Self-promotion in an open source world, it starts with a shameless plug—a simple way to make people aware of something you’re passionate about. Then, over time, you get more comfortable with using the shameless plug and that desire to make people aware transforms into purposeful marketing. At some time or another when working on an open source project, you're bound to have to promote it. Self-promotion can be an uncomfortable topic for some people, but I've found word of mouth is the best way to promote open source.
If you've done any work on an open source project or have contributed to an open source community, you have no doubt found yourself in this situation and wishing you were better equipped for the job of self promotion. There's no question that it's weird at first, especially for those of us who are humble and modest about our work. And that's most likely because we enjoy what we do. But for the betterment of the project we must overcome the anxiety associated with promoting our work. How?
Five ways to boost your self promotion skills
1) Ease into self promotion with shameless plugs. Start off with a disclaimer at the beginning of the message you are preparing to send out to your audience; tell them that what you're about to say is self promotional. I've found people are not offended by this and are grateful for your forethought—particularly on mailing lists. Not to mention, most of your peers have probably been there too and understand.
Personally, I use the shameless plug all the time and there are two things I do each time. First, word things in a straight-forward way, remove the gimmicks and marketing fluff. Second, I consider my audience. Are these people that know me well? Or a new audience where perhaps some tip-toeing is needed to test the waters?
Pro tip: [Shameless plug] Get fancy and use square brackets to enclose your message.[/Shameless plug]
2) Use the buddy system. A great way to overcome the anxiety of most things we do for the first time is to find a partner. Someone who will share the load, support us when we need an ear, and help us figure out what to do next. This person can do a variety of things to help, like listen to your message and suggest people you should connect with.
Nowadays, people will crowdsource their ideas to social media, perhaps finding a few like-minded folks to connect with and pitch their idea to. This is key: return the favor. Promote their progress and accomplishments where it seems fit. You want this to feel organic, not forced. Don't over do it; it’s a delicate balance that’s dependent on each person or group in the relationship.
By buddying up, it's easier to overcome any shyness and build a network. Over time, you’ll create a valuable resource of people you can count on for future needs. Again, do what feels the most natural, you don’t want to abuse the relationship.
3) Market the project, not yourself. We've been focusing on self promotion, but really what we're talking about is your project—not you personally. It is actually very important to avoid viewing project achievements as personal accomplishments; promote them as community goals. Remember this when you are putting your marketing plan together. Yes, your marketing plan—you have one right?If not, take your efforts to the next level with our open source marketing guide.
4) Highlight your contributions. In Nathan McMinn's article, Need a resume boost? Get involved with an open source project, he discusses how the value people bring to open source projects are ripe for recruiters because of the natural visibility (due to transparency) of an open source landscape. Pick a recurring time (weekly, monthly, or quarterly) to publish the work you do and promote yourself. Look at it this way, if you’re contributing your work to the world, the least you can do is build your resume.
Alternatively, maybe your project has a newsletter that can perform a similar function. The project leader or project manager can piece together different contributions and highlight different contributors. This serves two purposes. First, it’s a great way to thank contributors—we all like to be thanked now and then don’t we? Second, it gives credit where credit is due. And in the open source world, our street cred is part of our resume.
5) Speak to be heard, social media is your megaphone. I’m a social media junkie. But if you find it odd or uncomfortable to Tweet and post to Facebook about your passion or your project, you’re not alone. Plus, the reality is, social media is a lot of work. For “free marketing” it takes dedicated resources to manage social media effectively. So, you might find it helpful to practice: with every swing you'll get closer to hitting the ball, then one day you'll have that home run!
A great way to practice is by promoting others.
If you’re using Facebook, it’s very easy to like someone’s status or share their status or pictures. It’s good practice when learning the value of self-promotion. The best example of it on Facebook is when you blast an event to your entire network. Ask yourself: Did I take the time to “know my audience” and select the right group to invite or share with? Inviting your entire Facebook network is essentially a shameless plug. You’re well on your way to promoting your passion—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Again, don’t abuse it.
Now onto Twitter, which I use now more than Facebook. Twitter makes it easy to share someone’s message by retweeting. Promoting others this way is great practice for self promotion. Have you ever retweeted someone that has mentioned you? If not, give it a try. There’s value in sharing that.
Overall, some people think there is a proper ratio to self-promotion on social media. It might be 3:1, 5:1, or 10:1—I don’t have the answer. But, I will say: Live an learn. My advice, use social media as your megaphone, but be clever about it.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and it’s time to bring it all back together. Many open source projects suffer from lack of marketing and awareness. Why? Because it’s usually a small team of passionate folks focused on making a good project. That focus typically involves writing code and documentation. So who else better to promote the project then those involved? If self-promotion isn’t your thing, hopefully the tips in this article can steer you in the right direction and help to get your message out there. If no one knows about your passion or project, who else is going to tell them but you?