How Xamarin’s Developer Community Skyrocketed their Value
Founded in 2011, Xamarin is a leading platform provider for mobile app development, which was acquired in 2016 by Microsoft, to be included in their broader portfolio. Xamarin has more than 15,000 customers in 120 countries, including more than one hundred Fortune 500 companies. Today, more than 1.3 million unique developers have taken advantage of their offering.
“I can easily say [that Vanilla] definitely helped build the community environment that Microsoft saw as appealing.”
Business Program Manager
Xamarin was looking to create an experience for their developers; they wanted to expand their communication with them and create a unique space for them to be recognized.
Vanilla was an easy choice for the Co-Founder of Xamarin, who had been a big fan of Vanilla for quite some time, and instantly made the decision to move forward.
Technically speaking, the launch was seamless; the challenge laid in getting the developers to use something new, which was ultimately successful and embraced.
Xamarin saw immediate results through strong product feedback and the ability to quickly identify developers with MVP potential, 25 of which are now employed by Microsoft.
Looking to Deliver More
To an organization like Xamarin, who is fully integrated into Microsoft Visual Studio and is one of the most popular platforms for cross device app development, developers are everything. But for an organization who captured the attention of many creative and talented developers, their method of contacting them wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Similar to many technical communities, Xamarin was relying on mailing lists to communicate with their developers. And although many developers are well acquainted with this method, this was not the path that Xamarin wanted to continue on—they wanted to create an experience for their developers.
As Jayme Singleton, the Business Program Manager, explains, “we were using a series of mailing lists [and] it was not a great community building experience.” She continues, “we knew community would be an important part of our success, so we started to work on a transition.”
Limited Developer Experience
Given that Xamarin was relying on mailing lists to communicate with their developers, they weren’t able to deliver the type of community building experience that they wanted for their developers.
Xamarin knew that a great way to acknowledge and appreciate their developers would be to recognize them in front of their peers, which wasn’t as effective via email.
An Executive Decision
Once the decision was made to procure an online community forum for Xamarin’s developers, the choice was easy. As Jayme explains, “Nat Friedman, the Co-Founder of Xamarin, had chosen Vanilla...he was a big fan of forums in general and he was the one who actually introduced us to Vanilla.”
Jayme, however, was pleased with the executive decision to go with Vanilla—afterall, Nat had very good reasons for selecting Vanilla Forums. One of the biggest reasons why Xamarin didn’t even bother looking into other solutions was because Vanilla is open source, which was highly desirable to the team at Xamarin. Additionally, Vanilla included all the features that they were looking for, straight out-of-the-box!
As Jayme explains, “a couple of things made Vanilla appealing to us: we liked that it was open source and that Vanilla could be contracted for custom features, but the main key feature for us was the ability to integrate the Vanilla solution into our single-sign on system.”
Further, as part of the effort to create an experience for the developers, having a solid gamification system was an absolute must. An achievement system was central to being able to recognize their developers and reward community participation. “We wanted an achievement system that included badges and a leaderboard; it was important in our community building that we could reward developers for their engagement and participation in our forums,” says Jayme.
And to add a cherry on top, Xamarin found that the Vanilla commenting system worked extremely well with their blogs. “Because we have a WordPress hosted blog, we found the Vanilla Commenting system very useful—when we would publish a blog article, a new discussion would be created in the forum community and the comments from the blog post would be mirrored in that thread, allowing us to continue the engagement.”
The Xamarin Checklist
“We really liked that Vanilla was open source—this was one of the reasons why it was so attractive.”
“We loved that Vanilla could easily be contracted for custom features.”
“It was extremely important to us to have a good achievement system to recognize participation and reward engagement.”
Single-Sign On Integration
“The main key feature for us was the ability to integrate the Vanilla solution into our single-sign on system.”
Old Habits Die Hard, But They Do Die
While the launch itself went perfectly on a technical standpoint, Jayme was faced with a difficult challenge; getting the developers to change their behaviours and habits. As previously mentioned, many technical communities and developers are accustomed to communicating solely through a mailing list, and Jayme knew this would be her biggest challenge the moment they decided to implement a developer community.
“We worked to hype up the new community with blogs and social media posts about the new platform,” explains Jayme. She continues, “the goal was to get people as excited about the transition as we could [and so we] made it very attractive by creating more useful content that just worked better in a forum, as opposed to a mailing list.” Additionally, Jayme worked to ensure that her whole team was active and engaged on the forums so that it encouraged her developers to make the transition more quickly.
“I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a hurdle to try and get everyone to move over,” explains Jayme. She continues, “we knew we were changing their habits, but we moved slowly over a few months, so it wasn’t a total instant cut off.” Jayme tackled this challenge slow and steady, and gave them plenty of time to get used to this new system. For a while, she would double post the content on the mailing list and the forums so that the transition could be as smooth as possible.
But all this hard work paid off. In the end, as Jayme says, “[the developers] quickly realized that the forums are a really active and engaged place to get answers, find resources, and be directly in touch with our engineering team.” Ultimately, the Xamarin community launch and developer transition was a success.
Reaping the Rewards
Once the developers were onboard and familiar with the new developer community, Xamarin started to reap the benefits almost immediately. One of the biggest benefits, explains Jayme, was the amount of product feedback they were getting, and the ability to easily capture and measure it via the community.
She explains, “[having opinions and complaints directed to the community was] beneficial for us because we could capture it all in one place and address it very directly. It also avoided what could have become a potentially larger episode on Twitter or other social platforms. We tried hard to create an environment where our users and developers felt safe and could be open with us. At the same time, it was a place where they could provide constructive feedback that helped us, as a company, grow.”
“Engagement with our engineering team ended up being invaluable to both parties [and] made a world of difference by actualizing comments coming in directly from the community.”
Additionally, the forum was able to assist Jayme with the Xamarin influencer program; before the community, it was much more difficult to identify influencers. Now, the community is seen as the most effective way to identify members with MVP potential. Jayme explains the impact that this has had on her organization as nothing short of amazing. She explains, “today, about 25 of [our] MVPs are now working here at Microsoft. It’s wonderful to think that their community engagement led us to identify them as employable people; it’s an initiative I was glad to be part of and I am really proud of those results.”
Finally, Jayme shared an unexpected result of the community. The Xamarin University, which was tasked with teaching people to become “Xamarin Certified,” saw a massive boost in interest. This was accomplished through adding a Xamarin University category in the community, where special content was posted, but only those enrolled could have access. As Jayme says, “we noticed a big spike in participation when this was introduced into the forums because it gave the students and community members an opportunity to be more engaged than just homeschooling on their own.” She continues, “they now had a space to talk with their classmates and professors.” Since the creation of this category, Xamarin has made this content freely available for everyone.
Reflecting on the Xamarin Journey
Change can be difficult, especially when it means that old habits have to be changed and behaviours curved. Xamarin, however, knew that this change would not only create the experience they wanted for their developers, but it would also help foster long-term loyalty and success. While the task of getting all their developers to migrate to the new community wasn’t walk-in-the-park, Xamarin made it happen, and in the end, their developers loved and embraced the community. If you’re thinking of creating a unique space for your customers or developers, be sure to hit us up; we’d love to show you what we can do.
Do you have questions about your business' needs? We'd love to talk you through Vanilla's powerful feature set. Reach out using the button below!