Promoting Open Source Through Social Media

by Ron on November 9, 2009

promote

Guest post by Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier

Social media and open source are natural allies. If it weren’t for open source, social media in its current form wouldn’t exist: Facebook, Twitter, and other major social media sites are powered through and through by open source.

For open source projects struggling to get attention, social media provides one of the best avenues to spread the word at little to no cost.

On November 12, the openSUSE Project will release openSUSE 11.2. Unlike Apple, Google, or Microsoft (to name a few) our work is done entirely in the public view and the release dates are no secret. While that means we can’t pull a big surprise announcement, it does give the opportunity to conduct a “rolling thunder” campaign talking about the release and getting the word out by word of mouth and through social media.

Though open source projects don’t typically have a big budget — or any — for advertising, they can compensate by empowering and enabling their user and contributor communities through social media.

So, how do you help your community help you? If you have a motivated community, it’s actually pretty easy — but requires some nudging at first to get the ball rolling:

  • Provide artwork and banners for the community to display on their own blogs. For example, the openSUSE Project has buttons and banners to display on blogs and other community sites.
  • Create a list on Twitter or group on Identi.ca for your project. Keep them reasonable, but definitely have at least one easy to find list/group for your project.
  • Provide fodder for blogs and microblogs. Most people are happy to copy and past into a blog or retweet something, but asking for original content usually means procrastination fail. Your users may love your project, but they’re also busy — make promoting the project as easy and painless as possible.
  • Provide guidance on using social media appropriately.
  • Have an effective “landing page” for people who click through on links off of social networks.
  • Reach out to influencers in your network and engage them in discussion about your project when it make sense to do so. Assuming your project solves a problem, be sure to suggest it when appropriate. Never “spam” other users or “go negative” on proprietary solutions or competing projects.

In general, remember that promoting an open source project is a marathon — not a sprint. Social media is one tool you can use to get the word out cheaply and effectively.

Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier is Novell  openSUSE Community Manager. You can follow him on Twitter, Friday or not, under the handle @jzb.

Photo by Random J on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

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