I’m a words guy. This summer, I was an intern for the content team—part of the marketing services group at Red Hat. They kept me busy writing copy for ads, editing Red Hat content, brainstorming on different projects, and even scripting videos. They don’t have me writing like a businessman, but like the Shadowman.
Maybe that sounds simple, but speaking plain gets complicated. Say too much, and you’re lying. Say too little, and you’re hiding something. Say it too casually, and you’re unprofessional. Say it too boldly, and you’re overbearing. Fitting this one very specific voice to Red Hat messages across products and media can be very tricky. Miss the mark, and the writing isn’t bold, honest, and humble. And it isn’t the Shadowman.
When I’m not practicing this voice in print or video, I’m organizing Red Hat content. One of my jobs has me searching for Red Hatters who have large, devoted followings online. My manager knows there are plenty of thought leaders out there and wants to get a better idea of who they are, what topics they focus on, and how they spread their good word.
Build on successes
I found that Red Hat people are everywhere. They share thoughts on open source government, proposals for security, quick fixes for bugs, community leadership advice, anything and everything computer or open source related. They do phenomenal work in their field and may have impressive followings, or post to high-profile sites. But they may be missing an opportunity to build on each others’ success the open source way.
Individuals looking for an online following must satisfy two truths with their web presence. First, they must show content depth. The audience must have the chance to wade in from a simple tweet to the insightful blog that backs it. Second, no blogger is an island. With audiences scattered across hundreds of online media outlets, getting heard can be a challenge.
As tough as it is to be heard, it’s equally hard to keep content fresh. Established bloggers can use fresh material from fields they don’t dabble in as often, while new bloggers want more exposure. Both want to entice new audiences and retain old ones by consistently posting reliable, trustworthy content.
Learn out loud
Some bloggers just do it right. Enter the DnG show—which found a fun way to bring in fresh talent from a ton of fields. David Egts and Gunnar Hellekson, of Red Hat's US Public Sector group, branch out from government subjects with guest speakers. Dave and Gunnar treat each episode as an opportunity to learn out loud. They invite informed and passionate guests to join their podcast, and share that experience with a larger audience. Sure, any podcast’s goal is sharing, but the method Dave and Gunnar use is a learning discussion. It’s an open format that shows where the information came from and how the hosts apply it to what they know.
Communities of social leaders share ideas that are often relevant to one another. They show passion and drive for sharing ideas with their audiences, but don’t always emphasize sharing within their own community.
Discussions between experts can demonstrate knowledge and authority to larger audiences. As an intern, I’ve watched discussions flare over email, and learned a great deal just from watching the conversations take place. You get to know the regular contributors and learn to recognize subject experts who comment on fields they know well. Then you start to see other experts reaching out to comment on fields they are not as familiar with. Watching knowledge spread between fields concerning one subject matter offers some of the most valuable opportunities for learning in step with the experts.
Within our walls and on internal email lists, Red Hat champions open discussion. With social media, there are positive role models (like DnG), but I think we could be more open in how we learn from one another. These are the interactions that prove Red Hatters are not just telling people what to believe, but learning from one another. It takes courage to show ignorance, but it is the difference between telling a community to trust you, and showing a community that you can be trusted.