Recruiting champions for your project

By Mike Jackson.

Getting users to promote your project

Champion.jpg

Promoting your software is vital if you want to increase its use and generate interest in your research. Rather than singing the praises of your own software, it is often more persuasive to have a satisfied user spread the word for you. The Software Sustainability Institute can help you identify and recruit project champions for this purpose.

In this guide, we explain the benefits of project champions, how to recruit them and how to work with them for your mutual benefit.

Why write this guide?

We wrote this guide in response to a request, made at the JISC RI Software Sustainability workshop, for information about recruiting champions.

Why recruit a champion?

If you want to gain more funding and a community of engaged users, it is absolutely necessary to promote your software. It's only human to have some scepticism over self-promotion, so it's a good idea to ask people who have worked with you, but are not directly involved in your project to spread the word for you. Project Champions are generally users who have benefitted from your software and want to help others benefit too.

A champion could help you to build the community around your software, they could co-author on papers by giving a user's perspective, they could help promote your software through press releases and articles, and they could help secure funding for future collaborations by demonstrating your productive co-operation to date.

What can a champion do for you?

A champion can promote your project and software in a way that people trust and at low cost. Exactly how your champion will work depends on what you want, how much time your champion is willing to invest in promoting you, and what you can offer your champion in return for promotion.

Probably the easiest way for a champion to promote you is to display your logo and web address in their presentations, publications and website. Most users that have benefitted from your software will be happy to display a logo on presentations that are directly related to the work with your software. It's a good idea to prepare for this eventuality by making your logo available on your website in various forms (a good selection would be a low-res jpg/png, high-res jpg/png and an eps). This kind of reference to your software is reinforced if your champion backs it up with an endorsement that describes how they used your software and the benefits of doing so. This could be a couple of paragraphs talking about their experiences or a simple quote "X is a key component in our software" or "they are always responsive and prompt in answering our questions".

As your champion becomes more active in your community, you could ask them to contribute to discussions on your mailing list or, even better, they could write an article (or blog post) describing their work with your software. You could also ask them to present at workshops or other events at which you need to represent your software (such as a representation in front of your board or a funding agency). In this capacity, a champion can be a very useful person to write a letter of support for your next bid.

Champions can give you access to a new user base. If they are the first, say, astrophysicist to use your software, then they could help to open the door to the astrophysics community. They will have excellent insider knowledge about how to promote to their community: they will know the right people to talk to, the right conferences to attend and the magazines to which you should send press releases. They might even give you access to their organisation's website or newsletter, which will give you direct access to their community.

What you can offer to your champion

If your champion is going to go out and work for you, it's only polite to offer something in return. So, what could you offer? The simplest way to reciprocate is to champion your champion! You have two main resources that you can dedicate to your champion: time and contacts.

A particularly useful way of rewarding your champion is to give them preferential support or dedicated development time. If your champion is a heavy user of your software, they will be very interested in having their bugs fixed faster or development time focussed specifically on their requirements. You can offer to visit your champion (or invite them to visit you), so that you can work together on a more in-depth development or bug-fixing session or development time. Meeting face-to-face and working together will enhance the bond between your projects.

Highlight your champion as an exemplary user. You can do this by publicising their logo and website in your presentations, publications and website. Even better, add an overview of their project to your website in which you describe how they've used your software and what makes them an exemplary user.

Your community uses the same software as your champion, so it's likely that they will have similar interests and face similar problems. It's very likely that your champion could benefit from making contact with members of your community, so act as a matchmaker and introduce them to useful people. You could ask your champion to present at your community's events. Not only is this handy for your champion, it also publicises the benefits of being a champion to your community.

And don't forget that you can contribute back to your champion's community. Simply contributing to discussions on their e-mail lists or blog could prove very useful to your champion.

How to spot a champion

The chances are you might have a likely champion already, you've just not recognised them as such. To find a champion, look at the project teams you've been working with over the last year. You can review your support emails (or ask you support team) to find users who e-mail you frequently and ask intelligent questions about how to use your software. An external community developer can be a good choice, especially one who contributes good quality fixes and enhancements to your software's code base. If you hear about your software during a conference presentation, it might be a good idea to approach the speaker and find out more about their project and see whether they would make a good champion.

How to recruit a champion

The simplest way is to just ask! If you don't have an established relationship with the potential champion, then call them and ask for a chat or even a face-to-face meeting.

Developing a network of champions

Like so many things in life, more is often better. And as more champions join your cause, your new network of champions will be able to better support your software. A network of champions broadens the user community that you can access, and it provides more people to feed back on your software.

To get the most from your champions, you could organise a meeting in which they could discuss improvements to your software and ways to promote it. This would allow your champions to share contacts, which will strengthen ties in your community and help make others in the group aware of upcoming events. Pooling community knowledge and expertise in this way will improve your chances of securing funding for large-scale future collaborations.