Developer community through content marketing


Liz Couto

Liz Couto

In her talk from DevRelCon London 2017, Liz outlines how she has used content marketing to help build the Shopify developer community, from gaining the trust of developers to finding the hacker mentality.


Super excited to be here in London. I’m based in Toronto originally. So as you know my name is Liz Couto, I work for Shopify as a content marketer on our developer program. So a lot of you are obviously here because you wanna learn more about content marketing. You’re probably wondering what that is and you’re probably even wondering what even is a Shopify. So to give you a little context about my work. So Shopify is one of the biggest commerce platforms in the entire world. We’re proudly based in Canada but we actually serve over 500,000 merchants all around the world.

We basically wanna help anyone anywhere sell anything. So whether you’re in the third world, a remote village and you need a shipping solution, or you’re Kylie Jenner and you have a new lip kit, tweets are gonna give us your site, you don’t want to crash. We really wanna help anyone sell anything and make it work. So as you can imagine trying to help people sell anything we have a lot of special needs that need to be taken care of, and how do we extend our core product to make this happen? Actually community of developers as you guys probably guessed.

From talking at cross purposes…

So in 2009 we actually launched our first public API as well as an app store, that way developers could come in, build kinda some apps to cover all these needs, issues, extensions, as well as an app store to be able to sell their apps to Shopify merchants. But as you can see we’re growing really, really fast, and so do the amount of people who need those extensions. So basically we need more and more developers. If you want developers developers developers it turns out that you need marketing marketing marketing. So that’s why I’m here.

So a year ago I joined Shopify as a content marketer on their team, super excited for this challenge. I come into the role really confident, I worked on some huge campaigns, been a marketing manager at Twitter, I knew that I knew marketing and could come in and make it happen. Although my first couple of meetings with devrel was a little bit a shock. I had worked on some API stuff in the past since I was working with developers. But for the most part always in a room with other marketers or salespeople who kinda understood the marketing world. So the first few meetings, as I said, the teammates amazing super smart were talking on these really in the weed issues with their API end points, and how we can extend things. And then I was there with my weird marketer speak about doing analysis, and looking at audiences, and campaigns, and targeting. It was like we were speaking a whole other language.

…to speaking the same language

So yeah, we talk about impostor syndrome a lot in tech, and for me as a marketer join the devrel team, their first marketer on the team, it did kinda feel like, “What am I doing here” type of moment. But I knew that I knew my stuff. I knew that if they want to scale and grow the community I kinda had to stick to my guns. So I kinda just owned it, was a marketer, did a lot of processes, and really started to actually really see the value of what I was doing. Our devrel team was amazingly smart, they were doing really great work, but as I kinda stuck to my weird marketing jargon it made me realize I was one of these people asking these questions. They were doing great work creating content, addressing developer needs, really identifying those needs. What they needed was someone doing those marketing 101 tasks of asking, “Okay, who exactly is our audience? And how do they consume our contents? Do we know we getting the right places?” Really tracking that and analyzing.

This was kinda my first lesson in content marketing for developer relations, be the marketer. It’s gonna be really weird when you’re a marketer on a developer relations team, or if you’re a developer relations doing more marketing to kind of introduce new marketing and stuff that feels a little funny and weird, but trust me, push through it will make sense. In fact our head of developer experience the other day even asked me what the CPA on one of my campaigns is, the Cost Per Acquisition. So now we’ve gone from this weird speaking two different languages to working all together speaking the same language or at least understanding each other and how we work together.

Gaining trust in a critical friendship

So it’s all been goodness there. So it’s kinda like first experience, a little weird, a little out of place, and then it was just this great loving relationship with the team. So we really had each other’s trust, they knew that I was doing what I did for a reason, they trusted me with the developer comms and all the content. Blogs, looking after webinar, the social media accounts. It was really that moment of content marketing when devrel trusts you, and they really give you those keys to the kingdom. You have it, it’s great, it’s an amazing time. But sometimes when you have the keys to the kingdom you might actually have to burn it down. So as a Canadian I’m practically legally obliged to have sorry somewhere on my deck. But it is a kind of a weird, awkward moment, you have this trust, you love your team, they’re amazing, you’re working together, you’re seeing some results. But as you start to see results and track and really analyze you might notice that some things done were not optimal.

You might say to have to have those awkward conversations with your team of, “Okay I know you’re trying to make things really short and sweet for developers but when you do that it’s actually not picking up and optimized for SEO, and we know our developers find a lot of our content through googling, so you’re creating this but they can’t actually find it.” So trying to change behaviors those awkward conversations. Even telling them for webinars and whatnot, “These are better practices, we can’t just copy and paste code snippets, we can’t just talk about it. We need to show visuals, we need to live code more.” Those awkward conversations, but they’re honestly so worth it. So this is my second kinda big lesson in content marketing. Really own the messaging.

And it may seem weird, and feel a bit weird. You’re the marketer not the technical person to really go in and advise your team on, “This is how you should be presenting code. This is how you should present technical contents.” But if you don’t do this then all the work of the first lesson, being the marketer, is wasted. At the end of the day you’re helping amplify the efforts of devrel. You’re helping get developers in. So it’s really important that you kinda take ownership and not be afraid to have those weird awkward conversations. As I said, they do work out and you guys all kinda see the benefit together.

