Jason Lengstorf

Turn 1 piece of dev content into 10+ — use the buffalo stick

Learn how the best developer experience engineers multi-leverage ideas to turn one piece of content into 10+. This is THE secret to effective devrel.

Jason Lengstorf
written by Jason Lengstorf

Back when she was my boss at Netlify, Sarah Drasner developed a reputation for coming up with funny gibberish descriptions of things that would become canon for our team.

Sarah would encourage us to "use every part of the buffalo" (don't let work go to waste) and also to "feed two birds with one scone" (make one piece of work accomplish two goals).

At some point she mashed this up into "scratch multiple buffalo with one stick", and that phrase lives rent-free in my head ever since. (And — now that you've heard it — probably yours, too. You're welcome.)

The central theme of this goofy phrase is gold, though: we not only need to make sure that our work is used effectively, but that our work is used effectively in multiple ways.

Two cutout images of buffalo with a stick badly photoshopped onto them. There are scritch sound effects and the caption "the buffalo stick"

Because we all know scritches are the best.

How to create longer-lived, more versatile content

The challenge of using work in multiple ways is to get into the mindset of thinking about every step in your creative process as a potential thing to use elsewhere.

For example, if you spend a bunch of time creating a process to streamline your work, that process itself is valuable and shareable, either as an internal lunch-and-learn kind of thing or externally as a template or framework for others to try.

The act of building a template can be an opportunity to learn in public and share with others. A conversation with an expert can become a podcast or shareable internal resource if you record it.

This is a superpower for folks acting in a devrel capacity, but it’s honestly a skill that will benefit just about anyone in their career.

Figuring out how to do this, though, can be tricky. What follows is a loose framework you can use for identifying ways to multi-leverage your effort and create additional results for only a marginal additional effort.

1. Decide what you want to accomplish

The first step toward doing great work is to choose the desired outcome of the work. This should usually be something tangible enough that you could write a single blog post about it, such as: "I want to teach developers how to build e-commerce sites using modern web dev techniques".

The best version of this will accomplish all three of these goals:

  1. Solve a clear pain point for the community
  2. Contribute toward one or more of your company’s goals
  3. Help you grow in the way you’re optimizing for

Hitting just one of these goals is great, but there’s often an opportunity to make any given task a win-win-win.

2. Brainstorm different media and formats the content could be presented in

After you’ve got your goal defined, think through different media and formats that would let you get to the desired outcome successfully. Using the goal of “teaching devs e-comm on the modern web”, you might end up with a list like this:

  • Build a template for an e-commerce site using modern techniques
  • Write a tutorial on how to build a modern e-commerce site
  • Talk to e-commerce experts about how they build their sites
  • Collaborate with e-commerce partners to show how to build modern sites with their offerings
  • Hold a live Q&A with the community to answer their questions about modern e-commerce site development

Any one of these five ideas (plus any of the other ways to accomplish this goal that I didn't include in this list) is useful on its own. Collect as many of these as you can.

3. Rank project ideas by effort to impact

Estimating impact is hard, but a few factors I use include:

  • How big is my existing audience for this sort of thing? For example, if I'm posting a video on YouTube, I have a lot of subscribers; if I'm posting on TikTok, I have virtually none.
  • Have I done this sort of thing before? If so, what were the previous results? It's not perfect, but if you've had repeated success with a given approach before, it can help predict future success (not to mention leveling up through practice and feedback).
  • Who is likely to help spread the word about this thing? For example, if you're collaborating, will the partner be sharing this? How has their past effort in this space performed?
  • How long will this project survive? Documentation and blog posts will be live for a long time and can drive SEO traffic for years. A tweet is typically lost within a day or two.
  • Where will this be posted? For example, a tutorial posted on a low-traffic blog may not be as impactful as one posted on a larger site like freeCodeCamp or CSS-Tricks.
  • How durable is the information you’re sharing? There’s value to jumping on a trend while it’s relevant, but that’s typically a very narrow window. Sharing more timeless information will be relevant forever, but may be harder to drive initial viewership toward.

Estimating effort is slightly more straightforward.

Once you have a rough estimation of their impact, plot your ideas on something like an effort-to-impact matrix to get a better visualization of what will give you high impact for low effort — these are usually the quick wins, where high effort, high impact projects are longer term initiatives that can become your roadmap.

4. Identify any overlap in how different projects would get completed

The most critical part of this process happens here — otherwise, you're just looking at a stack-ranked pile of separate efforts, which is good but doesn't give us the force-multiplier of multi-leveraging efforts.

Looking at the list of ideas, which ones could potentially be accomplished by the same work? Are there opportunities to make the prep work for one task into a publishable piece of content?

Start looking for similarities and overlap.

For example, one idea on the list above is to create a tutorial that shows developers how a modern e-commerce site could be built. To build that, there are several pieces of prep work that need to be done first:

  • Research the latest techniques (e.g. read articles, talk to experts)
  • Build the e-commerce site that the tutorial will create
  • Get feedback from experts to ensure your advice is sound

And once the tutorial is live, there are follow-up tasks:

  • Post it on your various channels
  • Answer questions from people who read it

If we compare the list of steps we’d take to create a written tutorial with the original list of media options and formats, we’ll find an awful lot of overlap. Many of the steps that would previously have been done quietly in service of the tutorial would also work as other formats that we came up with during the brainstorming session.

