Marketing Isn't Enough
Our own Joe Brockmeier made some great points recently about why free isn't enough. He says that smaller open source projects need to be just as mindful as the larger companies when it comes to PR and marketing because "free isn't enough to carry the day." That's true, but PR isn't enough either.
ZDNet's Dana Blakenhorn notes that yet another company has announced it's going open source, something he says is beginning to look like "the throwing of a bad poker hand." Blankenhorn says it's important to make sure your newly open-sourced project doesn't just become a code dump, but instead must be treated like a growing and thriving business.
It's a commitment that requires an investment in order to succeed and "an open source project that turns out to be a code dump burns its users, who may sour on the whole open source experience."
Part of that commitment -- and investment -- ought to be in the form of great PR and marketing. As Brockmeier points out, "Whether it's paid PR pros taking the lead, or contributors wearing the PR hat, someone has to speak for the FOSS projects or they'll be ignored." As more and more previously-closed apps go open source, project leads must devote time to professional marketing of some form or risk getting lost in the crowd.
Blankenhorn and Brockmeier both make excellent points. When you open source your project, you have an inherent responsibility to be pay close attention to the needs of your community. Typically most users aren't voting with their wallet, they're voting with their commitment to your project -- and that translates into word-of-mouth advertising.
Of course, referrals from satisfied users represent the best kind of advertising -- but they're not the only kind. Successful FOSS projects also rely on proven marketing strategies to get the word out, and keep their names in front of customers as much as possible. That's no easy feat with the constant stream of open source projects that announced every week.
So, more companies are offering up open source solutions, and the marketing of FOSS projects is getting harder. What's the good news?
The good news is that FOSS is clearly being considered a viable business model that's strong enough to warrant the same PR treatment as the Big Guys. That's a nice problem to have.