Face it – we work a very event-heavy industry. Especially in locations like London, Berlin, NYC ,and Silicon Valley, where you could attend several events a day and still not hit them all. Do you have to participate in events to have a successful developer program? In reality, yes you do. But you can also be overly event-driven, so it's important to have a strategy to pick and choose the events that make the most sense for your API program.
There are two main reasons why we go to events. First, it is about critical mass, of getting a large number of like-minded people in one place. It makes it easier to distill your message, leverage group dynamics, and to meet new people. Secondly, even though we operate in a technology-driven sector, face-to-face contact still matters. Particularly when we are building communities and ecosystems, the ability to build trusting relationships is more efficient in person. As well, it’s the leaders, influencers, and the risk takers who tend to show up at events, and they are the ones you definitely want on your team.
But make no mistake, not all events or event organizers are created equal. If your program metrics only track the number of events your team attends or the number of attendees at events, or your lack a clear strategy and method to track outcomes, events can be a large expense with limited returns.
Here are six key areas to review when considering participation an event:
Does it match your segments/targets?
What is the reputation of the event and the organizers?
Can you meet your goals/expected outcomes?
What type of resources, budget, time commitment is required?
Can you customize your role (e.g., speaking, booth presence, giveaways, after-hours activities, etc.)?
What is the value/ROI?
We tend to emphasize segmentation, but it really is the first place to start. What type of developers have you targeted to make your API successful and what type of events do they attend? Also take a look at where your API is at in its communication phase (awareness, onboarding, retention/commercialization) and where a developer is within their development journey. If you're still in the awareness phase, you may want to attend larger tech events to get the word out and target business or product managers who will make the decisions on integrating new technologies. If you seem to be having a tougher time actually getting developers to test and use your API or tool (the onboarding phase), it might be more effective to organize a hands-on workshop.
Hackathons have become very popular over the last five years, but they are not the be-all-end-all solution for growing your developer community and making your API program a success. As long as you are clear about your objectives, hackathons can spread the word about your product and generate early feedback as to its technical merits.
Meetups have also grown exponentially around the world and can be a great place to target developers based on particular technologies, verticals, interests, and geographies. Keep in mind, as with most events, meetups are only as successful as the organizer, so they will vary from place to place and you may have to dig in and provide more assistance that you originally intend. Generally (except in Silicon Valley), they tend to be a cost effective way to reach new audiences who are very receptive to having visitors with cool new technologies.
Here are a few more suggestions on making the most out of your event presence:
Have a plan and a message that all of your event staff know about.
Make sure your staff engage with the attendees and don't spend all of their time talking to each other (this happens a lot!).
Developers love SWAG, but it’s best to be fun and subtle with your branding.
Be flexible and have a plan B: something is bound to change, not show up, not work (e.g., audio/video equipment).
Be 'on' – you have to be a great evangelist for your product to get others on board too.
Take names and follow up with them after the event.