That’s the huge opportunity for most devrels.

5. Look for buffalo-scratching (reuse) opportunities

Once we recognize that some of the prep work for one idea could stand alone as an entirely different piece of content, we can start thinking about our projects differently. How can this work that would have been invisible to the end product of one idea become helpful and useful on its own?

Here’s how that might work for our example goal of teaching e-commerce best practices to web developers:

  1. Research the latest techniques
    • The research you do will likely result in a list of high quality resources. Why not release those as a listicle or “awesome list” on GitHub so others can benefit from your research?
    • You were planning to interview e-commerce experts anyways, so why not record those calls? They could be released as a podcast, a video series on YouTube, or both.
  2. Build the e-commerce site
    • The site you build is going to be quality, right? So why not polish up the README a bit and turn it into a deployable template?
    • If you’re comfortable streaming, build the site on video. This creates both a live opportunity for developers to follow along with the build, as well as — with some editing — a video version of the tutorial.
  3. Get feedback from experts
    • When you reach out to the experts, what if the code review happened live? Pair programming code review makes for an excellent piece of video content: "expert tips for optimizing a modern e-commerce site".
    • The tips from the expert pair programming also make for a great bonus article.
  4. Post it on your various channels
    • When you share the tutorial, you could pull out the major points and make a Twitter thread, a fast version for TikTok or Instagram, and other formats optimized for social media.
  5. Answer questions
    • After the tutorial has been live for a bit, collect existing questions and go live on Twitch or YouTube for a Q&A about modern e-commerce. This is even more video content made from work you would need to do anyways.
    • Take the most common questions and release a blog post answering each one. This is a huge win for SEO that would otherwise be lost in various emails, chats, and direct messages.

Clever usage of devrel effort turns 1 piece of content into 10+

In this example, we started with a single idea: "write a tutorial". For many DX engineers, that would be enough — and they're not wrong! A tutorial is a great idea that's very helpful.

However, by running through a process to brainstorm broadly and then look for overlapping opportunities, that single artifact (a tutorial) became so much more:

  1. Written tutorial
  2. Deployable template
  3. Audio and video interview series with experts
  4. Shareable list of resources for developers building similar projects
  5. Livestream
  6. Video tutorial
  7. Bonus article and video with pro tips from industry experts
  8. Social thread(s)
  9. Live Q&A event
  10. One or more SEO-friendly articles answering real questions from real developers

I don't want to get too hyperbolic here, but multi-leveraging the effort to create one tutorial and turning it into more than 10 discrete, independently valuable artifacts feels like the very definition of a 10⨉ engineer.

This will absolutely require more effort than creating only the tutorial, but it won't require 10 times the effort. In my experience, it’s usually less than twice the effort for 10 times the results.

That's the magic of the buffalo stick: each reuse further increases the multiplier for your effectiveness as a developer advocate.

Real world examples of effectively multi-leveraging content

This isn't some utopian fantasy — the most effective DX engineers out there do this already. Here are just a few examples.

Cassidy Williams blanketed the earth with Next.js content

Cassidy Williams was working on teaching developers how to build and deploy Next.js apps. She could have done one piece at a time, but instead she multi-leveraged her work to create:

Cassidy is one of the best in the industry at turning one idea into at least a dozen pieces of content.

Salma Alam-Naylor found 6 ways to repurpose Netlify Edge Functions content

Salma Alam-Naylor was asked to spread the word about Netlify’s Edge Functions. This could have been a single demo site, but Salma knows how to make her work go further:

Any one of these tasks in isolation would have been a win — by turning each step of the process into additional content, Salma was able to make a much larger impact for a marginally larger effort.

Jon Meyers turned community support into several pieces of content

Jon Meyers is a developer advocate at Supabase, and he caught wind that I’d done a livestream building a realtime app that used Supabase, but I got stuck at the end and ran out of time before I could get it running.

This whole thing could have resulted in zero content for Jon — he could have sent me a quick message to get me unblocked and I would have been absolutely thrilled. But he went above and beyond to turn this reactive task (helping me succeed with Supabase) into a broader teachable moment — the time he spent helping me can now help other people asynchronously.

Make your devrel content go farther, but not necessarily as far as possible

There's not a wrong way to create additional content from work you were planning to do anyways.

The goal is to remember that the buffalo stick exists when you're on the hook to create new content. Turning one piece of content into two is a huge win; everything beyond that is a bonus.

Don’t worry about hitting a specific number of content pieces — just think about how you could use every part of your preparation, creation, and launch process in impactful and creative ways. You may not always have the time to do every idea you come up with, but each additional piece adds that much more value to the work you’ve done. Find the right balance for you and see how much farther you can go with your developer advocacy.

The important thing is to remember that you can make each hour of work count for more. Don’t let valuable work be invisible. You’ll be blown away by how much this small mindset shift allows you to produce.