I admit it — I'm a blogging addict. I love having a Web site (suepelletier.typepad.com/meetingsblog) where I can post news, resources, and links to sites of interest and spout off my humble opinions — and sometimes even get comments in return. (For more on what a blog is, see sidebar on page 13.) And blogging is getting pretty popular — ABC News even named bloggers “people of the year” in 2004. But the only use of blogs in conjunction with meetings that I had heard of was people writing their opinions about speakers and exhibits live from the show. I couldn't help but wonder: Could blogging have applications for meeting planners?
So, as we were planning the 2005 W2W Invitational, held at the Chaminade Conference Resort, Santa Cruz, Calif., in March, I figured, why not throw a blog or two into the mix? After all, this small group of women involved in the hospitality and meeting industry doesn't just meet annually to brainstorm ways to further women in the industry personally and professionally, and to enhance meeting planning as a profession — we also are focused on designing our annual event as optimally as possible, in hopes of coming up with a model that will enhance educational outcomes for participants at any meeting.
And thus, at my suggestion and with the OK of the rest of the planning team, W2W entered the blogosphere. Here's what we learned.
How It Worked
I created two blogs, one for the planning team to use to figure out logistics and meeting design issues, and the other for the group to use on-site to record their thoughts, progress, and action plans. The thought was that it would encourage note-taking and provide a resource and a way for those who couldn't attend to take part in the conversations. Both blogs were created on Blogger.com, which is free, incredibly easy to set up, and very low maintenance, although it does lack certain features, such as password protection, that Typepad and other blogging hosts provide for a small monthly fee.
For the planning blog, with some caveats noted below, the team seemed to like having one place to discuss discrete ideas, rather than a running list of add-on e-mails that often changed subject midstream. Because it was set up relatively late in the planning process, most of the hard work had already been done, but it did come in handy to discuss last-minute logistics, as well as larger discussions about potential outcomes we would like to see.
For the on-site blog, we set up several laptops in the meeting space, and people were invited to write a summary of what each topic-area subgroup was coming up with over the course of the two-day meeting.
Two Blogs, One Problem
The good news was that people did use the blogs. The bad news is that some used them once or twice, and then forgot they existed. Part of the problem was that, in our zeal to introduce people to new technologies, we had too many online options, including a wiki site, where any member of the group could add to or edit an ongoing discussion; our Yahoo! Group site, which includes a chat function, a listserv, and a place to upload resources; and a couple of Google Group sites we added later for various subgroups to work in. We were all over the Web — and I think we had a bit of tech fatigue by the time the meeting rolled around.
Plus, blogs are a “pull” technology, meaning that you have to go to the site to participate, as opposed to a “push” technology like e-mail, which comes into your in-box and reminds you to pay attention to it. Some people like pull, and some like push — we had both types at W2W. The planning team were push people it was particularly an issue for them.
Some other complaints from those at the event were that it was too distracting to write while the meeting was going on since they had to drop out of discussions to publish their blog postings. One has to wonder whether, if the demographics of the group of 23 on-site participants had been weighted more heavily toward the younger generations, the multitasking issue might not have been as big a deal. (The majority of participants were in their 30s, with some in their 40s and 50s and one 60-year-old). Another unforeseen issue was the overwhelming temptation for some to finish a blog post and then go on to check e-mail, etc., instead of rejoining the meeting.
For those who were trying to participate remotely, though, even the people who weren't thrilled with blogging were glad to have it. As one remote participate said via e-mail, after explaining why blogging falls far short of face-to-face interaction, “Having said that, if it wasn't for the technology, we wouldn't have been able to participate this year.”
With so much negative reaction, we had to wonder if we should just chuck the blog for next year's meeting.
Obviously, some people didn't like blogging. But the blogs also had their devotees. One said, “I don't mind typing to talk — and I love reading everyone's posts. It's like a book full of characters I've fallen in love with, and I get to catch up with them each time I'm online.” Another participant, who has several blogs of her own, said, “I love blogs. I love the ways in which they support authentic voices and the ways in which they allow for, and actually demand, immediacy of thought and creative linking of ideas.”
So we're rethinking our online strategy, rather than throwing the baby out with the blog-water. Some lessons learned:
Consolidate the various sites into one central Web site, rather than having them scattered hither and yon.
Familiarize people with how to use the technology further in advance of the on-site meeting. I didn't set up the blog until the week of the meeting, and since most participants had never blogged before, some weren't comfortable with how the process works.
Rethink how to handle on-site posting so that people don't get pulled away from the work they're doing to catch up on the blog. One possibility is to hire a scribe whose job would be to record what's happening.
Add an e-mail update alert to remind people to visit the blog when new items are posted.
As one participant put it: “I think the way we used the blog for the W2W gathering was a start. … The question is how to satisfy those who thrive on this and consider it vital, and how to involve and satisfy those who don't — giving each the possibility of having a shared experience in the process.”
Another topic for conversation on the blog …
What Is a Blog?
A weblog, or blog, is a type of Web site that contains time-stamped posts, usually in reverse chronological order. While some are mainly online diaries, others cover political campaigns, corporate concerns, and pretty much every topic under the sun. According to the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “Many weblogs enable visitors to leave public comments, which can lead to a community of readers centered around the blog; others are non-interactive …
“The format of weblogs varies, from simple bullet lists of hyperlinks, to article summaries with user-provided comments and ratings. Individual weblog entries are almost always date- and time-stamped, with the newest post at the top of the page. Because links are so important to weblogs, most blogs have a way of archiving older entries and generating a static address for individual entries; this static link is referred to as a permalink. The latest headlines, with hyperlinks and summaries, are offered in weblogs in the RSS or Atom XML-format, to be read with a feed reader” such as feedster.com, bloglines.com, newzcrawler.com, and feedreader.com.