Successful Consumer-Generated Marketing for Technology Companies
What was the last product you shared on Twitter?
Have you ever created a video showing people how to use a SaaS tool you love?
Consumer-generated marketing (CGM) like this is one of the strongest forms of marketing a business can invest in. It’s authentic because it comes from customers instead of the company, it’s unique because it didn’t go through the company’s official “branding” rules, and it’s cost-effective because the company didn’t have to pay for it directly. In fact, they might be making money from consumers generating this content!
You can see why consumer-generated marketing is so appealing, but it’s also not easy to pull off. In this post, I’m going to show you how technology companies use consumer-generated marketing as a growth channel. I’ll share some of the reasons companies pursue this strategy, dissect some specific examples of it in use today, and offer some tips for implementing similar strategies.
Why Consumer-Generated Marketing?
Consumer-generated marketing broadly covers any form of marketing where your customers create marketing collateral for you. This might mean you encourage users to create reviews or videos of how they use your product, but it also might be less manufactured than that. For example, I share interesting tech tools on my blog and Twitter account frequently and most of the time nobody asked me to.
Having loyal customers who also create marketing content for your brand is obviously a powerful asset. If you can create a viral loop whereby existing customers bring in more customers, you’ll be able to spend a lot less on marketing for the same growth rate.
While consumer-generated marketing is valuable in any industry, I think it’s especially powerful when you’re selling to a technical audience. Developers are skeptical of many forms of traditional marketing, so endorsements mean a lot more when they come from peers. Consumer-generated content is basically just a fancy way to say “word-of-mouth marketing” in many cases, and as most marketers will tell you, word of mouth is one of the most effective channels out there.
Examples of CGM in Technology
Because consumer-generated marketing is so effective, you’re probably wondering how you can cultivate a strategy around it. It works especially well when addressing a technical audience, so there are myriad examples of companies using it to reach developers and engineers.
Here are a few forms of consumer-generated content that you might be able to use in your software company’s marketing efforts:
1. Open-Source Projects
Many developers rely on open-source software for work and in their side projects, and some volunteer their time to work on projects they enjoy. Even if your company isn’t an open-source business, you can work with the community to help maintain open-source projects.
Angular—a popular frontend web framework—is an example of a community-maintained open-source project backed by a private company (Google). Google lends its financial support to the framework, but many improvements and bugs are fixed by non-Google engineers who simply like and use the project.
By supporting the framework, Google builds goodwill with developers, it gets developers to write and speak about its project for free, and it gets free help building a tool that’s used by its engineering team internally.
Of course, creating and maintaining a successful open-source project is a huge undertaking. As an established technology business, you might have more resources than individual developers who try to pull this off, but it’s likely to be a costly channel and it may never reach many people.
2. Digital Forums
Stack Overflow receives over 100 million visits per day from software developers who want to know how to solve a specific problem or discuss possible solutions with their peers. Similarly, Reddit, Discord, and Slack communities for software developers are thriving sources of conversation and consumer-driven marketing.
The tricky part about these channels is capitalizing on them.
One company that has gotten good at learning and using Stack Overflow as a channel for consumer-generated content is Nexmo (now owned by Vonage). Martyn Davies talked about their strategy for coming up with content ideas based on community questions:
“There’s a lot of data that you could be pulling from Stack Overflow questions. For example, what language are people having problems with, what kind of questions are coming up over and over again, is there a thematic trend that comes out?” –Martyn Davies, Nexmo
In addition to coming up with content ideas, Martyn is able to answer questions and form a relationship with developers using Stack Overflow. This goodwill and community focus has served Nexmo well as they’ve grown.
3. In-Person Forums
I ran a Chicago programming meetup group for a couple years, so I’ve spoken to a lot of brands and individuals who use event marketing to source and distribute consumer-generated content. One example of this is Microsoft’s MVP program, which invites select community members to speak on Microsoft’s behalf at local events.
