How to Build a Powerful Online Community for Your Software Developers

Summary

  • Software developers spend upwards of 20% of their time searching for information and answers to their technical questions.
  • Traditional online forums may be useful for ad hoc information but are often poorly organized and become outdated, impeding work for software development audiences.
  • A powerful enterprise knowledge-sharing platform that leverages a Q&A format for a software developer-focused online community drives collaboration and productivity.


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Our Thesis

Today, a Google search for any type of information (like technical information) will deliver you ads and thousands of results. Many of the results are discussion threads on forums. There are millions of online forums that people, including software developers, find themselves using daily to help them find the answer to their query. Studies indicate that employees spend over 20% of their time – a full workday each week – looking for information and data on the web via Google and other search tools. For software development leaders, this means lost productivity, missed deadlines, and higher costs.

Today’s online forums do not vary much from the forums that first emerged on the web more than a decade ago. As the web has increasingly become the central repository of public domain human knowledge, the problem with traditional online forums is:

  • they are not well organized,
  • they have ongoing, threaded discussions that go on in perpetuity, and
  • they are difficult to search for insights needed, especially for technical information.

Forums are essentially a collection of unstructured information and discussions, which makes it challenging to try to find the relevant bit of information a person (such as a software developer) is searching for in ‘the sea of online data and information’. And on top of that, most enterprise software developers need to search not only the open web; they also need a tool that allows proprietary information and insights from their firm to be found from disparate tools and systems.

The alternative, and more productive and efficient approach, to helping software developers and other technology team members find the right information, the right expert, the right insight at the right time, is a knowledge community based on a Q&A format. This format helps enterprise software development leaders solve the problems of traditional online forums, by applying structure and context to knowledge as it is captured in the form of dialogue. A powerful enterprise knowledge- sharing platform, that leverages a Q&A format for a software developer-focused online community based on helping people find knowledge, insights, experts, and ideas, will make your customers, your end users, and your software team employees more collaborative and productive. How does it do so? By bringing structure to the same information, which would be ‘noisy’ otherwise, when captured in traditional online forums.

A Game Plan for Implementation: Four Things Are Necessary for a Powerful Q&A-Based Software Developer-Focused Community

1. A Robust Strategy for Building and Growing an Online Community

  • Conduct an assessment to see where / how software developer knowledge is captured and stored. From there, build a plan. Understand what your stakeholders are buying into, then build a plan and ensure buy-in from key stakeholders.
  • Resource your plan with a budget for success, including a dedicated software developer-focused community leader, sometimes known as the Developer Experience Leader.
  • Have a content strategy that scales – own and organize all of the content on your site.
  • Document your marketing and communications strategy to engage the key stakeholders as well as the broader community of software developers.
  • Customize your site theme to reinforce your brand, both internally and externally.
  • Align your KPIs to desired business outcomes.

2. Consider a Third Party Q&A Platform Provider

  • Research the market – G2 Crowd is a good resource. Know how long your provider has been in the business of Q&A-based online communities for software developers. There are many general purpose platforms, but not many that are purpose-built for software developers.
  • Who are their customers? Talk with current customers to get their impressions of the platform, integration, and, perhaps most importantly, customer support.
  • Does the provider provide 24/7 web, phone, and email support, as well as on-premises notifications of server / network errors? These are ideal so your community can get the support it needs.
  • Do they provide the optimal user experience (UX)? The better the UX, the more users; and therefore, more frequent users, contributions, and interactions, you will have.
  • Can they align the Q&A site to your brand and your software developer audience?
  • Do they have access to high quality and cost effective professional services?

3. Customizable Integrations, Access, and Permissions

  • Advanced moderation features enable you to have a more professional, information-rich, relevant, and accessible community.
  • Granular access control layers make it easy to manage virtually every action on your site – who can post, and who can and cannot moderate content.
  • Ability to run a variety of reports, which include advanced analytics, so you know what’s happening in your community.
  • Gamification options to reward desired behavior and drive engagement, contributions, and sharing.
  • Integrate with tools like Google Analytics, Slack, Teams, Jira, Confluence, and others.

4. Strong Community Engagement Capabilities

  • Break down information silos and share knowledge with community members. While you may not be able to get rid of silos within your company, you can fill the information gap between them by using the hierarchy of spaces within your online community.
  • Identify topic experts to automatically route relevant questions for quicker, more trustworthy, and knowledgeable answers.
  • Powerful, intuitive search that indexes all community content in real-time.
  • Receive notifications and respond to questions with email integration.
  • Optimize organization with space categorization by tagging content with topics.
  • Keep users engaged with gamification, which recognizes participation and contribution with reputation points and badges.

Conclusion

  • Searching for answers and information to technical questions takes up more than 20% of software developers’ time.
  • Ad hoc information is certainly found in many traditional online forums, but it is often poorly organized and becomes outdated relatively quickly. This hinders the work of software developers.
  • A software developer-focused community that resides online needs a robust platform adept at sharing knowledge and leveraging a Q&A platform, because those features drive productivity and collaboration.

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