go-to-market tactics.

But such a wide aperture can sometimes make it hard to focus on what really matters—both for your developer audience and your company.

HubSpot’s Senior Manager of Developer Community Sarah Jane (SJ) Morris and Senior Manager of Developer Relations Chris Riley talked about that and much more with Common Room as part of our recent event: Community best practices with HubSpot and Common Room: Manage your user journey.

Here are three of the top takeaways from that conversation, including:

  • Why planning should come before process
  • What to watch out for when measuring performance
  • Why you should prioritize inclusion in your community

1. DevRel is a strategy, not a function

A lot’s been written about the evolution of the DevRel team (including by us!), from roles and responsibilities to ideal configuration.

But it’s important to remember that developer relations is a holistic strategy, not a list of tasks to complete.

“If you're using DevRel as synonymous with any specific function, you’ve got it wrong,” Chris said. “It really is a multidisciplinary strategy. So I look at [DevRel] as a strategy first, potentially a department and an organization with functions inside of it.”

Unlike marketing and sales professionals, DevRel pros don’t have an entire technology ecosystem built solely to help them connect their work to revenue. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tie your strategy to specific outcomes and measure its performance. The trick is to spell it out in a way that makes sense to company leaders.

“There's a difference between saying to the exec-level, ‘We talked to X number of developers’ or ‘We got exposure to X number of developers through our blog posts’ […] and saying, ‘We actually increased the engagement with this core group of developers and now we have more folks in this cohort that we're looking to activate,’” SJ said.
What it means for DevRel teams: DevRel strategies run the gamut, from enablement to advocacy and everything in between. Mapping out and communicating your strategy—including how individual activities ladder up to core business objectives—is key to proving value and getting necessary buy-in.

The team at HubSpot tries to find the balance between the quantitative and qualitative when illustrating return on investment.

“I'm driven by developer stories much more than I am by bottom-line metrics,” SJ said. “But I also understand we need those bottom-line metrics. I feel like Common Room is this really nice place where both of those things sit, where you can find stories and you can also extract the metrics that you need.”

2. You can’t manage what you can’t measure

According to DevRelX’s Developer Program Leaders Survey, 22% of DevRel professionals cite defining KPIs, metrics, or ROI as a main challenge.

By using purpose-built tools that provide easy access to relevant metrics, you can get a better handle on what’s available (and what makes the most sense for your DevRel strategy).

“Common Room has unlocked the conversation of what's possible to measure, which makes it a lot easier to decide what we can measure and what's going to be most important for us as the HubSpot developer community folks,” SJ said.

But selecting metrics is only the start. Regularly reporting on them—quickly, accurately, and at scale—is where the rubber meets the road.

What it means for DevRel teams: Tracking KPIs—whether it’s YouTube views, GitHub activity, product usage, or something else—can quickly become a full-time job. Make sure you have the tools you need to not only keep tabs on your most important metrics, but speed up and simplify the process.

Similar to other DevRel teams, the HubSpot team pays special attention to response rate and time to response in its developer community. It knows that a helpful community is one where product users will want to spend their time, so it uses Common Room to see how frequently and quickly questions are being answered across channels.

“[The] bread and butter of our community activities is developers asking questions and other developers coming in and answering them,” SJ said.

3. Focus on more than your superfans

Every DevRel strategy is different. So is every developer.

Some developers may be vocal participants who have significant influence over your community. HubSpot uses Common Room’s impact points to help identify who’s driving conversations (and who may be a great fit for a champions program).

“When we look at impact points, we can actually customize the weighting of those,” SJ said. “[It] really helped us hone in on that as an opportunity to actually measure which developers are now more active and how we can inspire them to become more active and watch that activity grow over time.”

On the flip side, the team at HubSpot uses Common Room to see who isn’t participating quite as much and work to get them more involved.

“We just want to see those subtle motions of folks moving up,” SJ said. “We're adding more value to their experience and in turn they're giving more value back to the HubSpot community, which ends up turning into better-quality integrations, better-quality customization of HubSpot, and overall better experience for our customers.”
What it means for DevRel teams: Recognizing and rewarding your biggest community champions is a great way to power product education, engagement, and adoption. But every community member has the potential to contribute in their own way—it pays to think about how to engage (or re-engage) your community as a whole.

The HubSpot team doesn’t want to lose sight of the value each and every developer brings to its community—and the value it can deliver in return.

“If you optimize for your outliers, you're probably optimizing for the wrong thing,” Chris said. “So it can get really dangerous to say, ‘We want everybody to be X, Y, Z community member.’ We might optimize for the incorrect thing and not support the masses, which is shooting ourselves in the foot.”

This goes double when it comes to product development.

“Our product team relies on our community pretty heavily for feedback,” SJ said. “If we're constantly getting feedback from the same sort of 0.1%, that's maybe directionally wrong and it's not reflecting our customers’ needs.”

Strategies shouldn’t be set in stone. Finding the right balance between the wants and needs of your team, your company, and your developer community isn’t a one-time exercise—it’s a continual pursuit.

Don’t be afraid to take a page out of the developer’s handbook—examine, adjust, and upgrade as necessary.

Scale and measure the impact of your developer community with Common Room

Ready to see how Common Room helps you streamline community growth and reporting?