As many of you know, I run a small SQL Server community event here in the UK, SQL Server in the Evening, with the help of Coeo colleague and MVP Justin Langford. There’s been half a dozen evening events in the last 16 months and recently it got to the point where I needed to start putting proper tools in place to communicate with my event’s followers. As well as telling them when the next event is it’d also be nice to share some of the Chapter Leader mails I get from Pass etc.
Chaining Together Disparate Services
What amazed me was not only how many of the essential services I needed were available for free but also how they integrated with each other. I’ll now talk you through what I used and how it connected.
I have a really really simple web site for the event (link) which just lists information about the next event. I host this using a free blog provided by WordPress (link) but rather than creating blog posts, I just have a single “page” which I edit with each event’s details. WordPress have a content management system so I can create and edit the page in a web browser, no need to upload files like a traditional web site. I should one day make something more of the web site but I’ll save that for the future.
One of the nice things WordPress also do is sell and host domain names, before integrating them seamlessly with a blog site. For about $20 a year I have my domain name (sqlserverintheevening.com) linked to my free blog site and hosted by WordPress for me. That may not sound that impressive today but setting all of this up took about 5 minutes and was done through a couple of simple web pages. Use of the domain name isn’t just limited to the web site though, its also used by email.
WordPress have a setup web page in place that will do all the domain name configuration needed to accept email for your domain. What’s even better is that they a step by step guide for configuring a Google mailbox to send and receive using your domain name. This is a pretty complicated process but WordPress’s and Google’s configuration pages together make it a 5 minute process. 5 minutes later I had a Google Mail mailbox setup to send and receive email for sqlserverintheevening.com.
I’ve used EventBrite (link) to meet my venue’s requirements of providing a list of who’s coming to each event. This is a very slick web site which allows you to customise your event listing, the information you require, and more importantly store and provide the lists of who’s attending each of your events.
Email Mailing Lists
Finally, after the event I want to email those who attended and tell them about the next event. For this I use Mail Chimp (link) and their free service is good enough for almost everyone I’d imagine. The web site does everything you need to create, manage and report on an email “campaign” as they call it and most importantly, people can un-subscribe without my involvement from the list.
The best part about Mail Chimp for me though was it can integrate into my EventBrite events and extract the names and email addresses of everyone who’s attended one of my previous events. That was really straight forward and took about 30 seconds, priceless. I also love being able to see how many emails bounced, were opened and who clicked the web link to the registration site.
The Best Part
There were two best parts for me, firstly all of the services apart from the domain name are free. The vendors sell premium services but the free versions are more than good enough for my SQL Server community event. Secondly, setting everything up and sending my first email to everyone took about an hour, and I never saw an error message or have to resort to reading the help pages. It all just worked.
Finally, I should clarify that for everyone who’s been emailed by me I’ve got multiple ways for them to opt out and to never get an email from me again, you should always do that too. Mail Chimp is almost too helpful in making sure you don’t spam people.