Internet promotion is no longer a "maybe someday" proposition. In the recently released 1999 Meetings Outlook Survey co-sponsored by Meeting Professionals International and the American Society of Association Executives, more than one in five of the 150 meeting planners surveyed named "home page/Internet" as the number-one communications vehicle for marketing their meetings.
If Web sites and e-mail have not yet become part of your promotional efforts, they're bound to be soon. Here's some advice on how to use these tools to their fullest.
They Need to Find It * Make sure your Web site is registered with all the major search engines: Yahoo, AltaVista, HotBot, InfoSeek, Excite, Lycos, and Web-Crawler. See www.gkweb.com for information on submitting your Web site information to more than 200 search engines.
* Craft your Web site so that it comes up near the top of the sites returned from a search of your keywords. If your site is not in the first few screens of results, it won't be found. The words used in a site's title, introductory paragraph, and metatags (hidden keywords) are critical because they are the words that search engines scan. For more information on how search engines rank Web sites, visit www.search enginewatch.com.
* Make sure your site downloads quickly and is easy to navigate.
* Be as visual as you can. Use photos of past meetings or future destinations to add sizzle.
* Be interactive. Give viewers an easy way to find the information they need or to ask questions via e-mail if they can't find their answers online.
Deliver Sharp Content The key to a site being bookmarked is content. You want to give viewers a reason to come back.
* Put the meeting program online. Make it searchable by topics, speakers, dates, times, and key words.
* Post the pre-registration list online. People may wish to contact attendees in advance, or they may be motivated to register once they recognize the names of others who have registered.
* Establish a virtual community with online pre- and post-conference forums, electronic bulletin boards, and chat rooms.
* If the meeting includes exhibits, create a virtual exhibit section to increase traffic, promote the exhibit, and generate revenues through sales of links to exhibitors' Web sites.
* Update your site frequently with news releases about the event or about your industry in general.
* Put past keynote addresses and other presentations online. While simply posting text and photos can be interesting, streaming video and audio software programs that bring sound and motion pictures to your Web site are the becoming more common. See www.real.com for an example.
Build Visibility * Send "save-the-date" e-mail announcements in advance of the meeting to any potential attendees. Direct these people to your Web site with a hot link in the e-mail.
* Offer incentives (for example, free books or discount registration) to increase traffic. Ask viewers to sign the "guest book" to qualify. And remember, everyone who signs the guest book is a lead for future promotions.
* During the meeting, upload interesting photos of the event to encourage Web site visits. Surfers will wish they were there, and may be motivated to attend the next meeting.
Keep It User-Friendly * Develop and promote online registration at your Web site.
* Make the online registration form as user-friendly as you can. When appropriate, allow people to sign up for individual sessions.
* Use an automated e-mail confirmation system that notifies attendees immediately when their registration has been received.
* Link your site to relevant hotels, airlines, car rental companies, destination information (such as sporting events, attractions, restaurants, and clubs), and weather information sites.
Follow Up * Before the meeting, survey registrants to determine their expectations, interests, and desires.
* Use post-conference e-mail and online surveys to evaluate customer satisfaction, determine what needs improvement, and get feedback from attendees about what presentation topics they would like to see in the future.
* Have an "ask the presenters" forum where prospective attendees can pose questions in advance.