This is a good deal for Microsoft as they get more visibility, but it’s also a well-respected role for community members. MVPs can use their status to get better job opportunities and raise their profiles among companies that use Microsoft’s stack.
Running a program like this can be expensive, and it exposes your brand to some risk. What happens, for example, when one of your MVPs says something inappropriate at a conference? Or when they write a blog post criticizing your latest product?
There are also less formal in-person marketing channels that allow you to engage users. For example, you can host hackathons or show-and-tell events where you invite community members to share projects they’ve built with your tools.
Again, these can be expensive and logistically challenging to pull off, but in-person events do help companies build a deeper relationship with their strongest community advocates.
4. Community Writing Programs
Another great way to encourage consumer-generated content is to invite developers to join your community writing program. Most of these programs pay developers to contribute blog posts or tutorials using your product. Posts are then published on your blog or the developers’ personal blog to improve organic search engine reach.
I’ve been helping maintain a list of community writing programs this past year, and one of my favorites is Honeybadger’s.
Honeybadger is a small company, but in addition to their scrappy in-person marketing efforts, they’ve done a great job cultivating a community of writers to write about relevant topics. This has contributed to their high domain authority and estimated 200,000 visitors per month.
Of course, finding software engineers who are also good writers is really tricky. This is what I do full time at Draft.dev, so I can tell you it’s a lot of work to find, guide, and edit content from subject matter experts who may not be experienced writers.
If you decide that a community writing program is going to be more work than your team can handle, but you want to invest in high-quality technical content, book a call with us. We can help you produce great technical content that’s aimed at software developers for much less than it costs to hire a team to start your own writing program.
5. Contests and Freebies
It’s true, software engineers love swag.
One example of this is DigitalOcean’s Hacktoberfest. Every year, they give away thousands of T-shirts to developers who make at least one pull request to an open-source project. While DigitalOcean doesn’t make money directly off this promotion, they get a ton of visibility within the developer community.
The giveaway has gotten so popular that some open-source maintainers argue that it isn’t necessarily a good thing:
“Hacktoberfest is a corporate-sponsored distributed denial-of-service attack against the open-source maintainer community… The rate of spam pull requests is, at this time, around four per hour. And it’s not even October yet in my timezone.” –Domenic Denicola
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the effectiveness of this tactic. DigitalOcean’s Hacktoberfest Twitter account has almost 18,000 followers and gets thousands of mentions from participants every October.
Tips for Consumer-Generated Marketing in Tech
No matter which form of CGM you pursue, you have to pursue it delicately. Developers are smart, so be careful about forced consumer-generated content, as it won’t sound genuine.
Here are a few more things to think about as you explore this consumer-generated marketing:
- Highlight existing forms of CGM: If your company has been around for a while, there might be customers already talking about your product. Figure out where they’re doing it, set up the appropriate searches, and encourage more of it (assuming it’s positive). If it’s not, use that content to help guide improvements.
- Reuse consumer-generated content: A single tweet can be retweeted, embedded into a blog post, and shared on other social channels. Don’t forget to maximize each piece of content’s value by promoting it adequately.
- Align incentives (hint: it’s not always about money): Most people don’t share things on social media in hopes of getting paid. Consumer-generated marketing content works the same way: you don’t necessarily have to pay, but you do need to align incentives. If your customers just want recognition and thanks, give it to them. If they want to be featured in your company’s blog, why not?
- Build opportunities into your product: If your product has a viral component (e.g., users invite other users), consider baking social sharing right into the core product. Make it easy for customers to invite coworkers or share an example of how they’ve used your product.
- Iterate, iterate, iterate: As with all marketing efforts, you need to approach it with continual improvement in mind. Measure the results of your first tests, make tweaks to the system, and try again.
Consumer-generated marketing can be one of the most cost-effective and powerful forms of marketing, especially when trying to reach software developers. If you’re looking for help with community-driven content, building up your blog, or creating tutorials that show users how to use your product, I’d be happy to help. Book a call with me here to learn more about the content we produce at Draft.dev.
Build a Blog that Software Developers Will Read
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide