Five top tips for promoting your software

Posted by s.hettrick on 5 March 2012 - 8:12am

SandwichBoardTryMySoftware.jpgWhen you’re focused on developing the next big thing, it’s easy to forget to tell people about it. The awful truth is that a lot of great software fails simply because no one knows that it exists.

Promoting software takes time and resources that a lot of projects lack, but just because you can’t put together a multi-million pound marketing campaign, doesn’t mean that you can’t take a few easy steps toward creating a presence for your software. We present our five top tips on promoting your software.

1. What is it?

People don’t have much time. You’ve got seconds – literally – to grab their attention and explain why they should use your software.

You need to explain what your software does in one or two sentences. Inevitably, this will require a lot of simplification, but you’re not trying to tell people everything about your software, you’re only trying to tell them enough so they’ll stick around to find out more. Use this short explanation as the opening gambit whenever you talk about your software: at presentations, on your website, documentation, everywhere.

Enlist the help of a technophobic friend or family member (it’s about time you got some payback for being your family’s informal IT support). If they can read your one or two sentences and understand what your software does, then you’ve got the level about right.

2. To find out more, visit my website

Everyone expects to find out more about a product from its website. If you don’t have a website, you’re likely to be about as successful as Betamax.

The first thing that people should see is the short explanation of what your software does. Keep this information prominent, and your website’s front page uncluttered, by limiting the amount of information on the front page and linking to other pages for details.

If you don’t have time to put together a website, simply start off small. A good start is a single page of html describing what your software does, where to get it and where to get help. When the opportunity arises, add a new page to the website, expand your descriptions, and link to new features like the licence and documentation. As long as you keep an eye on website sprawl, slowly growing your website over time minimises the effort required to create it.

3. It’s alive!

Thanks to the clear description on your website, you’ve got someone interested. Your next problem is convincing them that the software will still be around next year, and for many years after.

If you want users, you need to convince them that you’re going to be engaged with your project. You need to show that you’re talking to people about your software, looking for new collaborators and planning the software’s future.

Blogs are an easy way to show people what’s going on, and a post a month will prove that you’re engaged. That’s only 400-600 words a month (or 16 words a day) to get people using the software that you might have invested years of effort into developing.

Don’t have time for a blog? Try microblogging. Set up a Twitter account, put a Twitter feed on your website and send out a few tweets a month. Showing activity doesn’t get easier than this.

4. Nothing is sweeter than free promotion

There may not be no such a thing as a free lunch, but there is free promotion.

If you work for a university or a similar research organisation, you can bet that there will be someone, like a marketing manager, who has been tasked with promoting that institution. These people always need something new to promote – it’s their job. You can make their job easy, and get some free, no-effort promotion, by telling them about your software. You can also get free promotion from journalists. There are hundreds of small web magazines in lots of different fields that are always in need of news.

You need a “hook”: something new and exciting about your software. Ask yourself why you developed the software, what gets you excited about it, and why it’s important. Get these points down so that anyone can understand them (go get your technophobic friend again). Get in contact with the marketing person or journalist by phone (emails are too easy to ignore) and tell them why your software is amazing.

5. If you build it, they might not come.

Creating a presence for your software is a good first step, but unless you’re very lucky you won’t be able to rely on people coming to you. It’s time to become a bit more active.

Sign up for a developer event (like the rather fabulous Dev8D) where you can spend some time getting other developers interested in your software. Present a talk, or even a workshop, on your software. If you can get people interested, they will tell others and you’ll start to build a community. Try your hand at crossover events like our Collaborations Workshop, where you can talk to developers and potential users. These events are typically short, have low registration costs and won’t require a great deal of preparation on your part.

Once you’ve mastered the small events, it’s time to hit the big time. Think about your potential users, work out the events they are likely to attend and sign yourself up. Once you’re at the event, make the most of it. Ask the organisers whether you can put up a poster or put out flyers on the registration desk, make sure you get to present a talk, go to workshops where you can meet potential users and sell your software’s benefits, and make sure to press the flesh at coffee breaks. It’s not easy, but when it comes to promoting your software, fortune favours the brave.