By Olivier Fontana, Marketing Director, WW Field and Partner Marketing, Windows Embedded Business; President, UFE Seattle

In May 2010 I decided I wanted to involve myself more into the broader French and French speaking community of Puget Sound in Washington State. I reached out to a nonprofit called l’Union des Français de l’Etranger (UFE), to see how I could help and to my surprise I discovered that nothing was really happening locally; even more surprisingly they ended up asking me whether I would be interested in launching the local chapter myself. It was quite more than what I was bargaining for but after r reaching out a handful of equally motivated French people, we officially launch the UFE Seattle chapter in February 2011.

From the onset it was clear that our little team had to find a way to be as productive as possible. All our board members were already busy with full time jobs, studies, children, or a combination! We also knew that to scale we needed to find an infrastructure that could not only be started quickly but also that would be free as we had limited funding.. I spent the few first weeks looking around to see what kind of online tools were available to help us get started and grow. We knew that we wanted to be present on the social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and have a blog, a website, and a newsletter.

Setting up our presence on web was fairly simple. We utilized social networking sites, a Wordpress blog ,a newsletter, email, and a simple website. That was the easy part.

The hard part was finding a way to securely and easily communicate and collaborate with the board members including keeping track of emails, sharing photos, and documents such as our non-profit charter, promotional materials and graphic assets. We also wanted to create an online repository of local French services such as French speaking doctors and businesses (especially bakeries!) that would be easier to maintain than a webpage given how much we expected the volume of information to grow over time. So how could we do all of this and be able to share information with our members in the same scalable way? How could we separate which information we would share with the broad public, and which would be held for members only?

After discovering the latest Windows Live tools I finally found a way to achieve all of this, easily, for free and in a way that will scale for the future by combining several tools:

  • Windows Live Group to create groups for our board and for our members
  • Hotmail, to be our email address
  • SkyDrive to store board, members or public information
  • Office online to share and edit information
  • Windows Live Writer-to easily update our WordPress blog to blog and use the subscription function to have a newsletter generated for us.

How did we implement this?

A secure Windows Live Group for board members which:

  • allows us to send emails to the board (us) through a simple private email address
  • uses the group’s SkyDrive storage to share photos we may need, logos, flyers we’ve made in any formats (mostly Word documents or PDF documents)

Office online enables us to:

o edit, store and share our various Excel lists, accounting information, follow up on various topics, email lists etc.

o create and store documents needed for our events: presence lists (Excel), flyers (word), presentations (PowerPoint), etc.

o use a OneNote notebook to store all the information the board needs including:

  • Online presence summary (our login, password information, how things are linked…) across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…
  • Board Meeting notes
  • Information for later use
  • As I have OneNote 2010 installed on my home PC,  I have synchronized this online OneNote with my home pc so it’s superfast to update and my fellow board member that don’t have office can still view and edit it online

Hotmail and the features the Windows Live ID opens up provides an email address for our non-profit

  • We use this email (@live.com) to have our email forwarded to from the @UFE.org official email address
  • This email is also on the board’s Windows Live group so each email from the board is automatically stored (through a rule in Hotmail) in an “archive” folder online so we can always find all the previous threads from the team
  • We have linked this account with our blog on WordPress, our YouTube channel and our LinkedIn account so all new information posted on those sites is immediately updated on the UFE Seattle live account too for anyone who has connected with our account.

SkyDrive enables us to easily and quickly share information with the community

  • We use it to post not only event photos but also newsletters from French senators that represent French expatriates, and other documents we want to share with everyone by just uploading them on the SkyDrive and setting the security features as “public”
  • We use a publicly shared OneNote notebook as a virtual “website”. We are pointing to it through our “home” mini-website (www.UFE.org/Seattle). This is really cool because we can update it from any PC in a  few seconds when we receive some information on new addresses from French-owned businesses, find a cool book we want to share, or want to provide information on how to join us, etc. This is much faster and easier for us to update than having to manually update HTML pages and very flexible using the sections, pages and links features of OneNote
  • What is also really handy is that, when we want to have a print out of our “Carnet d’adresses” (i.e. address book of all local businesses), we can directly print to PDF from the OneNote and had a ready to distribute booklet for people coming to our events and to post online (SkyDrive) for those that would like to download it on their PCs.

Using all those tools we were able to solve all out key starting and scaling issues, completely for free and in a fairly easy way. Without all this the quantity and quality of our communication and follow up to our community would have been much lower!

Two other services I can share with you that were also very useful for us:

  • http://bit.ly : a great URL shortening service. Very useful when you like us use OneNote as a website too, this allows a 3 to 4 line URL to be communicated very simply. For instance, http://bit.ly/UFESeattle_carnetadresse will send you to the “home page” of our OneNote based address book on local French businesses
  •  www.Ping.fm: allows us to update our Facebook page, Twitter account, Linked-in profile and WordPress blog in one go.

Good luck using these great tools for your projects too!