To augment my last post about when you have an API, but you need some help to identify what is needed to manage your presence, I wanted to talk about some of what you can do once you've established your base API management, operations, and presence--now you need to get the word out, and get people using your APIs. Whether your APIs are intended for a public, partner, or internal group, there are many well established techniques, that are employed by successful API platforms, that you can employ.
When I first sat down to write this guide, I was going to label it simply as API evangelism, but after pulling together the building blocks that I needed from across my research, to support a specific point, I shifted to make sure it was more of a week to week guide of things that should be considered. I wanted to share my own list which I use regularly, to help make sure I'm not forgetting any important things, and possibly re-evaluating existing practices to make sure they still relevant.
I wanted this API evangelism, outreach, and maintenance guide to speak to as wide of an audience as possible. To help do this, I wanted to focus on some simple goals, and building blocks that could be employed as part of the day to day, week to week, and month to month of the average API operations--here is what I have so far.
What Are The Goals
What are the core goals of the API operation? These need to be precise, measurable, and obtainable goals. While there may be unique ones to your situation, these are some of the common ones I see employed regularly.
- Growth in New Users - Is growth in the number of new users a goal?
- Growth in Existing User API Usage - Is growth in usage by existing users a goal?
- Brand Awareness - Is increase brand awareness a goal in evangelism?
- More Applications - Is a growth in the number of applications integrated with API a goal?
- New System Integrations - Is a growth in the number of system integrations a goal of evangelism?
- Other Goals - What other goals are there around evangelism of the API?
These should be strategic goals established, as well as more short term tactical goals, something that should fluctuate from week to week. Some weeks, outreach at events might be a priority, while others may involve content creation, development of how-to guides, videos, or other resources. Avoid only focusing on the usual goals listed above, and try to set other simple, more relevant goals that you truly can achieve.
Outreach & Engagement
Reaching out to API consumers is essential, not just to attract them as new users, but after they've registered, and as they are putting to the platform to work. Outreach will look different at various stages of the API life cycle, and may vary between your different groups of consumers, but here are a few areas to look at.
- Fresh Engagement - How are new developers engaged after they sign up for API access?
- Active User Engagement - What does the process look like to engage existing users and get them more active?
- Historical Engagement - How are inactive users engaged, either to reactivate them, or verify for removal?
- Social Engagement - What is the establish tone of social engagement when it comes to outreach?
I've experienced APIs where everything is automated and distant. You receive regular emails, and see the occasional tweet, but there really is nobody home, nobody reaching out and making sure things are good. I'm not talking about sales in this arena, I'm talking about genuine outreach, and engagement to see what API consumers are up to.
Blogging & Storytelling
How does blogging occur via the platform? What approaches are being used to generate, produce, and syndicate stories, keeping a regular stream of information flowing from the platform. There are some common areas to consider when planning this portion of operations, that can be applied on a regular basis, establishing a regular drumbeat of valuable content coming from the platform.
- Projects - What projects are occurring that can be showcased as part of the API effort?
- Stories - Is storytelling a regular thing that occurs on blog(s)--with dedicated resources?
- Syndication - How will blog posts by syndicated out?
Platform communication and support, should be done in a way that gives a personality to an API platform. Be genuine, don't market to consumers. Build things that highlight the value an API delivers, tell the stories of how and why you did it, and make sure and spread the word, doing the hard work to syndicate to the most relevant platforms.
Partner Storytelling Activities
Your partners are always looking to get some special attention when it comes to blogging, storytelling, and outreach. What are some of the elements that can be considered when looping in partners into your outreach and engagement efforts.
- Blog Posts - Are there blog post activity opportunities available to partners?
- Press Release - Are there press release opportunities available to partners?
- Facebook Post - Are there Facebook post activity opportunities available to partners?
- Twitter Post - Are there Twitter activity opportunities available to partners?
Hopefully you have the right partners on board, letting in the ones that will benefit your existing blogging, storytelling, and outreach efforts. It shouldn't be extra work to include partners in your regular operations, they should fit in nicely, or maybe you should be considering if they are the right fit--having the right partners will make all the difference.
