Throwing a hackathon is a great way for companies to get their name and products out to developers, but it shouldn’t be the only outlet to engage them.
“Hackathons are not the be-all and end-all,” said Scott Regan, Apigee’s developer programs leader. “Way too many companies launch hackathons and then that is it, there is nothing after that. A hackathon is meant to be one small event in a larger plan.”
While hackathons are great for immediate product feedback and meeting developers, companies need to know what to do when they are over.
Regan outlined ways companies can extend their developer engagement beyond hackathons:
Model out what success looks like before you get started. According to Regan, companies tend to expect too much from a hackathon, and then down the road they get a wildly different outcome than what they had imagined. By defining metrics and measurements before a hackathon, companies can track the program and predict a more realistic outcome.
Participate in other hackathons and events. By participating in a lot of other events, companies can gain a lot of exposure and feedback. “What you can’t do is pin all your hopes and dreams onto one event,” said Regan. He recommended that companies have a developer advocate or evangelist who is a great communicator, very technical and willing to do a lot of travel in order to carry the company’s flag through various events. “If you want to create a developer community, sometimes it is easier to participate in someone else’s community. Companies should try to go to other events almost every week for several months.”
Reach developers through other channels. “Online communities are made for you to plug your content into them,” said Regan. “The key to reaching developers is to help them educate themselves.” If companies have great content, examples or inspirations about their products or services, they should find the websites that developers are getting their information from and try to reach them online.
(Related: More tips for hosting hackathons)
Still, hackathons are a big part of reaching developers, and if a company doesn’t do it right, strategies beyond the event may not be as effective. Regan advised companies to set the rules when throwing a hackathon.
“If there isn’t a clear focus, hackathons can turn into a free-for-all, and at the end you will end up with dozens of ideas that have nothing to do with the service or data you wanted to get feedback on,” he said.