Tell the world!

First and foremost, make sure that you promote the fact that you’ve embarked on a campaign to promote open data in your area of responsibility.

If you open up a bunch of datasets, it’s definitely worth spending a bit of time to make sure that people know (or at least can find out) that you’ve done so.

In addition to things like press releases, announcements on your website, and so on, you may consider:

  • Contacting prominent organisations or individuals who work/are interested in this area
  • Contacting relevant mailing lists or social networking groups
  • Directly contacting prospective users you know may be interested in this data

Understanding your audience

Like all public communication, engaging with the data community needs to be targetted. Like all stakeholder groups, the right message can be wasted if it is directed to the wrong area.

Digital communities tend to be very willing to share new information, yet they very rapidly consume it. Write as if your messages will be skimmed over, rather than critically examined in-depth.

Members of the tech community are less likely than the general public to use MS Windows. This means that you should not save documents in MS Office formats which can be read offline. There are two resons for this:

  • The first is that those documents will be less accessible. Rather than the document you see on your screen, readers may see a an imperfect copy from an alternative.
  • Secondly, your agency sends an implicit message that you are unwilling to take a step towards developers. Instead, you show that you are expecting the technology community to come to you.

Post your material on third-party sites

Many blogs have created a large readership in specialised topic areas. It may be worthwhile adding an article about your initative on their site. These can be mutually beneficial. You receive more interest and they receive a free blog post in their topic area.

Making your communications more social-media friendly

It’s unrealistic to expect that officials should spend long periods of time engaging with social media. However, there are several things that you can do to make sure that your content can be easily shared between technical users. Some tips:

Provide unique pages for each piece of content:
 When a message is shared with others, the recipient of the referral will be looking for the relevant content quickly.
Avoid making people download your press releases:
 Press releases are fine. They are concise messages about a particular point. However, if you require people to download the content and for it to open outside of a web browser, then fewer people will read it. Search engines are less likely to index the content. People are less likely to click to download.
Consider using a Creative Commons licence:
 Apart from providing certainty to people who wish to share your content that this is permissible, you send a message that your agency understands openness. This is bound to leave an impression far more significant to proponents of open data than any specific sentence in your press release.

Social media

It’s inefficient for cash-strapped agencies to spend hours on social media sites. The most significant way that your voice can be heard through these fora is by making sure that blog posts are easily sharable. That means, before reading the next section, make sure that you have read the last. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:

Discussion fora:

Twitter has emerged as the platform of choice for disseminating information rapidly. Anything tagged with #opendata will be immediately seen by thousands.

LinkedIn has a large selection of groups which are targetted towards open data.

While Facebook is excellent for a general audience, it has not received a great deal of attention in the open data community.

Link aggregators:

Submit your content to the equivalent of newswires for geeks. Reddit and Hacker News are the two biggest in this arena at the moment. To a lesser extent, Slashdot and Digg are also useful tools in this area.

These sites have a tendency of driving signficiant traffic to interesting material. They are also heavily focused on topic areas.