Financial services and insurance companies are nothing if not conservative, and few seem to have jumped on the blogging bandwagon — at least, few have so far. But even if you don't think blogging (short for Web logging), or online journaling, is for your organization, keep in mind that, chances are, your attendees are blogging about your meetings — and your company. Fortunately, it's easy these days to keep track of what they're saying, whether it's to do damage control or just to improve customer service by responding to their requests even before they officially make them known to you.

Among the online tools available are Technorati, PubSub, Blogpulse, Feedster, NewsGator, and Bloglines. Each allows you to track keywords, phrases, and even your meeting's name, almost in real time, so you know exactly when people are talking about your conference, and what they're saying. It's important to see what's going on because, while you may not want to pay attention to the world of blogs, chances are it's paying attention to you. Wouldn't you just love to know what the company's top producers thought of your last incentive?

But why not join in the blogging frenzy? It's inexpensive, it's fun, and it's a great way to maintain community among far-flung team members or agents. You can update people on upcoming events, along with encouraging action on important issues; inform attendees about issues your organization is dealing with; and create another place to share information in between face-to-face meetings. You might just find that a blog, usually written in reverse chronological order and in a much more conversational tone than other types of publications — will increase interest in your conferences, and in your organization.

Most blogging sites — and increasingly, other Web site as well — also offer RSS news-readers. RSS, or Rich Site Summary — also known as Real Simple Syndication — is an XML format for distributing news headlines on the Web. A blog visitor can plug the RSS feed into his news readers, which can reside either on his computer or on Web sites like bloglines.com, and the news reader will regularly check the site and let him know when something new has been posted to the sites he's monitoring.

This means that, once their audience has caught on to the RSS phenomenon, conference organizers can stop worrying about their e-mail marketing messages getting blocked by spam filters, inadvertently deleted, or otherwise misplaced. If someone wants to keep up-to-date on what's happening with your event, they just subscribe to your RSS feed on the event Web site.

So, is blogging right for you?

The Upside of Blogging

Blogs add some informality, friendliness, and energy to a Web site. They get more people involved, and they show how active and exciting the organization is based on what's going on in their blog — a natural for any incentive program.

Blogging also can save on your printing and mailing costs by cutting down on the number of print communications needed — and it also is a much faster way to communicate than a print or online newsletter, since it can be updated instantly.

Because many blog hosts allow you to password-protect the blog, you can use blogs for all kinds of confidential internal meetings, as well as any conferences you may be putting on for the public. Just imagine what it would be like if…

  • your sales and marketing guru were willing to blog about the latest tips, techniques, leads, and strategies she'll be introducing at the next sales meeting. You'd spend less time going over the nuts and bolts, and more time sharing success stories and troubleshooting problem areas by the time the meeting rolls around — and your sales force will be pumped up to spend face-to-face time with the voice they've come to know via the blog.

  • your top educational specialist were running a training blog, with links to articles and news about the topic of your next training meeting. Attendees would be up to speed on the topic before the meeting started and be ready to hit the ground running, with an understanding of why the training is so important to the company's strategic goals.

  • your department heads were blogging about streamlining processes, praising good performances, shoring up weak areas, and providing regular motivation to their attendees. Staff meetings can take on a whole new meaning when management takes a daily online interest in their employees.

  • your incentive planners were posting intriguing bits of information about all the good things to come at this year's incentive program, ramping up the excitement — and the competition — among potential winners.



Cautionary Notes

Blogs can be set up and maintained for free through sites like Google's Blogger.com, or for more features, they can be done for less than $100 per year through sites including Typepad.com. There also are inexpensive and free software programs, including Word-Press and Movable Type, that you can use to host a blog on your own servers. But blogs do require a serious investment of time and energy, both in the research and writing of posts, and in making sure no one says anything inappropriate in the comments area. Many organizations choose to not allow readers to comment in order to have more control over the content, and fewer worries over legal liabilities.

Most blogging software and hosting sites allow you the option of moderating comments so you can review them before they go live on the blog. Some experts don't recommend it, though, saying that it can be overwhelming to deal with all the comments and the comment spam that are likely to appear.

And your attendees just may not be ready for it yet. Blogging is still in its infancy. According to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, only one in four Americans are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with blogs, and 56 percent don't know a blog from a bootstrap. But since a quarter of all blog readers are aged 18 to 29 (an age bracket that makes up just 17 percent of the public), if your audience is young and/or tech-savvy, you might find that blogging reaches them in a way that other efforts don't.

So if you think that blogging might eventually be a good idea, go ahead and take the blogging concept for a test-drive on Blogger.com or one of the other free blog host sites to see how much time it takes and to get a feeling about what you're going to blog about. That way, when it comes time to have your blog more tightly integrated into your organization's Web site, you'll have an idea of what the blogging phenomenon is all about.

Tips from the Trenches

When I first started the face2face meetings and hospitality industry blog (blog.meet ingsnet.com/face2face) a couple of years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into! For example, did you know there's a blogging etiquette? While we tend to think of blogs as the Wild West of the Internet, there are some basic courtesies every new blogger should be aware of:

  • Always attribute the material you quote, and provide a link back to the original site you got it from. If you came upon it through a third party, thank them for pointing you toward that material, and provide a link to the third party as well.

  • In addition to the attribution and link, if you pick up quotes, ideas, or good links from other blogs, send them a trackback (if they allow trackbacks). This sends an e-mail to the original bloggers to let them know you mentioned them.

  • If you have more than one person posting to your blog, clearly identify up top who wrote the post. That keeps readers from getting confused, and helps your individual writers develop their own “voice.”

  • Provide a biography of each blogger and make it easy for people to access the information. Readers like to know who the blogger is. Be sure to include contact information, though you might want to get cryptic with e-mail addresses to cut down on spam (i.e., spelletier at primediabusiness dot com).

  • Keep the posts short and sweet. I'm guilty of the overly long post, but do as I say, not as I do!

  • Be opinionated, be provocative, but also be ready to listen and respond to criticism, in public, on your blog. If you say something that later you find out is wrong, fess up. People are more forgiving than you may think.
    SP