The world as we know it is changing. There is no such thing as business as usual. While most of our days may still be taken up with doing business on the telephone and managing projects on paper, the percentage of time event planning professionals spend using the Internet is growing. And that time may be our most productive time, the time of greatest strategic importance. To ensure that the time you spend on the Web is some of your most valuable, you should demand certain important things from your online professional planning resources. When you go to the World Wide Web to seek planning resources, there are 10 questions you should ask of a Web site.
1. Are the resources that are available international in scope? The Internet is the ultimate global resource, available all the time, 24 hours a day, no matter where you are. Yet few Web sites take advantage of the fact that they can provide information to those outside the confines of the United States, or to those who need information about the rest of the world. Few Web sites accomplish this, partly because the scope of their business services is not truly global.
If you are in charge of planning international meetings and events, you can and should be able to demand global information. Look for a Web site that is global in scope; one that not only provides information that is internationally relevant, but is also able to provide the richness of information that answers the needs of diverse groups of users.
2. Does the Web site let you conduct research? Assess the quality of the information on the site. Is it merely a marketing tool, or does it go beyond marketing to provide information and resources that allow you to do your job better? Is the information on the site specific? Is it relevant? Many Web sites only provide "teaser" information to get people to call them or to send an e-mail, or even just to register. However, you should demand more than a brochure from a site; you should demand to be informed.
3. Can you easily submit a Request for Proposal? An online RFP should be easy to navigate and use. It should remind you to provide information about the relevant details of your program while allowing you to represent the unique nature of your demands. An online RFP should not try to shoehorn your information into a predetermined format that means you may have to leave out important information, only to have to follow up later when your planning phase has moved beyond Web interaction.
The Web site should also provide you with choices for submitting your RFP. It should recognize that many planners have already created an electronic document outlining their program needs, and that the ability to quickly send an e-mail with an attachment might be the way you choose to communicate. You deserve this time-saving, efficient step.
4. Was the site created by event planning professionals? Many Web sites are created for purposes other than the professional purposes they state. Many purport to offer free information and drive traffic to the site to give advertisers access to their visitors through paid banner ads. You should demand that your online planning resource was created, first and foremost, as a planning resource for you by genuine industry professionals.
5. Does the site provide access to a community of professional colleagues? A Web site should provide the means for communication with your professional colleagues. Many excellent Web sites provide a bulletin board or forum for you to use to ask and/or answer questions from your colleagues in the meeting and event planning profession. Queries can range from "how-to" to issues in strategic management. In addition, a Web site's information should change weekly, if not daily, and you should be able to publish information, get recognition, and give feedback.
6. Is the site easy to use? Easy Web site navigation is possible - any site that fails to make it easy for you to get around is either poorly designed or, like supermarkets that bury the bread and milk at the back of the store, asking you to get through other information before you get what you need. Busy meeting planners don't have time for inefficient Web site navigation. You should be able to click easily through the pages you need. Some Web sites take this a step further and allow you to personalize your site by determining the order in which you prefer the pages to appear.
7. Can you have control over the information you leave on the Web site? The Web site is for you, and you should be able to control the information you leave there. Your information should not disappear into cyberspace, but should be archived, so that you can go back to it, change it, manage it, delete it, and resubmit it. You should not have to re-enter your information time and time again - the Web site should know you and respond to you as an individual. A Web site should not be a barrier to personal communication; it should enhance that communication.
8. Are you recognized for your professional status? If the Web site is a true professional resource, it should provide the means for you to be recognized for your professional status and experience. While it may be slightly time-consuming to answer survey items, they allow you to be recognized as an event planning professional, and even more importantly, they allow for ongoing, enhanced, personalized communication between you and the organization.
9. Does the site go beyond informing to allow communication? The feature to look for is communication, not information. Are features available that allow you to provide information, and do features provide you with the information you need? Does the Web site generate communication from the organization, such as timely and useful online newsletters and notification of updates and features that are of interest to you? More importantly, do you get the proposals you need in a timely manner? Does the Web site lead to valuable interaction with the organization it represents? With online communication, "high-tech" should lead to "high-touch."
10. Does the Web site make you more efficient? The bottom line is your- the return on your online investment. From a valuable professional resource, you should demand efficient communication, excellent information, changing and adapting informational resources, and newsletters and educational materials such as case studies and in-depth profiles. These types of resources make your time online valuable; they increase your ROI.
It is easy for international event planners to recognize that time is one of your most valuable resources. Online event planning resources should be created with that in mind. These 10 tips will help you to identify the best of the Web and help you to avoid the pitfalls that all too often waste precious resources.