Growing Your Open Source Community With Twitter

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Engagement in an open source community leads to collaboration, says Jason Hibbets, community evangelist at Red Hat. And social media is one good tool that projects can use to help increase engagement in their communities, he adds, “because you can reach a broad audience at pretty much no-to-low costs.”

Hibbets will discuss how Red Hat has increased engagement with one such social media tool, Twitter chats, in his talk at Open Source Leadership Summit in Lake Tahoe on Feb. 16, 2017. Here, he shares with us some of his reasoning behind why engagement is important, some best practices for increasing engagement, and a few lessons learned from Red Hat’s Twitter chats.

Linux.com: Why should an open source project be concerned with building engagement?

Jason Hibbets: Let’s first start with why have a community in the first place? A community is a group of people who come together with a common vision, collective passion, and shared purpose. Communities bring together a diverse group of people to share work and can accomplish more than individuals can alone.

Many open source projects exemplify these qualities and come together to form a community. Typically, an individual wants to solve a problem (scratch their own itch) and it just so happens that other people are trying to solve a similar problem. When communities collaborate to solve these problems together, it leads to better outcomes and results.

So, why should leaders be concerned with engagement? Engagement leads to collaboration. And if communities can collaborate, then work gets done and they can achieve something together. As an individual, your knowledge is limited. There will be a point when you want feedback, need advice, or get stuck. If you have an engaged community, you are building in a human-powered support system.

Linux.com: What are some of the best practices, in general, for increasing engagement and gaining more active followers?

HIbbets: I’ll share two best practices, but believe me there are a lot more. The first is to provide a safe environment. The second is to create value.

Having a well-written Code of Conduct and enforcing those rules is a foundation for having a safe and inviting environment. This can ultimately lead to increased participation from a more diverse group of contributors and creative problem-solving with faster, more innovative solutions.

A second best practice is to provide value. In the community programs I’ve built, you need to think about why a person would volunteer their precious time to contribute–this is commonly referred to as the “what’s in it for me?” question.

When contributors are finding value in the community, they are more likely to be engaged. And if they are more engaged, they can become your advocate. Which can lead to the best type of marketing for your community, word-of-mouth recommendations.

For more best practices about community building, I recommend reading The Art of Community by Jono Bacon.

Linux.com: Why is social media, and Twitter in particular, a good place for open source projects to do outreach?

Hibbets: In general, social media is a good place for outreach and amplification because you can reach a broad audience at pretty much no-to-low costs (other than your time). The challenge, of course, is putting in the investment and time to build a following, a content strategy, and determine the right way to fit into each social media community.

Twitter is a great platform for open source projects because of ease-of-use and, for now, unfiltered streams. Engagement levels can be higher, and people follow specific hashtags. Once you filter through all the noise, there is a lot of valuable information that can be found for open source communities.

And bonus, there’s a lot of open source behind each Tweet.

Linux.com: What is a Twitter chat?

Hibbets: I like to describe a Twitter chat as a public-facing conversation at a set time, using Twitter as the platform and a hashtag as the way to follow. It’s the equivalent of using a chat room in IRC (Internet relay chat) or similar chat functionality, but instead, you’re using and following a hashtag on Twitter. What it boils down to for our Open Organization community on Opensource.com is to have focused discussions on topics with several source matters experts invited to participate and help lead the discussion. For example, last October, we talked about the intersection of DevOps and Open Organizations.

There are several different formats Twitter chats can take. We chose to do more of a live event where we are actively Tweeting questions for an hour and watching the responses come in. My team leads the conversation, monitors the responses, and learns from our community. Participants learn from other participants and make valuable connections that enhance their network.

Linux.com: How do you measure progress and what’s the goal?

Hibbets: My talk at the Open Source Leadership Conference will be on building a community using Twitter chats for our Open Organization community. The examples I will use come from my experience doing this for the Open Organization community, so  I’ll focus on my response on that aspect.

First off, the goal is two-fold: to build awareness of our community and attract new people to join the conversation.

By hosting a Twitter chat, we are able to have an amazing conversation with our community. Seeing the engagement, responses, and interactions really makes me proud as a community manager. We are having a conversation that is engaging to people with vastly different roles–from solutions architects to consultants, and open source project leaders to people managers outside of open source. We have a diverse audience of participants.

So, how do we measure success? There are two main metrics we are concerned with: the number of unique participants and how many Tweets they generate. From there, we can calculate more impressive numbers like total reach and total timeline exposures. These numbers can impress managers, which is helpful, but the more meaningful metrics are really around the number of active participants as well as how many new people continue to join.

To give you some context, on average, we have about 30-50 unique participants generating about 300-400 tweets in about an hour.

Linux.com: What did you learn from hosting regular Twitter chats with your community?

Hibbets: There are three things we learned I’d like to share. First, there are people out there who not only want to have this conversation in the first place, but want to continue the conversation. The number of repeat participants that come back to our Twitter chats is high for the Open Organizations community. .

Second, being prepared makes our “live” events successful. We did a number of things (which I cover in extreme detail in my talk) that makes our event run smoothly. A few examples include promoting your Twitter chat in advance, preparing your questions ahead of time, and sharing your questions with invited guests in advance.

Third, having guest hosts and source matter experts is critical. Nothing draws a crowd more than a crowd, right? We found that inviting experts to join us and putting them in the spotlight worked really well for our community building efforts.

Join us for a future #OpenOrgChat Twitter chat to see what it’s all about.

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