Marketing your Public API

Screen-Shot-2014-07-01-at-10.46.30-1024x681 So you’ve decided to publish a public API to enhance your business. That’s great news; however, it is just the first step if you’re serious about reaping the full benefits. The API needs to be consumed in order to create value for its publisher, which means finding API consumers; a lot easier said than done. This job requires some marketing, and just like any demand generating initiative, there’s the possibility of wasting money, which we know all you smart API practitioners don’t want to do. In this post, we will dive into the do’s and don’ts of API marketing.

Recognize your API is a Product

Don’t Expect Them To Come Running

Whatever you do, realize that the “Build it and they will come” philosophy is a myth. If you don’t tell people about your API, then they aren’t going to come running. They have better things to do. If you don’t care enough about your API to spend time marketing it, you will have a hard time inspiring others to want to use it.

Do Encourage Them To Come Walking

Treat your API as a product and market it as such. This includes building awareness, interest, and desire; enough of it to spark action. Get others to spread the word by being involved in your community as early as possible. Word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing on the planet, but you need to get them talking.

Involve Outsiders

Either an organisation has an API and the decision is made to publish it to the world, or, no API exists, but IT decides to develop one because it is what the competition and the cool kids are doing. IT publishes the API. End of story! Both these scenarios are common, and they both usually end in zero adoptions and minimal gains for the publisher.

Don’t Develop an API in Isolation

If you do, it probably won’t fit the requirements that the potential new API users might have, or your data structure simply won’t make sense to them. If you do not already have the luxury of having your own developer community, try to find existing communities. Ask on Twitter, find relevant Facebook groups, be active on StackOverflow, ask on Quora, and come to API conferences to meet people in person.

Do Involve Marketing Talent

If your marketing department does not know about the API (or about what an API is for that matter), how can they then assist in getting the word out? Successful APIs are not IT only projects; they are company projects.

Keep The User in Mind

Ignore this advice and users will ignore you just as you ignore products in ugly boxes when you go shopping.

Don’t Ignore Your Users’ Questions

If you’re not sure what type of support material you need to create, don’t worry. Check out this great example from Twilio, and pay close attention to the questions you’re receiving from the API users. Use these queries to guide your API support material.

Do Provide Your Users With Solutions

That includes everything from the documentation to the support, everything that you need in addition to the actual technical API. This stuff takes time to produce, and it is hard to do well, so commonly it is completely or partly ignored. Don’t be common, be a good example and get noticed for it.

Build a Community

Don’t Believe You Know Everything

Save yourself some heartache by listening to lessons learnt from the world of entrepreneurship: you don’t know what’s going to work! Getting things right is an iterative process. Make it easier for yourself by building a community from which you can draw ideas. Community building is a long term effort, but at the very least they need a place to gather, and engage with your brand. This could take the shape of a blog, forum, and social media.

Do Learn from Your Users

Having a community, and ignoring its conversation is like reading a few pages of a book while dwindling on how the outcome of your last meeting, and then needing to re-read a page or two. It’s an easy error to make, but can completely reverse the benefit of the action. Start a dialogue with the community as soon as possible, and at the very least, record the pains and questions that pop up frequently. Use this resource to help guide your support material.

Getting Outside the Building

Marketing is not always as fun as producing a viral video, or as simple as Microsoft’s Hotmail viral growth case study, but it doesn’t need to be rocket science. It does, however, involve making an effort.

Don’t Avoid the Hustle

As Uber entrepreneur, Steve Blank, once said, there are no facts inside the building. If you’re building a public API with the idea of it getting used, you are going to want to get in front those end users, and figure out how they are going to use your product (What’s the job to be done?). Consuming others APIs can highlight which best practises you should be implementing, as well as those practises you should be avoiding.

Do Get Your Hands Dirty

Developers, entrepreneurs, and enterprise architects are not your usual target audience, but they are people just like you and me, so meet them. Hackathons, meetups and conferences attract this demographic, and are great for meeting potential early adopters. It’s about getting your API a necessary dose of reality.


By now you’re probably realizing that publishing a public API is no free lunch and that you will need to keep your users close if you’re planning on getting your API used. You will also need to channel your “front line learning” into quality support material, which is the much needed packaging of your API; something that every quality product needs, especially if branding is at all important to you. Let’s not forget how important it is to encourage API evangelism by creating meaningful relationships with your community. It’s hard work, we know. But doing anything worthwhile tends to have an element of challenge. When you start benefitting from the ecosystem advantages from becoming a platform, that’s when you’ll realize that all the work was well worth it. If you wish to learn more about API marketing, and how to become an API platform, book your tickets to Nordic APIs platform summit now. There’s only limited amount of seats, and we sell out fast.