Dec 18, 2012

Introducing Gather, MailChimp’s SMS for Events

Update (3/4/16): Gather is no longer available. Retiring Gather wasn’t an easy decision, but it will free up our developers to focus on other MailChimp mobile initiatives. If you’re looking for an SMS messaging alternative, we’ve compiled a collection of apps that provide similar functionality to Gather.

We host, sponsor, speak at, and attend lots of events, and we’ve noticed that email’s a great communication tool before events for sending invitations, agendas, and directions. And email’s great after events for sending followup surveys, links to presentations, or incriminating photos from the happy hour. But during an event, email is practically useless. For example, if you’re hosting an event and you just learned that your speaker is stuck in traffic, or that the caterer is a no-show, you can’t send an urgent email to your attendees and expect that they’ll be checking their inboxes. Email’s fast, but it’s just not NOW. That’s why we created Gather. It’s "MailChimp for SMS."

How Gather Works

Gather’s basically an SMS alert system for events. It’s not an RSVP tool, or an event administration kind of app. It’s for communication. Basically, you’d run your events like you always have (Eventbrite, Brown Paper Tickets, or whatever you choose) and then ask attendees if they’d also like SMS updates.

First, you set up an event by giving it a title, choosing a MailChimp list to send invitations to, and entering some details:

SMS Subscription Form

Then you build a mobile sign up form that explains why people would want SMS updates from you:


The form is hosted by Gather. We’ll give you a short URL, and options for sharing it on social networks, or beaming it up to send to one of your MailChimp lists:

Note that you can also just grab the form’s short URL and plop it into your Eventbrite invitations.

Remember how we associated the event with a MailChimp list? Gather can "beam" an email invitation over to MailChimp, so you can target a segment of your list, like "VIP customers within 5 miles of San Francisco."

Here’s the screen for attendees to opt in for alerts. Obviously, it’s been optimized for mobile screens. Look closely, and you’ll see something MailChimpy:

Auto-Expiring SMS Subscriptions

As you’ve (hopefully) come to expect from MailChimp, privacy, permission, and abuse prevention are top priorities for us. So when you enter your phone number into Gather, it’s totally hidden from the event host. And after the event, your phone number is automatically deleted from the system. So attendees don’t have to come up with a disposable phone number, and can rest assured the event host won’t be texting spam to them in the middle of the night two months after the event.

Privacy for the host, too

Instead of giving attendees your personal mobile number, you get a separate one that’s used only by Gather. You can even choose one that’s within your area code:

During the event, sending a text message to your group is as easy as sending a text message to your friends:

Note that you can even drop a pin of your current location or nearby places (Gather uses Foursquare’s Venues Platform). Great if your venue has a last-minute change, or for sending announcements like, "Hey folks, Mark is having lunch at Mellow Mushroom on 4th Ave, and you’re invited to join him under the tree outside."

No App Required for Attendees

Gather is an iPhone app for hosts, but your attendees don’t need the Gather app to receive your updates, because Gather broadcasts using SMS:

That means your attendees can reply via SMS, and you can get some nice conversations going with your audience. All messages are routed through your Gather phone number, then conveniently organized on your Gather screen as discussions:


Affordable for Events Big and Small

Whether you’re hosting a barcamp, tech conference, or an informal meetup at a local coffee joint, we’ve got a price plan that’ll work for you. You basically pre-pay for bundles of text messages:

For example, a small event with 10 people might require that you send out 3 different messages (so that’s 3 x 10 = 30 texts). If they each reply once, that’s 10 more incoming texts, or 40 total. Buying a bundle of 175 messages (9 bucks) gives you room to breathe. Credits are more affordable the more you pre-purchase, and they don’t expire.

For years, customers have asked us if we’d ever make an SMS marketing app. I’m still not totally convinced that someone (in his right mind, at least) would subscribe their personal mobile phone number to receive ongoing SMS marketing. The potential for abuse is just too high for my comfort. People are already slipping down that familiar slope in the world of push notifications. But during events and gatherings, when communication is so important and urgent, I can see a need. What’s nice is that with this kind of tool, hosts can open up a whole new line of communication with customers at events, and create a new level of engagement for attendees. That’s what MailChimp’s all about. And with our auto-expiring and private subscriptions (patent pending), we can more safely explore other opportunities to expand into "temporarily urgent, instant communication situations" for business. In the case of Gather, our mobile team is already exploring ways we can integrate your event conversations into MailChimp profiles, and to bring the rich customer data set from MailChimp into Gather (if a customer chats with you at an event, we think it would be nice if you could pull up his MailChimp profile and see his stats). MailChimp Singularity is near, folks.

Gather is available on the App Store.  Visit the Gather website.


Edit: Here’s more information, based on the responses below.

  1. We built Gather for  iPhone first, and we plan to launch Android asap. Yep, we know the Android market is big, which is why we always offer both iPhone and Android apps. Sometimes we launch them simultaneously, but sometimes we launch one at a time. since this kind of app was new territory for us, we’re taking baby steps.
  2. Gather is currently only available in the App store for US and Canada. We’ve already begun work to make it available internationally, so stay tuned.

Sign up for an announcement when we launch Android and make Gather available in your country.