Dimdim: A Recommended Church Communication Tool

April 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Technology

digitalglobe150x131Assume you are the pastor of a church and you need to meet with your vestry, the church’s attorney and CPA. Option 1 is to schedule a meeting date, time and place, have everyone drive to the location, meet and drive back to their offices. Option 2 is for everyone to stay put and host the meeting in an online conference room.

On a larger scale, let’s say you want to host a conference for 1,000 people. Option 1 is to book a conference room, have everyone fly in, check into a hotel, pay for their meals while at the conference, transportation to and from the airport and around town, then fly home. Option 2 is to hold the conference in an online conference room.

I have been using online conference rooms almost since the technology was first invented. In 2006, I hosted over 200 webinars. This has allowed me to communicate with hundreds of people simultaneously without anyone ever leaving home. The presentations I made were the same I would have made if I presented them in person.

I have used so many web conferencing companies I can’t remember all of them. Today, the three biggest players are WebEx, GoToMeeting and Microsoft’s Live Meeting.

Now there’s a new kid on the block: Dimdim.

Dimdim has a bunch of neat features, but the most compelling reason for churches everywhere to check it out is that it is simple to use and very inexpensive when compared to the competition. Best of all, there’s a free version.

Dimdim launched in February 2006 and has more than 2 million users from almost every country on the earth. It recently rolled out version 5, which has added even more cool features.

Let’s take a look at how Dimdim works and some of the applications for a church.

Dimdim comes with a free version, which can accommodate up to 20 participants, a pro version that holds up to 50 and an enterprise edition for groups of up to 1,000. Each version has its own features. As I describe what it can do and how it works, I won’t differentiate among editions to keep things simple. Check the Dimdim web site for costs and to see what’s included in each version.

One of the most disconcerting features of hosting a meeting with most of the other applications is the fact that each attendee has to download some software or a plugin before they can enter a meeting. Let’s face it, not everyone is Internet savvy. I have hosted some meetings where I have had to walk people through the download process while everyone else sat on their hands. Some invitees just throw up their hands in frustration and bag it.

One of the best features of Dimdim is that there is no software to download. The only requirement is Flash on the person’s computer. Today, 98% of computers have Flash installed.

The only exception is if you are going to share something that is on your computer, like a software program you want to demonstrate. This does require a small and quick download to enable participants to see what’s on your computer screen.

So to enter a meeting is as simple as clicking the mouse.

Inviting Attendees

When you schedule a meeting, a widget is created which shows the date, time and agenda for your session. You can place this widget on any number of social media sites, like your Twitter or Facebook page, your blog or your web site. To register, a person only has to enter their email address.

A confirmation email is automatically sent and their name is entered as a participant in your Dimdim portal. Moreover, the source of their registration is noted, an important tracking element.

You can also email the widget to any number of people just by pasting email addresses into a system email window.

These features make publicizing your event a breeze.

You can set the widget to change. For example, you can add a countdown counter, which is shown on the widget. When your session is over, access links to the transcript and/or recording of the session appear.

While a session is in progress, you can easily send an invitation to invite others to join in just by entering their email address or clicking on the URL link to the meeting and pasting it into an IM message.

Presenting

Of course, the big benefit of web conferencing is presenting visual information. Dimdim allows you to upload Power Point presentations, .pdf files, Word documents, etc. with ease.

If you want to take your attendees to a web page, just type in the URL and that web page appears on your screen as well as the screen of all attendees. You can scroll through the page to highlight important points. You can even go to a site such as YouTube and show online videos.

If you need to use the while board, not only can you add shapes, text and draw but any attendee can add or alter what you have drawn. This is perfect for communicating with your architect about alternatives for your new building.

If you have a web cam, you can elect to have the video displayed in the lower corner of the screen. Upgrades allow increasing the size of the video by 400% and adding a second video so attendees can see two presenters.

You can make any attendee a presenter, thus allowing them to bring up the documents, images or web sites they need to make their points.

To get feedback, you can conduct polls during any session.

When the meeting ends, you can set the system display any URL you want your attendees of a session to visit.

Audio

Dimdim comes with its own telephone bridge so you save money by not having to get a dedicated number for your meetings from a teleconferencing company.

If you need to communicate with people outside the U.S. (perhaps missionaries), there is a VoIP option.

Recording

You can record any meeting by pushing one button. Both your visuals and narration are captured. When the meeting ends, Dimdim sends the meeting host an email with a link to the recording. The system generates a URL for the recording, plus the embed code, and makes it available in your portal. You can paste it into a web page or your blog.

I think the recording feature is one of the most beneficial. Since Dimdim is free for participants up to 20, many presentations can be recorded and published on your web site or blog for a broader reach.

Summary

Even though many people now have high speed Internet access, Dimdim has been optimized to work on slower Internet connections. For churches, the ease of use, time savings and affordability make Dimdim a communication tool worthy of consideration.

