Last week we had a great LiboCon 2014 in Bern, organized by a great team and a great (and often not known well enough) city. We had what has become some sort of tradition, by which I mean the Libreoffice Marketing Strategy Workshop. This year was a bit special however in that the workshop itself came after a series of other workshops dedicated to media training and messaging by Italo Vignoli and another session aimed at helping non-native English speakers promote LibreOffice in their language. All these sessions did prepare the audience to the strategy workshop but were also a very nice addition to it. I was also happy to notice a stronger attendance than previous years to the workshop, as well as a more diverse one that included at the same time active contributors, contributors of native-language projects, and “simple” visitors of the conference. Some of them actively contributed to the session, and I found that to be very useful.
While there was no shakedown of the marketing strategy this year, there was however a strong focus on online campaigning and volunteers’engagement methods. It was also a good opportunity to let everyone share ideas and experiences. Below are the main discussion points of the workshop. You may download the slides supporting the workshop directly here.
This year we had several notable successes, despite remaining a project with a small marketing team. First, our new website has been one of our most visible achievements and has been in most cases very well received. LibreOffice needed a more visually appealing website, and there was an interesting discussion as to how we were conveying the idea of what LibreOffice is, both as a software and as a project. We will come back to that in the latter part of the post.
Second, there is a real momentum around LibreOffice on social networks, with the presence on each online service acting like a specific channel for a certain type of activity and conversations. For instance, Facebook is our the network with our biggest outreach, yet it is probably the most passive one, with very few conversations taking place. The volume of the audience however makes it worth maintaining an active presence there. On Twitter we have two accounts, @tdforg and @libreoffice . We started tweeting irregularly through @tdforg and got lots of success for three years; but we had kept @libreoffice under wraps. Starting in 2014, we started to differentiate between @tdforg being more about official announcements, and @libreoffice tweeting several times a day. In both cases we reached several thousands of subscribers and are engaging in (short) conversations with users on a regular basis. Google + is also a big success and a quite interesting one. Here again, we have several thousands of followers but what’s really interesting is that it is a place where people discuss topics and post new ones. Users support is also happening sometimes there.
Reddit was a modest (several dozens of members) channel for us and has now grown to several hundreds so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
All this work described above has led to one specific and recurring objective: Increasing LibreOffice’s brand awareness and growing our contributor’s base. We still have lots of work to do, and we had a discussion about the results of the LibreOffice ad in the german special edition of Die Zeit. We realized that should we decide to go for these traditional ads, we would need to have a more comprehensive campaign with an actual story line in order to yield measurable results.
Another set of achievements has been the real improvements in how the communications on the LibreOffice releases are handled throughout the community. Thanks to a clearer and more inclusive process, the LibreOffice native-language teams have the time to localize the release and announce it by translating the press release in due time. This is no little effort when you consider the work put into the localization, the quality assurance on the various betas and release candidates, and the translation of the PR itself. Last but not least, and before we skip to the other parts of the workshop, this year was also a successful year in terms of articles written about LibreOffice and the Document Foundation. This also helps us increase the brand awareness and help us grow our userbase and our community.
Challenges & Solutions
Despite our achievements, our marketing team remains small (around 4 individuals contributing on a non permanent basis, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly). The discussion this year suggested that we put more effort into contributor’s engagement and while this used to be somewhat of a tricky question, I think we now have enough hindsight to make it work. In order to understand the situation one needs to take a step back and consider the following.
When the LibreOffice project was created it was one of the best opportunities to start afresh in the way the community and how each of us contributes to the project was valued. As a result, it was decided that a strong meritocracy would be instrumental in improving the low rate of contributions of the former OpenOffice.org project in a substantial way. It worked and still works really well for most of the project, but marketing or promotion did not overly benefit from that. Of course, it helped us gain time and stop wasting energy dealing with distractions such as endless (and pointless) discussions on “product marketing mixes” and so on. Yet it did not help us multiply our base of marketing contributors. The principle, which remains the same, that in order to be acknoledged by the community you must first contribute something to it, did not, however, handle too well the kind of contributors who would be happy just with little things, such as badges. While developers tend to not pay any kind of importance to these details, we also had to deal with the fine line between handing someone a badge and some sort of formal role, and giving a title to someone just because he or she would have asked for it. A title in itself is little, and probably nothing. Yet our experience with OpenOffice.org showed that it was very easy to have titles, and even easier to do nothing to earn it. Thus, anything that had to do with badges was viewed with skepticism, if not prejudice.
This year, we are going to start improving the quality of our contributors’ engagement with the project at least in non-technical areas. A badge does not imply any sort of hierarchy, or formal role. It does not replace the membership to the Document Foundation. It is just what it is, a badge.
At the same time, we would like to drive the same experiment than the one our Design and UX team had a few months ago: a full migration to the RedMine platform hosted on the project’s infrastructure. While we may stick to a few of our existing tools (the existing wiki), RedMine essentially turns your team’s activity into a project and tasks’ based workflow, while eliminating much of the noise. The discussion, because of the tools, are directly related to tasks, and tasks behave pretty much like issues opened in a bug tracker.
We had an interesting discussion about the need to engage in communication campaigns that tie in to specific news or moments. We should be able to “join the conversation”, when one of our competitors claim something we can talk about as well. These campaigns would definitely help us raise our brand awareness too. This will also require that the marketing team starts working on its own banners and online material without necessarily hogging the resources of the Design team.
Last but not least, we have experimented with something called LOWN (LibreOffice Weekly Newsletter), thanks to William Gathoye. This newsletter is not really meant for people outside our community. On the contrary it is designed for community members, who want to stay in touch with all corners of the project and learning about what’s going on in other teams. We may want to make it a montly newsletter, but it is encouraging to see this becoming a community based effort.
As a conclusion to this very long post, I would like to thank everyone who joined the workshop this year, it was a great moment of sharing and I think it will help us moving forward for next twelve months, be a better community and a more efficient project.