The online world is no longer in broadcast-only mode. Until fairly recently, the Web was pretty much a new channel for the same style of info-sharing as TV, newspapers, radio, and magazines, with the e-publisher broadcasting information to users. No more.

With the arrival of social technologies including blogs, wikis, podcasts and vidcasts, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, etc., the Web has become a two-way street where users also can share their opinions, knowledge, and often pure silliness through text, images, audio, and video.

Blogs, in particular, have become a mainstay of the participatory Web, and now they are emerging as an important facet of face-to-face meetings for both corporations and associations. Through blogs people can share news, opinions, insights, and links to other items of interest. Usually written in chronological order, blogs often allow others to comment on individual posts. Bloggers also often can leave a trackback at another blogger’s post, which will take people to another blog to see the conversation continued. The first blogs consisted of written posts, but they increasingly include photos, videos, and audio files.

Blog trends

According to its April 2007 report, blog search engine Technorati is now tracking over 70 million weblogs. Technorati says about 120,000 new blogs are being created every day--or about a blog and a half per second.

With RSS (real simple syndication, a way to get updates on all your favorite sites in one place) going mainstream--fully integrated into Microsoft’s OS Vista, Google Alerts, Yahoo mail, etc.--blog readership should rise, though probably not as fast as the number of blogs being created.

Blogs and meetings

Here is how to make blogs an effective meetings management tool.

Before the event:

  • Create buzz and build anticipation.
  • Update attendees on new developments.
  • Prepare attendees for meeting topics with links to related background info.
  • Test drive topics and speakers by posting them, and asking for comments and suggestions from attendees.

During the event:

  • Talk about the good things those in attendance are experiencing, such as photos of keynotes, speaker quotes, and snippets about the destination.
  • Let attendees join in. Have guest bloggers post about the sessions they attend.
  • Don’t filter reality. If something didn’t go well, talk about that too. Word will get out anyway (attendees do talk to each other); why not be proactive and acknowledge that "this didn’t go quite as planned, and here’s what we’re going to do next time to make it come out differently."
  • Acknowledge and link to non-official bloggers who are posting about your event. Find out who they are, and reach out to them as you would to other media outlets.

After the event:

  • Share links and resources for more information.
  • Have attendees share lessons learned, and what they intend to do with what they learned.
  • Ask them to share stories of how they applied what they learned to their jobs.

Should you be a blogger?

Time commitment: One thing is for sure, blogging will take more time than you thought it would. It’s not just writing the posts; you’ll spend even more time researching news outlets and other blogs for things to post about. It is a good idea to set up a free blog on Blogger and try it for a few weeks in test mode to see what the time commitment will be and whether the blog will be worth it.

Resources commitment: Thankfully, this is a no-brainer. Most blog software is either free or extremely inexpensive.

Liability issues: A key concern is the very thing that makes blogging such a great tool: Free conversation. On the organization’s side, there are worries that someone--be it the blogger or a commenter--will say something inappropriate or libelous. On the blogger side, there are worries that something they say could get them fired, which has happened a few times.

Those who are worried about commenters saying something inappropriate can always turn off the comments function; just be aware that that negates what a blog is all about: conversation. You also can moderate comments, so nothing goes up that you haven’t pre-approved. Or you can just let the comments fall where they may; in case law so far, it has been held that as long as you don’t edit a comment posted by someone else, you’re not liable for what they say, even if it appears on your blog.

Bloggers who are worried about getting in trouble should follow this rule: Don’t say anything stupid! If you wouldn’t want your boss or your mother to see it, don’t post it. If you are unsure what constitutes libel, trade secrets, or anything else that might get you in trouble, ask your organization’s legal council for guidelines. It’s really just common sense, though.

Other legal concerns: The issues are exactly the same as they would be for any other method of disseminating information, like a newsletter or magazine. The organization has to trust the person who’s blogging on its behalf, and make sure the blogger understands what is protected as free speech, not to give away trade secrets, etc. Some good resources on these issues include law.com and eff.org.

Blog tips and etiquette

Anonymous v. named
The blogger should always let people know who it is that’s blogging. There are reasons why some would prefer to remain anonymous, but that negates the transparency that is the hallmark of blogging.

Group v. solo
There are pros and cons to each. A blog written by one person lets the audience get to know that person’s personality and develop more of a relationship with him or her. On the con side, a solo blog puts all the work on one person’s shoulders.

How to come up with things to post about
Read, read, read. Find other blogs related to what you’re posting about (use Technorati to find blogs by topic, and put your own URL on a watch list, so technorati can alert you when anyone mentions your blog. Use RSS feeds (real simple syndication) to keep up with the blogs and online news resources in your topical area. A good RSS feed is Bloglines, but many others are available. One that’s pretty slick is Google Alerts.) Comment on other blog posts, and develop dialogues between your blogs.

Tips from this year’s BloggerCon at the American Society of Association Executives conference:

  • Decide on a posting schedule, and stick to it. Choose a schedule that's manageable--quality is better than quantity.
  • Reinforce the idea that your blog is a discussion. If there is a smart comment, paste it into its own post, which will invite more interactivity.
  • To be an effective blog writer, read many blogs--not just in your own area of interest, but more broadly as well.
  • Choose a voice and a topic, and stick to it. Your blog might be a personal reflection or a news-sharing vehicle, but it's hard for it to be both, and your readers will notice when the voice isn't consistent.
  • A blog can include more than just text; it also can have video, audio, and photos. Authors promoting their new books is a great source for audio interviews. And if you shoot photos of an event, send a link to the post with those photos to the people pictured in them. They are likely to send the link to others, and to comment.

Can blogging help build your business?

Yes, but not in the way a traditional pr campaign will. And don’t give up on your other marketing techniques--blogs still aren’t all that mainstream, and many people need that e-newsletter or print brochure. Also, do not use a blog to post press releases or other things written in company-speak. Make it personal and opinionated. Don’t be afraid to be controversial--that’s what will get the attention of other bloggers.

Marketing your blog

Interact with other bloggers in your space. Comment on their posts and leave trackbacks. Be visible in the blogging community, and they’ll start paying attention to you.

Make the blog prominent on your home page. Check out how meetingsnet.com handles the face2face blog, with the last three posts appearing at the top of the home page.

Include lots of links to other resources, and encourage others blogging on similar topics to link to you, or at least put you on their blogroll. The more links you have, both ingoing and outbound, the more search engines will like you and list you at the top of searches.

Do at least basic SEO (search engine optimization), like you would for anything else you want the search engines to pick up.

Some meetings-related blogs