Reaching out

So this is kinda the nice stage in the journey, when you’ve revamped the messaging, it’s great. So you’ve done your processes, the base work, the messaging is good, but you still need to grow. So things look great but maybe you’re not getting quite the numbers that you want. So this is what I’ve learned, if you really want amplify fast you really need to work with more people and partner outside of your own team. So even though we have great products, we know our stuff, we’re obviously super passionate, we wanna write it our way, and we think developers wanna hear from us, and sometimes they do. But for the most part we found that they really wanna hear from each other. Consistently I find that when we work with others in our community, whether it’s current Shopify developers or even people outside of Shopify, that content gets so much engagement and such a great reaction. One really great example is, you know, we support a lot of really cutting edge languages. We’re really on the forefront of GraphQL, we have a whole SEK built in…I’ve confused my words now…we have a whole design built in React.

So for us even showing what kinda community we are and what we support. One partnership we did was with Cassie Williams who had some really great content on how to really quickly build the front end of an app with Vue.js. So for me pitching this to my team, the partnership with her, it was a bit of a, “Vue.js, we don’t support that, it’s not in our docs.” Sure you can use it as a prototype Shopify app but it’s not a big language we currently support. So it was a bit of a pitch. But showing the community, “Hey, we don’t care exactly if it’s for us, what you’re doing, we just really wanna support learning. We all wanna be at the front of this curve together with you.” Having that webinar with her, she’s so lovely, was a great experience, we not only found that we had so many developers actually viewing that webinar content, we had new developers who had never tuned in to our content ever before. And on top of that, that was a victory in itself, we actually found there is conversion. There is developers who watch this webinar on something that had nothing to with us, and actually even signed up for developers’ accounts with Shopify after that.

Lesson three. Seek partners. Once you have that ground work is good find more people to work with you and really extend and spread your message. This is another victory, everything is awesome. As a content marketer it’s so easy to be like, “My messaging looks good, everyone’s happy, we have great partnerships, it’s out there.” But your work is not quite done. You know you wanna grow, you know you wanna scale, you know you wanna make things as easy as possible for developers from A, finding your content to B, getting to that final stage, or final-ish stage of signing up for that developer account and being on the road to success in your ecosystem.Â

When the marketer becomes the hacker

So how do you make that happen? Yes be the marketer, but you might also have to be a bit of a growth hacker here. I know this is one of the weird one that people talk about, they don’t know what growth hacking is. But really how I view growth hacking at least is it’s really optimizing things. Instead of doing things the traditional way, I think that a lot of the hackers appreciate, you’re trying to find those little tweaks, those little fixes. Where are the workarounds? How do we take those barriers from getting involved in the ecosystem and being successful and remove them? So a good step on how to start here is pairing up with your good old friend data. Not the personal android, I really wish I had a personal android to help me out, but just tracking things. With your content getting super, super diligent with using UTM codes. Really making sure everything is tracked, every unique campaign is tracked. Tracked from, how are they finding it? Are they clicking through? Can you do heat maps to see really what they engaged with? Can you do special landing page projects? Really kinda think looking at the data and tracking and tracking and finding ways. But step number one is tracking. In my mind you can’t hack it if you can’t first track it.

So this is lesson four. You’re a hacker too. Which I know sounds in and out for a lot of you who maybe are, or maybe for some of you who are more pure marketing you might not see yourself as marketing, and it does feel weird in the marketing world. You do feel sometimes like that weird suit, numbers numbers, processes, charts, blah blah blah. But you have, I feel like to be successful as a marketer in the devrel world, you really have to have that hacker mentality too. It’s not just about doing things in a certain checklist, it’s about really finding those hacks and workarounds, and ways to make things easier for your community.Â

Every day is a school day

Things just keep getting better. So for me, actually yesterday was officially my one year anniversary at Shopify in this role, laying down this groundwork and figuring things out. And for me things just keep getting better. Everyday is learning, we’re on a great trajectory. To kinda even just recap everything and just for you trying to figure out your first year, trying to create a developer marketing plan with content marketing, a lot of it is just, you know, being the new kid. Building trust. Or even you’re building trust with a new kind of language, new processes that feel unfamiliar. It’s gonna be weird, work through it it’s going to work. The second one is just reworking content and messaging. Really making sure does this work? Have those conversations. Make the tweaks. Just because things have always been done one way and the community knows a certain way doesn’t mean that’s actually how your community wants things to continue. So really look critically at that messaging, whether it’s how you rate things, how you present things, what channels you’re using. Blog, YouTube medium. Really analyze that and own that.

Forging partnerships. Really spend time here, maybe I don’t know form some partnerships with people in the room here, really talk to people in the community and work together. Even if it’s not a perfect fit. If we all have very similar goals and we have similar things we want out of our developer community we should be working together. And the last one, measurements and growth. You’ve done some work, you’ve put some content out there, don’t be afraid to get into the numbers, even if they’re not optimal that’s great. You don’t have to waste your time continuing to do something that doesn’t work. Find out what works, measure that, and from there build growth strategies around that. Really optimizing the content and help developers find that content faster.

So year two, bit of a mystery. Maybe I’ll be back presenting next year telling you guys a bit about my more adventures in content marketing, and then maybe I’ll even partner with some of you guys and we can chat together about the great pieces of content we’ve created. So everyone quickly just whip out your phones as I’d love to partner with you. There’s all my social media information, how you can email me. If you wanna check out our developers program it’s [email protected], it’ll tell you of our docs, API end points, as well as a bit about our app store.

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