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Autoresponders: Church Communication and Fundraising Applications

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Technology

email_at150x131A number of technology tools can help a church in their fundraising and communication. Over time, I will post information about them. This article will deal with one of the most basic: autoresponders.

What is an autoresponder?

An autoresponder is an email facility that allows for the broadcast of an email, or a series of emails mailed at predetermined intervals, to be sent to people who give their OK (voluntarily opt-in) to receive the information.

Who can autoresponders reach?

Today, virtually everyone. Most people have a computer. Even my 90-year old mother had a computer. She communicated with friends and relatives all over the place. Her grandchildren grew up in an era where the word “letter” was not in their vocabulary. Everything was email. Today, my mom would have to buy an iPhone or a Blackberry and learn how to text message. But those are topics for a future post. Almost everyone who has a computer can send and receive email.

Are autoresponders intrusive?

No. First, a person normally has to fill out a form on a web site, enter their email address and give permission for information to be sent to them via email.

To prevent someone from entering your email address, reputable autoresponder companies use a double opt-in process. After you fill out the form, an email is sent to the email address you provided with a link you must click on to activate the autoresponder. For a church, this is also an added safeguard in that this confirmation provides proof of the opt-in if the person forgets or if there is a spam complaint.

What if you are a church with an existing email list? Can you import all these emails into an autoresponder? Generally, no. Most autoresponder providers either require everyone on your list to opt-in or require the church to show that everyone has already opted in to another list.

Autoresponders in general

The mechanics are very simple. There are ways to use an autoresponder without a web site, although a web site or blog would be necessary in order to put up a form allowing folks to put in their name and email to subscribe.

Emails can be sent out in text or HTML format. Some autoresponder companies have their system programmed so that if you send out an HTML email and the person’s email client can’t read HTML, a text email will be substituted.

If you choose to use HTML, there are tons of template choices. You can use the autoresponder provider’s templates or a company that specializes in email templates.

With that quick overview, I want to spend the rest of the article suggesting applications of autoresponders in your church. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Perhaps one topic will spark your creative juices and you will come up with many more uses.

Register for an event

It’s a simple process to put up a form on your web site allowing people to sign up for a class, dinner, teleseminar or webinar. I’ll discuss below how you can customize your form to gather many different kinds of information. For example, you could find out how many in the family will be attending the dinner. Once they have registered and are on that specific list, the church can follow up with reminders, change of plans or the specifics on how to access the teleconference or webinar. After the event, the autoresponder can provide for any follow up necessary.

Email classes

The class could be about anything. The pastor could provide an email class similar to one he/she would teach in person. The key is, however, is that the class would only have to be composed once. Subsequent classes would be sent by the autoresponder at, for example, weekly intervals as new students sign up.

Updates

While the most common use of autoresponders is to send out prewritten messages at intervals, there is a broadcast feature that allows a message to be sent out to everyone on a specific list whenever you want. Your church could be involved in a capital campaign or the search for a new pastor. The autoresponder could be used to broadcast updates.

Newsletter

The most common use of the broadcast feature is to send out a newsletter. With postage rates going up, the ability to send a newsletter for free is a welcome alternative.

Collect information

The web form where people enter their name and email address can contain many other fields. As such, it can operate as a mechanism to collect things such as birthdays, anniversaries etc. It can also function as a way to conduct a simple survey.

Communicating with non-attendees

The two groups that immediately come to mind are the home bound and service men and women.

I’m sure every communication, announcement and update about what’s going on at the church is very much appreciated by those who are tied to their home. What could brighten a person’s day more who is half way around the world, putting their life on the line to defend our freedom than a message or prayer from the pastor?

Those who have moved away

We are in a mobile society. Just because someone moved to another community doesn’t mean they have lost interest in what’s going on at the church they attended. I think that includes potential financial support as well. Keep in touch.

Send links to other resources

To be delivered and read, emails should be short. The autoresponder can send out a broadcast message, which includes a link to a video or audio posted on your web site or blog.

On the fundraising side, you could produce DVDs or audio CDs of events or sermons and sell them to raise money. The DVDs and CDs could be physical. Today, there are ways to deliver this content digitally as well. Either way, the announcement about the content can be communicated via an autoresponder.

To form subgroups

Use a web form to have church members sign up for a committee. Use the form to build a youth group. In both cases, now you have a segregated list that can be used to communicate with the subgroup as necessary.

Coordinate with a blog

If your church has a blog, you can put an autoresponder form on the blog, which allows people to sign up to get a heads up email when blog posts appear. You can set your autoresponder to send out an email whenever a certain number of blogs posts accrue, on a specific day or days of the month or automatically every time a new blog post is published.

There are a number of autoresponder providers, but only a couple that are the cream of the crop. I use two, one of which is coordinated with my shopping cart. The one I would recommend you check out is AWeber.

I hope that this post gives you some ideas you can employ in your church. Post your creative applications under ‘Leave A Comment’ so everyone else can benefit.

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Robert Cavanaugh, EzineArticles.com Platinum Author