After stepping in for the first time to lead the organization of a WordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. (Paris), and at a time when the local team was already going through some administrative restructuring, I got to know how WordCamps do email. It’s a small aspect of running a WordCamp, but to me an important one just the same.
I’d like to thank @iandunn for inviting me to share my thoughts and experience on the matter. The following is based on an email exchange we had several months ago.
Since its inception in 2008, WordCamp Paris had been run by the non-profit group WordPress Francophone. They have their own domain name (wordpress-fr.net), and were accustomed to running all email communications through it. The default address, email@example.com, was forwarded to one of the association’s self-hosted email accounts.
For the 2016 edition, WordCamp Paris became independent of WordPress Francophone, a necessary step toward making it easier to rotate members in and out of the event organization. In order to reinvent itself and be seen as fully autonomous, we had to cut ties to the association, including email.
I’m sure the exact needs of email communication can vary, especially depending on the size of a WordCamp and its organizing team, but for us it means:
- Receiving and replying to contact requests from the website.
- Corresponding with sponsors, speakers and volunteers.
- Reaching out to the press, media partners and other industry organizations.
- Reaching out to our mailing list of previous attendees.
- Centralizing correspondence to facilitate team collaboration.
- Categorizing correspondence to streamline the process for different team members.
- Prospecting using Mailchimp (mass mailings).
An email address is a part of any organization’s branding, giving a clear, consistent, professional image to the outside world and its various contacts.
A single email address can do the job, using tags and archive folders to categorize emails, but aliases can also be very useful, and can help better target each audience. I believe this also adds a level a professionalism, making each group feel “special”.
In order to effectively use the email address designating by WordCamp Central Website for all WordCamp activities globally. https://central.wordcamp.org includes a list of upcoming and past camp with links to each. (firstname.lastname@example.org), you need SMTP authentication, which is not currently available.
Gmail used to allow the importation of outside addresses for use with their own SMTP, but they’ve stopped and this is no longer an option. (Although I know some events, like WordCamp London, that set theirs up a while ago still benefit from the old set up – lucky!).
So the default email available only works in one direction: you can receive but you cannot send.
To me, it doesn’t make sense to have people write to one address, but then have to answer them from another.
Sflow looks like a great ticketing system for managing requests coming in the through the website. It is not, however, an email client. It can only be used for incoming messages, not for generating new ones.
It also doesn’t help with mass communications, although this can be partially compensated with the CampTix notification tool.
HOW WE CHOSE TO MOVE FORWARD
Ultimately, after testing the solutions available to us, we took inspiration from the old WordPress Francophone set-up, used by other organizations like WordCamp Europe as well, and acquired our own domain name.
We now own wcamp.paris, paid for by a hosting company as part of their recurring sponsorship of our event.
This has also been useful in allowing us to host a separate site that we use for the intake of speaker applications, using the Ideastream plugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party (a subject I’ll posting about here next ☺).
In this way, we have clear, consistent communications with the outside world. The only “discrepancy” being that of our official WordCamp site domain, versus that of our independent one. We can live with that.
WHAT WE WOULD BE AWESOME
Again, not every event is the same or has the same needs. The Paris event has become quite large, and we have over a dozen organizers on the team and just as many volunteers.
At the very least, what would be awesome would be having SMTP access for default WordCamp emails. Although I realize there is a risk in having those servers flagged a spam, and dealing with the possible abuse of that access.
Another idea would be opening up the SupportFlow tool, or creating a secondary one, which would allow messages to be generated without an existing ticket open. Could we:
- Import attendees from previous years and tag them as “prospects”?
- Idem for sponsors?
- Could we add other contact user groups, such as press or partners?
These could be some useful features. Again, the main ideas/needs are:
- Centralize communications for organizing teams to facilitate collaboration (and rollover year to year).
- Have clear, consistent branding with the event’s various contacts.
I hope you find this useful. Am happy to help further in any way I can toward improving on this aspect of WordCamp organization.