Monday, October 24, 2011

Getting Connected

You'd never think that figuring out how to get connected in this technologically driven internet society would be difficult, but in reality, it is. Mainly, I believe it is because we are confronted with an astonishing array of choices when perhaps just a few would make life so much simpler. And everyone is doing their own thing, so that if you choose the wrong method, you're missing out on the people you're looking for!

The problem arose when I got a fabulous notice for my society! I was so excited that FGS and RootsTech2012 were teaming up to offer reduced registration for FGS member societies membership. As the membership chair and my society's delegate to FGS, I wanted to let all of our members know about this opportunity! But how do we normally contact our members regarding time sensitive information? What are the important items that we need to be in contact with our membership about and how do we connect?

It turns out that there are two primary methods that we use to contact our membership: our website http://www.rigensoc.org/, and our newsletter. The newsletter wasn't going to be coming out again in time for our members to act on the RootsTech registration item, but I could get a notice on our website! But how do I know how many of our members check the website regularly? Are they just used to reading the newsletter and getting all of their information that way? Are enough people going to hear about the FGS-RootsTech offer to take advantage of it?

One of the most obvious methods would be to do a mass email to all of our members! So, I cranked up MS Outlook, added my membership email list to the "To:" box and forwarded the message! And I waited, and I waited. It turns out that 435 emails isn't going to work through a regular personal email account. There are all sorts of issues associated with spamming and the ability to unsubscribe, and how did you get the email address to begin with, that it sent me searching for a simple, cheap and direct way to "blast" email our membership. (I think it's called blast, but whatever!)

A friend had suggested Constant Contact, but for as little as I anticipated using the service, it seemed too big an expense. Happily, I discovered a website called Idealware (http://www.idealware.org/articles/fgt_email_newsletter_tools.php) had an article about just this issue.  They had three suggestions for free broadcast email services that are perfect for genealogical societies. I looked around at the sites and ended up choosing MailChimp. It had been recommended by a member, looked simple to use and the free account would cover much more than the number of emails that I planned to send per month. It offers the ability to track how many people open your emails (which I have to say is quite depressing, I may need to ask my friend with marketing skills to take over this aspect), allows them to unsubscribe, and other options to avoid your email getting stuck in a Spam folder.

The number of choices for doing something so simple, such as letting your membership know about time critical information, has never been greater. There's Facebook and Twitter, email, websites and stuff I don't even want to think about. It can become information overload, and you don't want to send out so much that people become overwhelmed and start to tune you out (that can happen, as those of you with kids see on a daily basis!). And because of these opportunities, it can make our jobs harder as we try to navigate a vast array of offerings and possibilities. I guess this problem (which I have by no means yet overcome) offers another opportunity to learn something new, think about possibilities for our society to stay connected with our membership and start opening ourselves up to the wider world.

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