I think I first was introduced to the concept of software evangelism back in the mid-nineties when I first met Guy Kawasaki at Macworld Boston when Gil Amelio was train-wrecking the company. The idea seemed like a novel one and since hind-sight is 20-20, it was clearly a brilliant marketing concept allowing for reaching a broader range of customers while enfranchising the development community. Of course Steve Jobs came back to Apple and Guy left soon after… in my opinion Apple wasn’t big enough for both Guy and Steve. Nonetheless, they have both been extremely successful since parting ways.
Software evangelist’s are now common place in most tech companies, and the role has evolved considerably. The lines are blurry in what exactly the responsibilities of them are from company to company, but I think I’ve got a good perspective of what makes a good one and a bad one based on my personal dealings with them. If you’re an evangelist, here’s a quick list to maybe take a look at:
Answer all email’s from customers, no matter how ridiculous of mundane. Worst offense of this is when I would see an email of a somewhat difficult question on forums and not hear a peep, yet easy questions were answered quickly in the same time-frame. Silence really speaks volumes in cases like this and calls to attention integrity and expertise.
Shamelessly and relentlessly trash your competitor publicly on web forums like Twitter and Facebook. Even I have bias and preferences, but I’d like to think that good products speak for themselves and because of that I can remain agnostic. Let the community trash talk for you, they’re the best barometer of if something is “better” than something else.
Operate a personal blog and reveal a little of yourself to the community, even with off-topic posts of your personal life. Like mountain-climbing or Anime? Tell us. These tidbits create in-roads to folks who may not be inclined to reaching out, unearthing opportunities otherwise hidden.
Be aloof at conferences and events with a generic “no comment” to most questions. I understand NDA’s and the need to keep quiet on competitive product news but there is a lot that can be done to mitigate this. Deflect the topics to ones that you can talk about or try and on-board these folks legally. Usually the people asking these questions are smart, get them under an NDA and get some valuable customer data rather than turn them away.
These are just a few examples I’ve seen from BIG companies and I bet more than a few of my friends could think of specific people I’m talking about. I won’t identify them, but I will identify someone who I think is a great evangelist.
Chuck Freedman from Ribbit is in my book, the quintessential evangelist. He’s smart, personable, and approachable on many levels and keeps his small yet growing developer-base updated and involved. Evangelists at big companies may want to take notice of Chuck’s work.
I know, half of the job is marketing and holding the torch for your company/product but take this advice from me as your customer. It’s politics. Be a good politician and you’ll be successful.