22 days ago
8 min
5 Krunchy questions with Mary Thengvall: Creating content for a technical community

A strong community starts with great pieces of content and Developer Relations professionals are known for creating a lot of them. Mary Thengvall definitely fits this profile -- just Google her name and you will find lots of useful content created by Mary – from tweet to blogposts to podcast, you name it!

Mary Thengvall is a connector of people at heart, both personally and professionally. She has been working with various developer communities for over 10 years and has a passion to move the Developer Relations industry forward – like being the advisor of Krunch 😏. Mary is also the founder and co-host of Community Pulse, a podcast for Developer Relations professionals. She curates DevRel Weekly, a weekly newsletter that brings you a curated list of articles, job postings, and events. She’s a founding member of the DevRel Collective Slack team and also the author of The Business Value of Developer Relations.

As Mary mentioned in her book,

If the developer community sees you publishing good, interesting content that solves common (or not-so-common) issues, they’ll begin to see your engineers as knowledgeable, which then attributes value to your product indirectly.

In this interview, Mary will share her thought on how to create content which brings true value to the community.

What role does content creation play in the journey of building a community?

I think content creation plays a huge part in building a community, partly because content creation is often the strongest piece of the enablement side of the three main functions of Developer Relations: awareness, enablement, engagement.

This content isn't necessarily just blogposts -- it's also videos, GitHub repositories, live streaming, conference talks, and so many other types of content, but I think so many people think of content as "Okay, I have to write a blogpost."

Creating successful content can make the difference between someone looking into your product and actually getting successfully onboarded, which is of course the first step in building a community.

The second part of content creation that I see as a strong piece of building a community is amplifying the content that your community is creating. When someone from your community does something cool, you can blog about it or invite them to blog about it. If a community member chooses to blog about it themselves, you can either syndicate that onto your blog or amplify it in some other way.

This amplification can be a huge way to really give back and show people that you really appreciate what they're doing and the value that it gives back to the rest of the community. So often, when that content comes from a community member, it has a stronger impact. When it comes from an employee at a company, it’s easy to say “well, that’s their job,” but when that same feedback or even stronger feedback comes from someone who isn't paid to say those types of things, it can be a far stronger marketing initiative than anything that your internal employees can say.

As a result, keeping track of not only the content that your team is producing but also the content that your community is producing I think is a huge way to show the impact that your team is having by building that community around the content. It gives you the opportunity to highlight the work the community is doing and amplify the content they’re creating.

What are the keys to creating successful content for a developer community?

The biggest thing here sounds simple, but it really is to listen and make sure that you're actually talking to your community. You should actively know what it is that they're looking for; make sure that you know what it is that they're needing and wanting.

The biggest mistake I've seen people make over the years is assuming that they know the content that their community wants without ever confirming that with their community members. The more you're talking to the community and asking them “What do you need? What gaps are there? Where are you seeing that we could do something better?”, the better your engagement is going to be, the more enablement you'll get from the pieces of content you're putting out, and the more your community will start coming back to you with additional feedback because they see that you're listening.

Any tips on increasing the chances of the content getting consumed instead of ignored?

My answer is the same for this question. If you're producing content that you know people are looking for, it's a helpful way to increase the number of eyes on your blog post.

One interesting approach I've seen a few teams take is really understanding what their key terms are -- key terminology that people are searching on Google to find out information about their products. For us at Camunda it's phrases like process automation; helping people understand how to automate their technology. By us understanding the key questions people are asking on Google, we can write high quality content that speaks to those exact questions and slowly but surely our content is going to rise to the top of those Google searches, which means we're going to get more eyes on it, because we know that people are asking those questions and suddenly the Camunda content is popping to the top.

The second thing I would recommend is making sure you’re meeting community members where they are instead of expecting them to come to you. Content syndication is a huge part of that. There's a lot of great marketing content out there about how to syndicate your content properly to make sure that you're not ruining your SEO, but the biggest part of it is just making sure that you're using canonical links. Anytime you reshare to Dev.to or another forem site, Dzone or your personal website, make sure it's always linking back to your original post, so that all of the Google traffic gets attributed to your original blog.

As always, expecting your community to come to you is not the best way to approach it. You've got to go engage with them; make sure that you are aware of where they are and take the time to engage with them on the platforms they already exist on.

What platforms are available for content, distribution and how do we find channels and types of content that work best?

