You’ve got a great product and spent much of your budget on developing your software or service and now you’re left with a marginal budget for marketing and PR. Sound familiar?

Spending money on good public relations, whether internal or external, can be extremely valuable on getting your message out to the public, and most importantly your potential customers. Reputable agencies and individuals are well worth their weight in gold. But what are you to do if all you have are a few silver pennies left in the PR budget? Here are 10 tips to get you on your way:

1. Hire an agency. If you can’t hire someone internally at least get a consultation from an agency that understands your line of work and your market. Unless you are truly confident in your market don’t try and do PR yourself. In software development terms, it will have the same effect of giving your designer the job of coding — they might have an idea but it will only end in tears. An agency should have the expertise and game plan to best send your message to your market.

2. Create an easy to read Web page specifically for each product. If your customers hear about your product they will turn to your website to learn more. Make it informative, brief, and easy on the eye. Many developers may scoff at fancy websites but first impressions count. Learn from developers like Mozilla with and Miro with 

3. Start a blog. I won’t harp on about the social economy because others do that for a living, but participation is marketing and engaging with social networks builds relationships, brand awareness, and even trust. If you are to blog then you’re going to have to make it interesting. 

Do write posts on how to use features of your product.
Do write about what is happening in the industry or reaction to relevant news.
Do provide readers with an inside lane behind your operations. 

Do offer RSS or Email updates

Do engage with your readers via comments

Do blog about topics with authority 

Do ask a colleague to proof your blog for spelling, grammar, and your possibly offensive jokes

Don’t just copy and paste a press release

Don’t attack your competition

Don’t write about internal promotions or corporate back slapping. “GO TEAM! You Rock! You’re a legend! We’re all f*cking great!” are fine for internal communications but not for general consumption. 

4. Start using video. Video is the entertainment platform for the Web and a great way to show off how to use your product or get a message across. Screencast a quick demo of your product and why it is cool. Offer video tutorials for customers to use your product. It could also reduce support time and costs. Don’t try to screencast an hour long explanation of every feature, instead break the videos up into small chunks around the core features. Do put someone on camera who can deliver the message with a bit of passion.

Do use a platform that will let users take your video and embed it on their blogs, a forum board, or widget. The more places your video can be seen can only be a good thing, right?

5. Join the twits on Twitter and other micro-publishing networks. Send updates and snippets of what you’re doing with your product or inform people of a new release/new features. For ease of use it might be worth using a service that deploys these snippets to multiple services. 

6. Make sure somebody is in charge of community management. It’s important to keep a pulse of what people are saying about your product on your website and others. A community manager should be in charge of keeping track of comments, replying to comments or forum posts and engaging with the community. While it is a good PR thing to do it will also gather feedback for your product and is great customer service. It’s hard to get angry at a company when it is going out of its way to help you. 

7. Make sure your website is SEO friendly. This might seem obvious but search is important and it’s imperative for your product to be ranking high in Google’s results.

8. Engage the right social network. I’m on Facebook, you’re on Facebook, your mum’s on Facebook, and your emo cousin is on MySpace. They may be the biggest, but are they the best place to engage and communicate with your potential customers? Do some market research (however informal) and find where the conversations you want to participate in are happening, what people are saying, and the tone of the community. This could be select forum boards and blogs, industry social networks like Linkedin, or specific news/content aggregators.

9. Devote time to your social network and listen. You can’t simply create a Facebook group or page and expect the community to take over. Magical user generated fairies won’t grace your Facebook page or brand on a social network and get passionate about your product overnight. It takes a while to build up relationships, meaningful conversations, and trust. 

10. Don’t forget traditional media and traditional approaches. With all the hype around social networks, it’s important to remember that not all of your customers are going to be savvy online digital natives. Make sure your PR strategy is to engage journalists, mass media, user groups, and conferences. A PR 2.0 strategy shouldn’t simply toss out best practices from yesteryear.

It goes without saying that while all of these tips will help you understand where you want to engage with your potential customers, it’s not exactly useful unless you can measure your results. Even if goals seem lofty it’s important to set goals and report metrics on your successes and failures.

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays