Monday, October 31, 2011

My first Webinar

Panic hasn't set in quite yet, but I'm giving my first webinar, The 1940 US Census, on Saturday. Tomorrow is the dry run, so hopefully I'll be able to figure it out before Saturday, work out the kinks and have it all run smoothly. While it's fairly easy to set up a webinar, the trick, apparently, is being in a place that has a direct, hardwired internet connection. As this webinar is for the Rhode Island Genealogical Society, we have our meetings all over the State, it seems that the probability of consistently getting that direct connection may be quite low, so I'm trying some fancy stuff using my phone. (I'll have to blog about how much I love my Android smartphone at another time!).

As this is a first, not only for me, but for RIGS as well, I'm expecting a ton of technical issues (which at this point I can't even fathom what could possibly go wrong), but hoping that I can manage it sufficiently well to allow everyone to tune in. So far, we've had 42 people register for the webinar, and considering our meetings run between 40-60 participants in general, if everyone gets online, we'll have doubled our meeting attendance, and that's just what I'd like this to accomplish. As the membership chair for RIGS, I've discovered that 63% of our members are out-of-state, which means that the majority can't take advantage of one of the coolest things about being a member, and that is to attend the meetings and hear the great speakers that we get in to give talks about RI topics. If this works, then we'll have to find a permanent method that will allow us to broadcast all of our speakers via webinar to allow attendence for the folks in CA, MI, FL and WI (yes, we've had registrants from all those places!).

And for me, I've learned several new things, such as which buttons to push on my laptop to get the thing connected to my projector (three buttons simultaneously, no less), how to mass email people, and how to invite people to a webinar. All good things, technologically speaking, for a good luddite to learn every day.

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, 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 ( 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.