Content distribution-wise, as I mentioned, you should syndicate your content to a variety of sites. It really depends on your audience: every audience, every niche market has different types of blogs, different types of online communities. By figuring out “where does my community exist?” you’ll know where you should spread the word about your content.

If they hang out on Dzone, that's great! If they hang out on Medium, that's great! But figuring out the answer to “Where does my Community find their content or information?” and making sure you highlight content in those places is key. Sometimes that might mean paying for a sponsorship slot in a newsletter to get that initial awareness, or to get people aware of the content that you're putting out there.

Another way to distribute this content is during conferences -- whether you're at a virtual sponsorship or in person sponsorship -- in marketing materials that go out ahead of time. Again, it's all about understanding who your audience is and really making sure that you're meeting them where they are.

How do you monitor and measure the performance of content created?

This is a great question because it's kind of the never-ending question! It's something that almost everybody asks and so many people are constantly searching for good answers to. The easiest metric to track -- not necessarily the best, but the easiest one to track -- is just the pure click throughs: how many views, or how many people are on this website. This isn't necessarily wrong but it doesn't really answer all of the questions that you're asking.

It can be a good indicator of “this blogpost performed really well as compared to this other one” but there's also additional complications of “Maybe someone saw that second blog post and didn't see the first one, and they shared it on social media” and because of that you're getting a lot more traffic. In short, there's always the question of why something performed better or why something else performed poorly.

The other thing I always talk to my team about is that sometimes we produce content that, while we aren't expecting it to get a lot of views, necessarily, we know that the impact that it has for those particular people who do see it is huge. This could be pushing a sample application or tutorial, or speaking to a particular question that someone has asked on the forum when it's a small community who's using our products in that particular way. It's a small edge case but for those small edge cases, it's the exact information that they need, and so the impact is huge, because they could turn into paying customers; they could turn into external evangelists; they could turn into people who will then take Camunda with them far in the future, no matter what company that they're at.

So understanding not only what are the “vanity metrics” of views and click throughs, but also consider the impact metrics -- where do people go afterward, how many other people are they sending to you as a result of that content, does it really meet a need that your community has?

I think it all goes back to “what role does content creation play?” It fills the gaps; it enables your community. And if you're truly enabling the community, you're able to see that through anecdotes, through forum posts, through community members answering the questions that other people have -- all of those types of things -- that the content has been successful. It’s just not always the easiest way to measure things.

One of the things I love about Krunch is that it gives you an opportunity to really overlay how are different pieces performing against each other, and so you can kind of start to filter out specific pieces of content to show only the content pieces that are about Python, or only the ones about our API, only the ones about human workflow, or machine workflow, or this particular type of process modeling.

By being able to filter those out through the various tags, you can start to compare apples to apples, rather than apples to oranges, because a blog post about our latest community maintained repo that has to do with a Python framework might perform very differently than one of our new release blog posts, so I don't necessarily want to compare those two against each other, as far as views or click throughs because it's not a fair comparison. But if you can compare here's all of the Python blogposts and this one performed really well; let's look into that a little bit more -- Why did that perform better? Why did that get more engagement? Was there a more specific call to action? Was there a follow through? Were there additional items that you wanted people to check in on and get more information about? There are all different reasons why it could have done better or worse than another blog post entirely.

Can you share a Krunchilicious moment in your life?

Sidenote: I love that it's Krunchilicious because I love wordplay and it's just fun!

I think one of my favorite moments was honestly, the first time that I learned about Krunch, which now was probably three years ago, at this point, and it was still very much in “let's see what happens and play around with this idea and get some advice from people” phase.

And I just remember some of the initial sketches of “here's what we want to be doing and here's how we want to to make this easier for people,” and just realizing how monumental of a change this would be for so many developer relations teams around the world.

The idea that we're no longer having to track this information in spreadsheets or pull down this information from eight different platforms and then try to collate it and figure out which post performed better than others, or which videos do better than others, or which live streams happen to perform extremely well in this particular day. It's just so much data that you have to bring together manually and even just before Krunch the product was a real thing -- the idea that it was going to be a real thing or might be a real thing in the future was just such a mind blowing and incredibly exciting moment. I'm just so glad to have been along for the ride and get to see that happen! It's been a fun journey and a lot has changed along the lines, but I'm so excited to be here for the ride and I can't wait to dig into it even more in the days to come.