There’s a class of engineers who in addition to coding, like to present ideas to others. This presentation may be in the form of blog posts, conference talks, open source projects or documentation. We call these engineers evangelists.

You should find the best evangelists in your community and make them famous.

What is a community evangelist?  


If you build a developer product, you want lots of developer evangelists. Not just the people that work for your company, but also the evangelists that exist inside your community.

Community evangelism is a way more effective form of marketing for developer tools than traditional enterprise marketing techniques because it harnesses the same kind of dynamics that make social platforms grow.  


In company-lead evangelism, you have a small number of developer evangelists who create content for your developers.  


In community evangelism, you encourage evangelists from within your developer community.  

In this article we'll talk about why community evangelism works and how to implement it within your company.

Community evangelism is scalable

Community evangelism way more scalable than company lead evangelism. If you hire 1 evangelist, then you have 1 evangelist. But if you hire 1 community manager, they may foster dozens of effective community evangelists.

Instead of giving talks themself, the community manager organizes things like local meetups and small conferences. They provide logistical support; advertising events, paying for food and beer, finding speakers, video recordings, etc.  And they form relationships with the people that are involved in running and speaking at these events.

That meetup might get together once a month and have 2-3 local speakers show up that you have never heard of. Every one of theses speakers is an evangelist for your product in some way. Sometimes one of those evangelists or the story they have to tell is super compelling. The community manager is looking for those great speakers and stories so they can elevate them in the community.

A community manager supporting 15 local meetups that each meet once every 2 months with 3 speakers per event will see 270 potential evangelists give presentations. If just 5% of these speakers are any good and go on to present at larger events, then that community manager will add 13 new evangelists to the community per year.

Find the best evangelisms and make them famous

Once a promising evangelist is identified, the community manager can work on raising their position in the community. Get them to speak at larger and larger events. Pay for their travel. Hire speaking coaches for them. Invite them to join exclusive programs you run for industry influencers. Your job is to raise their profile in the community by honing their skills as evangelist and put them in front of larger audiences more frequently.  

As a community manager you are like a baseball recruiter, farming promising new evangelists and presentations from local events and growing them into the big leagues.

Create venues for evangelists to present

When you find a compelling community evangelist, you need to give them audiences to present to. There may be a bunch of local meetups, but those are too small. You'll want to have your own conference (or set of conferences). At your own conference you can invite the best community evangelists to come speak.

Besides your own events, there are probably a number of industry events around your product over the year. Rather than using your own evangelists for every single one of them, you can invite your community evangelists to speak at these events. Make a map of all of the events, match them up with the best community evangelists and help them get their talks in. Pay for their travel and accomodation if needed. These may not be events that you sponsor.

Community evangelists can augment your own company's speakers. You may have dozens of events that are looking for speakers at any given time but only a few of them that you can sponsor, staff and attend. You can use community evangelists to fill in those events where you cannot be. Don't get the impression that community evangelists are second rate to your own evangelists tho; sometimes they're even better than your own. But since you have way more community evangelists, you can cover much wider ground than if you had to staff these events youreslf.

Managing quality


The content created by community evangelists will be of varying quality. Frankly, many presentations (and presenters) are just not very good. But while many presentations may be neutral or just plain bad, you will have a small percentage of EXCEPTIONAL presentations. These will often be better than any content your organization could have created yourself. This is what makes this approach worthewhile: you run lots of experiments and sometimes you strike gold.

You are not without influence of content quality, and you can tip the scales to make sure you strike gold more often. There are many tactics you can use to influence content quality.  

  1. Reviewers can work with a community evangelist to correct any problems or bad information in their presentations
  2. Speaking coaches can help improve the evangelists presentation skills and stage presence
  3. Graphic design support can improve the quality of their slides and graphics
  4. Video production crews can help produce high quality recordings of great talks

But most importantly, you provide a curation function. You are in control of the talks that get promoted and the people you put on stage. Understanding what content you want to promote isn't that hard. But deciding what kind of people you want to promote is just as important. Are you putting a diverse set of speakers and perspectives out there? Are you putting people on stage who are jerks in real life? The people you put on stage are the examples of excellence you offer to the community. What does the sum of their personalities say about you and your product?

Benefits for community evangelists

So why would someone in your community want to be an evangelist for your product if you aren't paying them? That's pretty simple - it helps them grow their own career. By raising their profile in the community, you help these evangelists earn recognition for the hard work they do at their day job. As they speak at events, they become recognized experts by the rest of your community.

For many evangelists, participating in your community will be a stepping stone to their next job, help them drive attention to their own products and services, or lead to them starting a new venture related to the work they do in your community.

Community evangelism does not replace company-lead evangelism


Community evangelism and company lead evangelism work hand in hand. There are certain things that are impossible to achieve with community lead evangelism. The core documentation and explanation of your platform needs to be updated as quickly as your source code. Only your own evangelists can do this in coordination with engineering. And you will have certain business strategies that require creation of specific content and your own evangelists are the only ones you can really direct at specific topics you want to see covered.  

Summary

Community evangelism is a scalable technique for getting your product in front of developers. It relies on cultivating evangelists in your community and then promoting them to address larger and larger audiences. Community evangelism works because it generates way more developer interactions than any company lead evangelism technique for the same investment, and those interactions are way more effective since developers are more likely to trust a peer than someone from the vendor.  

All of the credit for this strategy goes to the incomparable Meghan Gill who created the strategy around community evangelists at MongoDB and executed this program. I highly recommend checking out her own words on this program and why it made so much sense.