Partner Content Acquisition
What kind of content relationships can be established as part of partnership activities. Content generated from existing, successful relationships, can be a big driver in forming new partners, as well as keeping existing ones healthy and happy, feeling like they are getting value from the arrangement as well.
- Quotes - Are quotes from partners being gathered?
- Testimonials - Are testimonials from partners being gathered?
- Use of Logo - Are partners given different usage permissions around logos?
Showcasing the right partners, in just the right way, can send the signals you need to potentially new customers, and partners. Make a regular habit of asking partners for quotes, testimonials, and to be able to use their logo. Maybe even make it a default requirement as part of the partner application process.
Every API operates within a specific space, and understanding the landscape of the space is very important to the health and effectiveness of evangelism efforts. Because APIs are very technical in nature, it can be easy to keep your head down, operate within a silo, and ignore the world at large. There are some common ways you can tune into the landscape in which you are operating, and better understand the role your API will play.
- Competition Monitoring - Who is the competition? What are they up to? How do we compare?
- Industry Monitoring - What industry organizations and resources are available?
- Keywords - What are the top key words and key phrases that apply to this effort?
Landscape awareness isn't about the numbers, it is about awareness. It is about knowing what your industry is up to, what matters, and in tune with what the competition is up to. Most importantly, it is about picking up your head, and looking beyond your firewall, and seeing the bigger picture.
Forums play a big role in the self-service, and ecosystem nature of API operations. Forums can be within a platform, as well as on existing public forums. Healthy API communities encourage, and engine in conversation across their platform, and within the communities of others. These are some of the considerations with forums when it comes to evangelism.
- Forum Conversations - Are the conversations that occur on forums considered as part of overall evangelism and storytelling?
- Forum Posting - Are stories, and conversations from other channels posted on the forum, to help stimulate conversations?
- Stories - What stories are being told, derived from forum activity, or monitoring?
Not all API platforms will have their own forum, with some not having one at all, leaning on their social presence, and relying on existing communities like Stack Exchange, and Quora. Even if you don't operate your own dedicated community, participating in other communities, and weaving these experiences into your own planning, storytelling, and outreach is important.
What role does support play in the overall evangelism workflow. Evangelism and outreach is not just about marketing and sales, with much of the tone of evangelism being set by the overall approach to support (or no approach).
- Email Coordination - Are there resources dedicated to email coordination with the platform community, and the public?
- Email Needs Tracking - Are issues, and conversations that occur within email support considered as part of other activities like the roadmap, and blogging?
Not all individual support scenarios should be shared as part of communication, storytelling, and outreach, but the valuable ones should be generalized, and included in regular outreach materials. When possible, ask your consumers if it is ok to share their situation with others. You never know when it could impact how others will view the platform, and help improve their own situation.
How are SDKs discovered by developers during development? What are the considerations for making sure existing SDK efforts get found. Are there considerations for API discovery being more about someone looking for an SDK solutions, than someone looking for APIs--here are some common considerations.
- List SDK - A listing of available SDKs.
- Search SDK - A search tool for available SDKs.
- Browse SDK - All the browsing of available SDKs by category or tag.
- Rating - Providing a rating system for SDKs.
Making sure you tell stories, and provide rich content around API operations is more about SEO, and marketing, with most of the people looking for the solution your API provides, not ever being aware they are looking for an API. Many potential developers will be looking for an SDK that meets their needs, and the fact that it is an API might be a separate consideration--make sure code is discoverable.
Github plays a central role in many areas of the API life cycle, but the social nature of Github lends itself well to evangelism efforts. When it comes to services I encourage API providers to use, Github is #1. The platform is much more than just code, and the social aspects can significantly benefit platform operations -- here are some of the common aspects of outreach on Github I am seeing.
- Github Repository - Are Github repositories used for code, support, content, and other parts of outreach?
- Github Relationship - Does the platform engage with other users through issues, wikis, and other social channels available on Github and around repositories?
