Planning to run a developer contest? You’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time researching and combing through the myriad of contest platforms and tools that not only tie in with your business and marketing objectives, but also appeal to the developer community. Or perhaps you’re looking to build a contest platform of your own.

Well, the good (and bad) news is that you have plenty of options available. So how do you decide what works best for you? As you set out to build a short- or long-term contest strategy, you need to have a good understanding of the 3Es of running successful developer contests: experimentation, expectations, and experience.


Just as you would test any new theory, idea or product, you should take the time to play around with different contest types, their frequency, and rewards, keeping in mind your unique needs and those of the target audience. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to running contests. What might work well for launching one product or app may not necessarily work for another. Experimentation helps you test theories and fine-tune your strategy, understand challenges associated with different types of contests, use limited resources effectively, and replicate success.

Equally important is gaining insight into what appeals to the developer audience — and more specifically, your target audience. For example, offering the opportunity to learn something new or show off knowledge and build a reputation is often more motivational to developers than large monetary rewards — which isn’t to say that cash prizes aren’t appealing, but it’s about knowing what to offer and at what point in the contest journey that makes the difference. Similarly, if you’re running a global contest, you have to factor in geographic, regional, and cultural differences into how developers respond to and engage with your contests.


Before launching a contest, it’s not only important to manage your own expectations, but also communicate expectations with every stakeholder involved in the contest. The two stakeholders in any contest are the contestants themselves (your audience) and the contest sponsor. Their needs are important to consider, and very different. Fulfilling expectations for both is necessary for a successful contest. Therefore, setting expectations is of paramount importance.

  • Audience. Marketing to developers can be tricky. Developers are a highly skeptical and discerning audience, and they need to see substantial value in your contest in order to participate. So answering the question “What’s in it for me?” should be front and center in your contest planning strategy. But merely setting expectations is not sufficient. One must fulfill expectations — which can be as simple as ensuring that everyone adheres to the contest rules and participants receive their prizes on time, or as significant as protecting their information and respecting their privacy.  
  • Contest sponsor. Whether it’s your client or reporting manager, you should have a transparent discussion about what contests can and cannot do. This is a prerequisite to developing realistic contest goals. A contest sponsor needs to have a full understanding of the potential obstacles and challenges of each type of contest. The sponsor must also be able to separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves, and needs to be educated on the most useful and actionable things to measure.  


In a world of short attention spans and a multitude of options, your contest needs to stand out from the rest. When developing your contest, it’s essential to ensure a great experience at every touchpoint in the contest journey, from the user interface to how you help participants navigate challenges, and the types of rewards and promotional materials you choose. A positive and memorable experience will not only drive up participation, but also earn you referrals and brand ambassadors. It can also help you build trusted relationships and loyalty with your target audience.

That’s a wrap

Running developer contests isn’t an exact science, but when used correctly, they can be one of the most powerful marketing tools in your overall marketing strategy. So if your existing contest marketing strategy isn’t giving you the desired results, it’s time to take a step back, re-evaluate the 3Es, and shake things up.