The Internet’s most important platforms are largely driven not by consumers, Valley investors, or even major tech press outlets, but a much smaller segment far more challenging to reach: Developers. Apple’s App Store depends on them, as does Android’s Google Play, among many others. Many great tech companies, like SendGrid, CodeSchool, and Geoloqi (whose programs we helped launch), market exclusively to developers.
Despite all this, PR agencies specializing in tech rarely make any effort to engage with devs. (Google "startups" "pr agency", and you get over 56,000 results -- but Google "developer relations" "pr agency", and you get much less than 7,000.) At the same time, independent developers often do the most innovative work in tech, and sometimes drive the industry as a whole. (Consider how the buzz around wearables largely started two years ago with an indie dev’s 2012 Kickstarter, with Apple only joining the party two long years later.)
Why do agencies mostly ignore devs? My team was recently talking about this while refreshing our own developer relations case studies, and we came up with some key reasons – among them:
You Can’t Talk At Developers; They Expect (and Deserve) a Dialogue
Generally, the least effective means of reaching a developer is via press release or a tech news outlet. Developers prefer to engage with news about a platform on interactive sites where they can share their opinions about it with their peers. (Think Reddit, Hacker News, and Stack Overflow, among many others.) Trouble is, most PR agencies aren’t used to working on sites like this, and are unsure how to help foster a conversation between devs and platform owners.
Which brings up a related point:
PR Companies Usually Get Cut Out of the Dev-Platform Feedback Loop
For a platform to succeed, it’s absolutely crucial that developers not only get to share their opinions about it with the company, but have their feedback incorporated into updates of the platform itself. PR companies must also be able to drive that feedback loop through an authentic communications program that can converse with developers on their level. And to even interest developers in the platform, they must be able to explain what it can do, why it matters, and what other developers are doing with it. All this requires a communication strategy and knowledge base that extends far beyond the skillset of most PR companies. (And on the client side, the company must be prepared to support any developer communication program with evangelists qualified and eager to work with devs in the coding weeds.)
Many Developers for Many Platforms—With Many Expectations
PR agencies and their clients also face a segmentation challenge: A dev relations program for game developers will be almost entirely different than one for location-related app makers, and so on. (Just consider how many potential segments there are just on iOS alone!) Segmenting requires a fairly broad knowledge of what platforms appeal to which specific developers, and how to engage them within their unique ecosystem of online forums, specialty news outlets, etc.
And that’s just for starters. One thing is certain: With new platforms emerging almost daily (for wearables, for the Internet of Things, and more), the future of tech communications will focus less on media coverage, and more on upvotes from developers.
Image via MyWindows.