- Github Organization - Is there a Github Organization dedicated to this API effort?
As with any other platform you use, your profile should be up to date, but code, wikis, and issue management should be active, and included in all other aspects operations, and projects. Github should touch almost every aspect of API operations, and playing a central role in how you engage with API consumers.
Social media plays a big role in business operations, and is something that is just as critical to API evangelism efforts. As with any other business in operation today, a healthy, active social presence needs to exist. Here are some of the common channels API providers are using social services to engage consumers.
- LinkedIn - Is there a LinkedIn user or page associated with API efforts?
- Twitter - Is there one or more Twitter accounts associated with API efforts?
- Facebook - Is there a Facebook user or page associated with API efforts?
I do not push every social network, in every scenario. Sometimes Facebook makes sense, and sometimes it doesn't. You will know your audience better than I will, but either way it shakes out, make sure and have a healthy, active, and valuable presence on social media to stay connected with your audience.
Beyond just social networks, some social bookmarking sites can also be important to the API evangelism workflow. Here are some of the social bookmarking sites in use today, that you should be considering.
- Reddit - Is Reddit use for discovery, and sharing of news and stories?
- Hacker News - Is Hacker News used for discovery, and sharing of news and stories?
- Product Hunt - Is Reddit use for discovery, and sharing of new products, services, and tooling?
Like other channels, these bookmarking sites are not just one way channels to share links out. The management of profiles, engagement with other users, and discovery of new sites, applications, APIs, and other interesting elements is a required part of the dance.
- Widgets - Are there widgets available for consumers to embed on websites, that uses the API?
- Buttons - Are there buttons available for consumers to embed on websites, that uses the API?
- Badges - Are there badges available for consumers to embed on websites, that uses the API?
- Bookmarklet - Are there bookmarklets available for consumers to embed on websites, that uses the API?
Think about what the Facebook Connect, and Twitter share buttons have done to bring new users, and awareness of these social platforms. Embeddable tooling should always considered as part of API outreach, providing simple, embeddable goodies that anyone can use, allowing the community share the load when it comes to outreach.
How are evangelism activities being reported upon. Reporting isn't just for your bosses and management. Reporting helps everyone involved better understand the day to day, and month to month details, and helps keep efforts organized. What are some of the common approaches to reporting on API evangelism efforts.
- Activity By Group - What are the activities going on around evangelism, broken down by group?
- New Registrations - What do new registrations look like?
- Number of Applications -
- Volume of Calls - What does API activity look like in general, but the number of calls?
Reporting should reflect your goals for outreach, and day to day operations. Why are we doing this? Are the goals and outcomes lining up? In addition to internal reporting, and sharing among key stakeholders like partners, consider what should also be shared with the API community, and the public at large.
Events & Gatherings
Events are the in-person, retail face of any API platform. While much work can be done in an online environment, also make sure you are available at events where API consumers will already be. There are a number of proven types events, that work for API evangelism.
- Conferences - What conferences are being attended, spoken at, and sponsored?
- Meetups - What local Meetups are being attended, spoken at, and sponsored?
- Hackathons - What hackathons are being attended, presented, sponsored, or put on?
It can be easy to spend a lot of money in this area, in an effort to be everywhere. A successful, in-person API outreach strategy, is always in sync with a robust, active, online presence. Make sure you efforts here are genuine, and in alignment with the other virtual elements discussed here.
Evangelism is not just an external thing. How is the platform being evangelized internally, even for publicly available APIs. Internal evangelism is very important for maintaining trust, and the continuation of the funding necessary to operate. There are some common patterns I've seen to help stimulate internal involvement.
- Storytelling - What sort of storytelling about platform gets told internally with leaders, and other stakeholders?
- Participation - What sort of participation internally occurs to get people involved in platform operations?
- Hackathons - Similar to the public hackathon movement, internal hackathons are increasingly a thing.
- Process Jams - Instead of gatherings to build applications, some folks are coming together to just improve on the process.
- Brown Bag Lunches - Gathering people together to just talk, can be a powerful thing, helping educate and spread the word.
