How to Use Content Marketing To Promote Open Source Projects

Technology and content marketing teams can work together to reach the community around an open source software project.

Will KellyBoth startups and more established firms are increasingly turning to content marketing as a way of reaching prospective customers.

However, corporate marketers often consider the open source software (OSS) community a challenge to reach. This article features ways your technology and content marketing teams can work together to target and reach the community around an OSS project your organization supports.

Content marketing: a definition

You can find multiple definitions of content marketing online. For this article, I define content marketing as the creation and sharing of online content, such as blog posts, white papers, videos, and social media posts. This content doesn't explicitly promote a brand or products, but it is still designed to gain the attention of prospective buyers for a company's products and solutions.

Content marketing and thought leadership have become intertwined, which you can use to your advantage by taking content marketing targeting other audiences and repurposing it for the OSS community. Publish content to your OSS community that helps the community around your OSS project. Think of tutorials, code snippets, and other content that can help your OSS users become more effective.

Software vendors can also be thought leaders through content marketing. Enterprises are seeking solutions for their technology, digital transformation, and other challenges. While there are paid media publishers doing excellent work, there's always more work to be done. Vendor-sponsored content can be a valuable source of information.

Content marketing in an OSS world

Vendors with open source and enterprise products need to approach content marketing for open source users, focusing on the values and development practices of the open source community.

Treat content as another contribution to the open source community

Content plays a vital role in the open source community. Your content can serve as another contribution to the open source communities you serve as long as you focus on the key elements:

  • Ensuring your content has technical depth
  • Excluding anything sales from your content such as pricing or information about how to upgrade to the enterprise version of your software
  • Keeping marketing of your enterprise's products out of your content such as talk of a feature that’s only in your enterprise version but not your OSS

Your content marketing to the open source community shouldn't be about driving sales. Instead, think about contributing to the community you want to build around your open source software. If you're treating your blog posts and white papers as vendor agnostic, with a focus on education and outreach, you've already taken a step towards content marketing suited to an open source community.

Partner your marketing team with open source advocates

Marketing teams may not be familiar with the ways of the open source community. If that's the case in your organization, consider partnering your content marketing manager with your open source advocates. Partnering could take a few forms:

  • Partner your content marketing manager with your developer relations team
  • Join your content marketing with your open source program office efforts
  • Involve your in-house open source developers with your content marketing projects as content creators and technical reviewers

Open source is about community. Partnering your content marketing with employees already active in OSS gives your content marketing manager an entry into the community. While you can't expect your marketing team to be OSS advocates, you can set expectations for them to learn firsthand about the community in much the same way they learned about the industry.

Create open source personas and messaging

While personas and messaging remain challenges for some software vendors, publishing content to an open source community means reaching a new audience. You need to create new open source personas and messaging to go along with your marketing team's other personas and messaging.

To get open source messaging right, you need to involve your in-house open source advocates and SMEs in the ideation and creation of the messaging. Avoid outsourcing these crucial steps to a third-party marketing consultant. People who work directly with your open source community are the best resources to understand the audience and what messages may resonate with them. Open source experts tapped to help with corporate messaging should be prepared to educate their marketing colleagues in the open source ethos.

Keep listening and iterating

Content marketing to your open source community shouldn't be a one-time effort. Blogging is an ideal content marketing channel for the open source community for this reason. Take the time to listen to what's going on in your OSS community and what they still need to learn about your open source offerings. A straightforward way to do this is to have your content marketing manager or other marketing representation join your online community.

Iteration is a necessity with content marketing to the OSS community. In particular, take time to police your content drafts for anything that sounds like selling. Don’t forget to update your police your messaging, blogs, and blog calendar for selling too. Consider segmenting your blog’s OSS content in it’s own category if you haven’t done so already. 

Last thoughts

Content marketing to an open source community requires becoming an educator and thought leader delivering content that contributes to your open source users' experiences and product journey. While your salespeople will be looking for customer conversions through your open source content marketing (and they should be!), keep your focus on community content and collaboration.

About the author

Will Kelly is the technical marketing manager for Anchore, a container security startup. He lives and works in the Northern Virginia area. Before Anchore, he was a technical writer on cloud projects for a government systems integrator. His articles have been published by InfoWorld, InfoQ, TechTarget, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow him on Twitter:@willkelly. [More...]