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Growing Your Meeting In CyberSpace
by Philippa Gamse

As increasing numbers of people search for information on the Internet, it becomes more imperative to have a compelling Website to promote and support your meetings.

Here is my list of "The Seven Most Important Things You can do Online":
  • Identify all your Online Markets
    It's a common mistake to focus your attention on the obvious target audience for your meetings site - the potential attendees.

    But many other types of visitor may find your site, and it's important to consider whether they're important to you, how you want to engage them, and what outcomes you'd like to achieve with them.

    Visitors to your meetings Website might include:
    • past / potential attendees
    • suppliers / vendors / exhibitors / sponsors / insurers
    • Board members / employees / volunteers
    • content seekers
    • media
    • job seekers
    • competition
    "Content seekers" is the term I use for members of the public who may not be regular customers or members of your organization, but who find you through a keyword search because they're interested in the content of your meeting. If you admit the public to your events, this is an important audience who might require different communications from your regular participants.

    If you're looking for publicity, don't forget the importance of a press center. This should be very easy to find, and should contain all the information that a reporter would need to cover your event - they're usually under tight deadlines and will really appreciate this.

    I include "competition" in this list because many people have asked me whether it's dangerous to put too much good information on your Website "in case the competition sees it". My (somewhat obvious) answer? "If your competition can't see it, neither can the people you're looking to attract!"

  • Set your Goals
    This sounds self-evident, but is often overlooked. You can't evaluate your return on investment (see #7 later) if you don't know what you want to achieve. What will be your measures of success for this site in terms of your meeting? What are the key outcomes that you want - registrations, exhibitors, media attention, ongoing discussion forums, etc.

    Also consider the expenses of the site against any potential savings - for instance, if you're implementing online registration, you want to be satisfied that your system can replace (and hopefully improve on) your real-world processes in a cost-effective manner.

  • Make it About Them, not You
    Your site should be written from your visitors' point of view, not yours. Does your meeting description page clearly recognize why the reader might be there - what's in it for them to attend your event, and why they should care? What are the problems or issues that they might have, and how will participating in this meeting address them?

    Include some testimonials from previous attendees giving clear examples of how they've benefited from this event in the past. Third party endorsements are worth far more than your own promotional text. They should be spread throughout your site, not relegated to a separate page (because few visitors will go to it).

  • Make it Easy to do Business With You
    It's all too easy to throw online roadblocks into the paths of your visitors, perhaps without even realizing it. A couple of my favorite examples of this are:
    • Site search engines that return "no results found", making the visitor feel foolish. Clearly they're looking for something, so offer to have a representative call them - or provide further help with your search process
    • Asking for registration details prematurely, before you've created enough trust with a new visitor. Privacy issues and concern about spam are major barriers to volunteering personal information.


  • Every Page of your Site should Have a Strategy
    Whatever the outcomes that you want from your site, you need to ask for them. Too many Web pages end weakly, with no clear calls to action. Don't make your visitors have to work to decide what to do next - they won't! Every page on your site should have a strategy - invite the visitor to interact with you, or go to the next page, but make it easy and obvious.

    So, at the appropriate place in each page (or at several points in the page), include a link to the appropriate form - "register for this meeting", "ask for an exhibitor packet" - or whatever invitation may be relevant.

  • Practice Multi-Channel Integrated Marketing
    Offline marketing activities, such as postcard campaigns can be extremely useful in driving traffic to your Website. Think of all your marketing tactics as inter-related, and not as separate.

    Don't rely on search engines to bring traffic to you - there are many other ways to create online buzz:
    • paid advertising - e-zine sponsorship / banners / pay-per-click searches
    • public relations and coverage on other sites
    • placing articles by your experts and speakers on sites and in publications read by your target audiences
    • and of course, targeted e-mail marketing to your existing mailing lists


  • Measure your Success
    The keys to evaluating the return on investment in your site, to improving it, and often to further business development ideas can be found in your Web traffic reports. These show what visitors are looking for, how long they spend on the site, where they go, where they leave, and what rate of response you get to the various calls to action.

    These reports can be daunting - a mass of figures, graphs and URL's. But I'd strongly suggest that someone in your organization should understand them. Otherwise, you're shooting in the dark with your Web investment.
Philippa Gamse, 1998-2003. All rights reserved.

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