- Reporting - What kind of reporting happens internally, keeping people in tune with what is going on with the platform?
This is the number one reasons I see APIs fail. From a lack of internal engagement. The most successful APIs I've seen enjoy wide support internally, and are owned beyond just a single group. A lack of internal buy-in, the necessary investment and resources that are required for success, will kill the even best planned API.
How Are APIs Found?
How APIs are being discovered across the current API landscape. How are APIs being found by developers, and application architects at all stages of development. Are APIs being shared in a way that they will be found by developers, and the people who will need them most.
- API Directory - What API directories are in use?
- IDE Integration - Are APIs available in common IDE platforms?
Whether they are internal, or public, APIs shouldn't be hard to find. They should be browseable, searchable, and available where the consumers will exist. They should be woven into all other areas discussed in this guide, opening up the opportunity for engagement across all aspects of outreach and engagement.
API Definition Formats
A machine readable specification is designed to assist in the area of API discovery. This allows APIs, and their supporting operations to be described in a way that can ingested, and indexed by API search engines, and directories.
- APIs.json - Is APIs.json in use to provide meta data indexes for API discovery?
- OpenAPI Spec - Are API definitions available to understand what APIs do.
These formats make APIs discoverable by other systems, and tools, but also open them up for sharing, collaboration, and syndication. Think of these API definitions like little machine readable business cards, that can be left anywhere for potential consumers to find.
Next up, are some API directories that exist publicly, and provide directories that developers can browse, and search for APIs by keywords. There are a handful of examples of available when it comes to relevant API directories you should be considering today.
- ProgrammableWeb - Are internal users aware of ProgrammableWeb, and do they put it to use?
- Mashape - Are internal users aware of Mashape, and do they put it to use?
- APIs.guru - Are the API definitions available in APIs.guru the Wikipedia for APIs?
This are is meant to serve the public APIs that are embarking on this journey. These are the leading API directories out there, that allow API platforms to list their APIs, and benefit from discovery, and other network effects these platforms bring to the table.
API Search Engines
Beyond just API directories, there are also a new breed of API search engines emerging, that allow for API discovery that goes beyond just static API browsing and search. Currently there is just one API search engine.
Contrasting API directories, API search engines allow you to maintain the control over the index for APIs that are included in their collections. Eventually open API directories will allow for new ways of API discovery, via fast growing channels like via IDE, spreadsheets, messaging, and other platforms where API consumers are already operating.
Business directories that allow for additional information related to APIs, as well as having APIs themselves, allowing for discovery of APIs from companies who list themselves in these directories.
- Crunchbase - Is the business and its public APIs documented with Crunchbase?
- AngelList - Is the business and its public APIs documented with AngelList?
APIs are hot in the startup, and business arena. Many other companies pay attention to these business directories looking for interesting API implementations. A healthy, active presence in these space can help in the evangelism and outreach process, and help you be more aware of some of things going on in the space.
I have compiled this list from the evangelism efforts I've helped craft in the past, from keeping an eye on the activities of other evangelists, as well as use as list to cherry pick tasks each day, and week, as part of my own API Evangelist network of sites and APIs. When I am looking for something to do, that will help engage my existing audience, as well as bring in new folks--I work from this list.
In 2016, i'm opting to focus on more on a digital presence for my operations, but only after five years of heavy, on the road evangelism, as well as maintaining the projects, and storytelling that I do regularly. Consumption of my APIs isn't my #1 priority, as this isn't my main way of generating revenue, but in 2016 this will slowly be shifting--in addition to evangelizing the API efforts of others, I will be stepping up the evangelism of my own APIs, further expanding this evangelism, outreach, and maintenance strategy.
Hopefully this guide provides you with some ideas for how you can formalize your own approach to getting the word out about your API. Whether you are evangelizing them publicly, stimulating partner interest, or making them known within internal groups, you should be able to find something here you can get to work on. After five years of beating my own drum in these ways, I can say that some weeks you will have highs, other times you will experience lows, but if you keep doing consistently, in a genuine way, it will pay off.