Do You Need to Market your Open Source Project?
It’s an interesting question and one that I was asked to tackle recently at the Open Source Summit event in Scotland. Let’s first talk about what we mean by marketing. The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines marketing as “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”. Philip Kotler, who was the guru in modern marketing when I first studied the subject, defines it as “marketing is about Satisfying needs and wants through an exchange process”. Most people see marketing as simply brands producing TV ads, posters on billboards, ads in magazines and online banners etc. saying buy my product and your life will be better for it. But simply it’s about engaging with your target audience to help them understand why they should be interested in what you have.
We all have a view on marketing, some see it as important task and others less so. When marketing an Open Source project the Software is free for people to use and modify, so why even bother marketing it. After all you are not selling a product, you are selling a solution, a concept or a set of ideas. However if you want the community to jump on-board with your ideas, share the same passion and contribute to your project, then you need to market to it.
According to Deirdre Straughan, who hosted a talk on this subject at the Open Source Summit in the US a few months back, ‘to succeed, your project must compete for attention and support with some 25 and a half million other open source projects’. I think that fact alone suggests that you must consider how to market your open source project to be successful.
Who do you need to market to? This will vary from project to project however a typical target audience may include the end users of your project as well as other community members. You are likely to want to attract contributors to your project, these may be individuals that will work alone in their spare time, others may work in an enterprise or software companies, some may have the freedom to work on any projects, others may have been assigned by their employer to work on a specific project like yours. I have even heard of cases where developers are being hired by companies to work on a particular open source project. So make sure you target both companies and individuals.
It’s no secret that many coders and techies have a low opinion of marketing. However to be successful with your project you need some basic marketing skills. According to Deirdre, in her Open Source Summit talk, “your most important asset is your code and you should see GitHub as your résumé. Your basic code should be architected purposefully and offer the capability to write libraries or modules so that the barriers to entry for a newcomer are fairly low. It should be well coded and offer tools that help people learn to use and contribute to your project”.
One area that you should invest your time doing is documentation. As boring as it may sound, many potentially good projects fail to build a vibrant community due to lack of documentation. Good documentation will help people understand your project, yes you can explain all the commands and parameters and what the output means, however you need more. Support you basic documentation with additional assets such as webinars, blogs, white papers, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc. make sure you get across the value you believe your project will bring and to whom.
When it comes to marketing, content is king. Having a project website and wiki to host your content is crucial. When putting you content together make sure you use some simple marketing tricks, use relevant, but not common words to help make your project and content discoverable. Use other relevant sites to post or syndicate some of your content and linking back to your project. Most of all Good luck.
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