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On courting discerning API developers

The process of attracting independent developers to public APIs has gained importance as the app store marketplace proves increasingly relevant and lucrative. Unfortunately, many companies trying to woo developers with their APIs are using marketing techniques that have little impact on a discerning developer community. According to Apigee, a provider of API management and infrastructure products, the heart of the issue is simple: Developers hate marketing.

Why? Apigee’s recent report, aptly titled “Developers Hate Marketing: Attracting Developers to APIs,” puts it this way: “Developers live in the world of the tangible. They want to see their apps used by people. They have a keen eye for anything that sounds like vaporware or shelfware and are extremely cynical about marketing.”

That said, Apigee does outline an alternative API-promotion strategy for attracting developers. Three main points stand out:

1. Build a developer community. Instead of talking at developers, show them what they want to see. By building a developer community that speaks to the needs and ambitions of the type of developers you want to work with, you better your chances of attracting the right fit of developer for your project.

2. Know what developers want—and supply it. According to Apigee, developers want to build useful skills, raise their visibility among other developers, use effective tools and—unsurprisingly—to make money. Providing what developers want is an obvious necessity if your business wants to attract and retain ambitious developers to work on your API.

3. Make developers part of the team. Another big takeaway from the report deals with the way companies treat developers. Traditionally, outside developers have been viewed as consultants. Today, a landscape driven by open source trends is demanding developers be treated more like customers—or even partners. As the report puts it, “Developers become a channel for new types of business that you wouldn’t or couldn’t pursue yourself.” As such, they take on a vital role that brings them into the folds of an organization on many levels.

Clearly, the first part of building an API—figuring out how to expose a service or product—can actually be easier than the second part—that is, getting developers to actually use it. That has always been true to some extent. But, in the era of open APIs, the story has a new twist. – Stephanie Mann

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