See all posts

9 min read

How to build a developer champions program
Apr 9th, 2021

How to build a developer champions program

This blog post—originally titled How to Identify Your Developer Superfans—has been updated to include content from other posts, including: What Are Developer Superfans?, What to Do With Early Developer Superfans, How to Build Trust and Create Developer Superfans, and Building a Champions Program for Developer-Focused Communities.

Developer champions know your product as well as anybody and they’re eager to tell everyone about it.

They’re active in various dev communities and singing your praises wherever they go. They’re creating content on your behalf. They’re even helping your product development team by providing detailed feedback.

So how do you assemble a roster of amazing developer champions for your product? Get programmatic.

This article will show you how to set up a developer champions program, recruit champions, and set your champions up for success.

Set up a developer champions program in 3 steps

We’ll break the process down into three main stages:

  1. Articulate the program’s purpose
  2. Determine criteria for champions
  3. Define the program benefits

1. Clearly articulate the program’s purpose

First and foremost, you need to define why the program exists. When your purpose is stated clearly and specifically, the other steps in the building process become much more manageable.

You may want to recognize and reward the most engaged and influential members who are having a significant impact in your community. Or you may want to acknowledge members who are eager to help others get more out of your product while advancing their own knowledge of it.

However you decide to define the purpose, be sure to refer back to it as your guiding principle as you build out the program.

Check out these community programs with clear purpose statements:

2. Determine the qualification criteria to identify candidates

In order to find the best possible champions, you need to know what you’re looking for. It’s useful to look at a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure your champions reflect your community and your company's mission.

Quantitative criteria
These metrics help you understand the impact and reach a champion might have. Here are some metrics to consider:

  • Social media reach (such as number of followers on Twitter, Medium, Twitch, etc.)
  • Technical community credibility (such as number of Stack Overflow reputation points and badges, GitHub contributions, etc.)
  • Content engagement (such as frequency of content created, number of retweets, etc.)
  • Community engagement (such as number of meetups, Twitch streams, or workshops, etc.)

Qualitative criteria
This type of evaluation ensures you're endorsing someone who's able to articulate and share best practices around using your product. It's important for them to have a high bar of expertise and empathy because you'll be helping to distribute and amplify their work. Consider some of these:

  • High level of technical expertise (such as member of GitHub Stars, AWS Heroes, etc.)
  • Regularly creates and shares high-quality and impactful blogs, tutorials, open source projects, events, etc.
  • Enthusiastic participation and engagement with the community
  • Proactively fosters relationships and strengthens ties within the community

3. Define the program benefits

So you’ve figured out who you want. How are you going to get them excited about joining your team? Typically, benefits appeal to a developer’s personal interests as well as their professional ambitions.

Benefits may include:

Opportunities to tell their story, showcase their expertise, and amplify their reach

  • Early access to submit talks at sponsored conferences and events
  • Travel stipend to help speakers get to events
  • RFP review and feedback for external conferences and events
  • Amplification of their content through your social media channels
  • Coauthor content that mutually extends reach of both the member and your company (think YouTube walkthroughs, Twitch streams, podcasts, etc.)
  • Cosponsor events (such as providing them a stipend to run workshops or host user groups together for quarterly dinners)

Facilitate connections with other like-minded community leaders

  • Complimentary pass to paid conferences and event
  • Exclusive networking and social events at sponsored conferences and events

Early product access and roadmap influence

  • Early access to product betas
  • Direct access to 1:few product/feature feedback sessions
  • Quarterly access to product managers or roadmap influence and feedback
  • Credits to experiment and build with your services

How to recruit a developer for your champions program

Developers don’t necessarily trust easily. They can see through your marketing jargon and look right past your sales gimmicks.

Here’s how to earn their trust in three steps:

Step 1: Do the research

To figure out how a champion wants to be engaged, you need to better understand them individually. Consider these questions:

  • Where do they work?
  • What are they building?
  • What do they seem motivated by?
  • What are some of their personal interests?
  • Do you have any commonalities you can showcase?
  • Do they have a pet (everyone likes sharing pics of their pets)?
  • How can you provide them with value?

