Using Stack Overflow questions to feed your content calendar


Martyn Davies

Martyn Davies

How much of your developer relations strategy is based on gut instinct and how much on research? Admit it; it’s probably more of the former than you’d really like.

One area that lends itself well to a more data-driven strategy is content marketing and Stack Overflow is a source of intelligence available to any dev rel team. In his upcoming DevRelCon London talk, Nexmo’s Martyn Davies will be talking about how he uses data to drive their content marketing and here he shares the role that Stack Overflow plays in directing their content output.

Searching for the goldmine

For Martyn, finding data to inform a content marketing strategy is relatively simple. In particular, he cites Stack Overflow as a key source of intelligence on what developers might want to know about your product.

“There’s a lot of data that you could be pulling from Stack Overflow questions. For example, what language are people having problems with, what kind of questions are coming up over and over again, is there a thematic trend that comes out?”, Martyn says.

“People could be looking into whether or not new products or services have been documented properly versus the number of questions that are being asked elsewhere about problems.”

Martyn says this analysis can help highlight whether people are finding their answers in your own documentation and support channels or whether they are having to look on Stack Overflow for the answers instead.

Knowing this can help you provide the type of content that is needed in the place that it’s needed –– i.e. your own documentation.

Taking responsibility

So far so good, but the problem with keeping track of what’s on Stack Overflow is, well, keeping track.

Martyn acknowledges time is a pressure but thinks that everyone working in a dev rel team has an individual responsibility to keep an eye on what is happening across all the channels that their developer community uses and dev rel teams need to decide how this is going to work for the best.

“They can either make it someone’s responsibility for that particular day or they can say that it’s the entire team’s responsibility just to keep an eye on it,” he says.

Nexmo uses a notifier that links directly into Slack so everyone is aware when a new question is posted on Stack Overflow and other places. A secondary filter looks at any tags and what the question relates to so it can be answered by a specialist who has first line responsibility for answering the query.

“If you’ve got a group of generalists, then you probably need a different structure. But we triage what comes in based on language and then also based on which API it’s referring to or what the problem is because we’ve got both language specialists and product specialists,” he says..

“So there are people that are better placed to answer certain questions when they come in versus others on the team.”

Read the questions, write the answers

Once the question has come in and has been answered, what do Nexmo do with the data from this query? How do they use it to inform their content strategy?

“The process of answering a question is itself really useful for thinking about what you or other members of your team could be writing about,” he says.

“You look at how questions just pop up on stuff like Stack Overflow and you can identify from that what people have a problem with, which particular API they have a problem with, what language they’re trying to use, what it is that they’re probably trying to achieve.

“Say you get a lot of questions that are coming through that are ‘getting started’ questions. People having trouble with API keys, people having trouble with making that first request. That points to an issue in your own getting started guide and so you should probably do some work on that.

“You may also then want to consider putting the getting started aspect into a tutorial-type blog post that is posed more from the question side of things so that it ranks higher when people then ask that question in Google and ultimately end looking at something like Stack Overflow.

“It would obviously be great if it felt like that was answered by a page that was on your domain and people ended up there because the journey from getting that answered to then doing something else is a little bit more connected.”

Cover all your bases

Once you’ve taken inspiration from the questions that people are asking on Stack Overflow, what’s next? The idea that different people have different learning styles is now a common one and Martyn says it applies when thinking about what channels to use.

“You could think about putting content out in three different ways just to meet all of the edge cases because I think that developers aren’t all the same. They are different and they look in different places for the answer to questions or problems that they have,” Martyn points out.

“Some people will head straight to documentation. Some people would prefer to be walked through in the form of a tutorial. Some people don’t want to read anything. Some people would prefer a video tutorial.”

Repetitive doesn’t mean risky

So, if it’s important to serve multiple learning styles is it okay to republish the same content in different ways?

“That’s something that we’ve been looking at here at Nexmo,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of ‘how to do x with y’ tutorials and we’ve been gradually resurfacing that content in the form of blog posts because that helps us drive people directly to our own site rather than to third-party question and answer sites,” Martyn says.

“And in our case, it’s just as good to have that stuff out there in blog post form as it is to have it as a mini tutorial inside the documentation because people are gonna find it in different ways.

“And then it’s very much about trying to be where the developer is when they ask the question as opposed to hoping they discover where we publish it.

“People do worry about repetition but it’s not as risky as people think it is. And if you do take into consideration that developers aren’t all the same, there’s probably a different path for different developers and you should be taking that into account.”

Martyn’s three tips

So, what would Martyn recommend to developer relations teams looking to drive their content strategy with data? Here are his three tips:

  • Learn to love Google Analytics, it can tell you wonderful things such as which sites are sending traffic your way. Building a list of these helps you promote new blog posts when they go live to maximise their reach.
  • Understand which API endpoints or SDKs your developers use by tracking requests in your server logs. If you have lots of PHP activity then you’ll want to cater for that. If your NodeJS activity is low then you might want to create more content in this area, more regularly, or even work with content outlets elsewhere to increase developer awareness in this space.
  • Track the frequency of support queries, Google searches or Stack Overflow questions around particular topics/APIs, they can help you build a list of ideas of things to write about so you have something your team can reference when it’s their turn at the WordPress coalface.

You can hear more from Martyn on how data can drive your developer content marketing strategy in his talk at DevRelCon London on November 8th.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.