Many conference organizers — including healthcare conference planners — are leery about using social media such as blogs, podcasts, and wikis in conjunction with their events. Yet basic rules for going online are not much different from traditional print. Confidentiality rules must be carefully adhered to, especially for conferences oriented toward patients and consumers, such as an educational conference for individuals with a certain illness or disease.

In addition, publishing of workshop or lecture materials requires some special consideration, says Dmitriy Kruglyak, publisher, The Medical Blog Network, and organizer of the Healthcare Blogging Summit 2006, to be held in conjunction with Consumer Health World December 11 to 13 in Washington, D.C. (www.healthvoices.com/conference). “As with usual conference proceedings, you need to acquire permission to publish online from participants. Be careful about discussing off-label use of medications or controversial treatments. If you publish information that may be perceived as medical advice, include disclaimers. When in doubt, emphasize that the opinions and statements are those of speakers and attendees and may not reflect the official position of the conference organizers.”

Despite these issues, Kruglyak believes that blogging should be on the agenda for healthcare conference organizers. Before the meeting, you can use blogs to create buzz and build anticipation, he says. “Create an …official' conference blog to publish regular updates. Point your target audience to your blog to engage them interactively. Reach out to key bloggers covering your subject matter and treat them as press. Request interviews, invite them as media and speakers, and use your official blog to engage in conversations already happening elsewhere.”

He adds that blogs can also create publicity, which has the potential to increase attendance. “Blog posts can highlight the expertise of speakers or the importance of certain workshops (just to name a few benefits),” he says, and blog posts can also cover the “prerequisite” information needed to help people catch up on topical issues.

During the meeting, blogs can offer another format for attendees to interact with speakers and fellow attendees. “The motive behind blogging during and after a meeting is to demonstrate all the good stuff that people are missing. It is also an outward demonstration that the conference organizers value the altruistic aspects of pure education. Now, one does not want to give away everything. Blogging during a conference should cover enough information to set the stage and whet appetites for the next conference. Important speaker quotations, pictures, and abstracts of workshops/seminars are good ways to do this.”

After the meeting, you can use blogs to publish what you wish you had time to cover, says Kruglyak. “Highlight participant experiences and share important links and resources that will help participants apply what they learned. Collect feedback, start building the case for the next meeting, and tell those who could not attend what they have been missing!”

And for those who want to ignore social media, Kruglyak says ignorance is not bliss. “Blogs are all about democratizing interactions and breaking down barriers — for better or worse. Those who try to ignore the new media will find themselves publicly questioned by independent bloggers who can influence hearts and minds of their audience,” he says.Use the blog search tools, like Technorati.com, to look for conversations about your meetings. Expect to find frank and unvarnished opinions and be ready to engage these new influencers in conversation. He suggests that you research these bloggers to determine their influence, temperament, and the types of people who read their blogs. “Approach the blogger to provide additional insight into the purpose of the meeting and activities taking place during the event. And read the bloggers' posts and leave comments thanking them for coverage, adding details, or clarifying misunderstandings.”

The Medical Blogging Network, in conjunction with healthcare marketing communications consultancy Envision Solutions, is researching how privacy concerns and the higher standards for the information that healthcare conference organizers dispense can affect perceptions and sensitivities of bloggers and audiences. The report will be presented at the Healthcare Blogging Summit 2006. The Network's goal, says Kruglyak is to “equip meeting planners with the tools they need to effectively integrate blogging into their events: original research, blogger speaker bureau, and blogging education services.”