In general, take a few minutes to research the developer you want to engage with.

Once you've done your research, you can create a great introduction message to send them. Mention their work or projects, ideally find something to compliment them on, and leave a lingering question that ties into their personal interests.

Step 2: Provide value

While you're doing your research, you probably learned a lot about this person. You likely learned enough to be able to brainstorm how you can provide value to them.

When I say “provide value,” I'm referring to doing something for a community member that will help them—you may also benefit from this, but that’s not the goal. This is 100% about them. It could be:

  • Introducing them to your network
  • Recommending a product
  • Sharing relatable content
  • Investing in their work or projects
  • Providing tips or tricks that may interest them
  • Giving them access to your team or product in some way
  • A million other more creative ideas!

It's imperative that you provide this value in the very first engagement you have with them. If you're not getting a response, try reiterating the value in your second communication to them. You’ll want to curate this message carefully because there's a reason they didn't engage the first time.

Developers get drilled by cold outreach, especially poorly executed recruiting, and their natural reaction is to ignore you.

Step 3: Make the ask

Whatever your end goal is, you're now ready to make the ask.

Use your best judgment to get a sense of how this person is feeling about the engagement from the other side.

How you engage with this developer is going to shape the rest of your relationship together. How will you make this ask as easy on them as possible?

Key things to think about when making your ask include:

  • Make it as simple as possible (you want to build a relationship over time, so start small).
  • Make it as easy as possible on them.
  • Be prepared and ready—don't make them wait on you.
  • It should be about them, so frame your request in a way that highlights the benefits for them.

And there you have it—you’re ready to kick your developer champion recruitment into high gear.

Onboarding your new dev champions

Your developer champions will be able to help with crucial brand tasks down the road: community content moderation, public speaking, product presentations, even editorial review for go-to-market campaigns.

But for now, your task is to set your new recruits on the path to long-term success as champions. Here are some ways to get them engaged, proficient, and enthusiastic:

  • Recruit them for beta tests.
  • Give targeted product feedback questions.
  • Amplify their sentiment.
  • Make sure they’re seeing value.

Recruit champions for beta tests

Champions can help test product features before you release them.

Give them access and detailed instructions for use and see what feedback they provide. Provide a list of features to test and review to ensure they're aware of each new feature.

Survey champions for UX

New developer customers will have feedback on ease of use, overall functionality, time to onboard, and more.

Asking for open feedback doesn’t always result in the best response. Consider asking the following questions if you want productive feedback:

  • How long did it take you to sign up for and start benefiting from the product?
  • How was the sign-up process?
  • Was anything not clear to you throughout your onboarding process?
  • What can we do a better job of documenting?
  • What are your favorite features?
  • What are your least favorite features?
  • If this was your product, what would you do next?

Signal boost their sentiment

Do whatever you have to do to bring more eyes to their content. Show them that you think their output is awesome.

Maybe it's a post on social media—share it! If they share feedback more privately or in niche developer communities, take a screenshot, or quote their words, and create your own content.

This behavior not only encourages the one champion. It also emboldens other developers to put themselves out there.

Make sure your champions feel valued

The value this developer champion is providing to your business is truly priceless. Make sure that they feel valuable–and valued.

Your developer champions should always benefit more from their work than you, so find a way to make this possible. What are they motivated by? Figure that out for each one of your developer champions and reward them according to their unique interests.

These folks are the backbone of your developer community, after all. They deserve your support.

Next steps

We’ve walked through the steps for setting up a champions program, recruiting champions, and supporting them through the early stages of the relationship.

So how do you manage all of those tasks on your end? Intelligent tools make all the difference. Check out the playbook for building a champions program with Common Room.

This article was originally posted on Devocate, which joined the Common Room family in August 2022. Ready to supercharge your developer champions program? Try Common Room for free or request a demo. If you’re interested in understanding how developers interact with your product and company across channels (including those you can’t see), check out Shed light on the dark funnel with Common Room. And to chat developer relations and all things community with pros like you, join us in the Uncommon Community Slack.