Why the Web?

As meeting professionals, we make our livelihood on the dissemination of information. Our attendees need timely and detailed programs and services, and it's our job to make sure they get them. Not that long ago, the Internet was a mystery to most of us. Now, it's the most promising tool for improving information exchange to come along since the telephone.

With more than 40 million people online, the Internet--and its World Wide Web graphical interface--is being used now to enhance communication between organizations and their staff, members, and customers; cut the cost of unnecessary meetings and mailings; create marketing opportunities; and to research all aspects of the meeting planning process.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Web, here's how you can use it as a strategic resource:

Needs Assessment--On the meeting front, online surveys can be posted on an organization's Web site to collect the data needed to run effective programs. By making meeting evaluations easy to return (just a click of the mouse) and by surveying needs assessments on a regular basis, you'll gather timely information on which to base your meeting-planning decisions.

Access to information-- Unlike a library, or a newspaper or magazine, the World Wide Web provides access to editable text--information can be transferred from the Web to your word-processing software. Using an up-to-date Web browser, visitors to Web sites can download text directly from Web pages, or take whole files via FTP (file transfer protocol). When you find a site you like, you can "bookmark" it so you won't have to search for it again.

(For a list of 50 Web sites useful for meeting planners, see Medical Meetings' January/February issue or visit the Medical Meetings Web site at http://www.meetingsnet.com.)

Cost savings--From a financial standpoint, the Web must be considered first as a way to save money, and then as a way to make money. Though the Web is certainly not a replacement for face-to-face meetings, some meetings--and the costs associated with them--can be avoid-

ed by communicating frequently online.

Having a Web site gives your organization--and its meetings--visibility worldwide for a fraction of the cost of more traditional promotional methods. You also can save on printing, postage, and mailing costs by electronically transmitting program information to meeting attendees who are online, and making newsletters, legislative updates, product updates, and publications available in a downloadable library or delivering them via e-mail. Realistically, paper, printing, and mail costs won't be eliminated any time soon, but the size of mailings may begin to decrease soon, and, in general, the returned value of having a Web presence far exceeds the initial investment.

Marketing opportunities--Many trade shows have gone virtual. That is, information on an industry's suppliers are organized on a Web site, giving customers year-round information about, and links to, their vendors. And for those of us producing or participating in the more traditional trade show, many organizations are making their exhibitor service kits available online as well.

Some organizations report increased revenues from their Web sites in the form of publication and product sales, conference registration, and revenue from non-typical sources such as the general public. Finding sponsors for your Web pages can also generate revenue.

A Few Tips It's important to maintain a well-designed, information-packed, and up-to-date Web site to ensure your organization's leadership within its industry and to position you above the competition. An association or corporation lacking a Web presence risks being seen as a laggard. Make certain that your site is listed with the major Internet search services, so that users can find it. This is a months-long task, so start the day your site opens for viewing.

The World Wide Web offers tremendous potential for organizations and their meeting-planning departments. As users, they can access information from millions of sites, and as "hosts" they can inform and involve customers, recruit new ones, and promote their products and services. If you haven't already, it's time to explore the possibilities.