Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
Events on the Web
By Mike Gould
Last month's Business Monthly featured an article about running large conferences in Ann Arbor. This reminded me of the recent experience I had serving as webmaster for a Photoshop seminar, and a few other instances of web - event congruence I've been involved in. So here are some tips on how to leverage your website to help promote and administer your next big happening.
They're Coming, So You Better Build It
I am a Photoshop-aholic. I eat, sleep, breathe and click on Photoshop whenever possible. And lucky for me, the guy who wrote Photoshop, Thomas Knoll, lives right here in Ann Arbor. He and his wife Ruth run the Summers-Knoll School, and once a year in June they put on a 2-day event to raise money for the school. They invite the Grand Masters of Photoshop into town and put on a series of lectures and demonstrations at Washtenaw Community College. Last year saw the 3rd annual edition of this, which was called Photoshop Soup 2 Nuts.
I am a major consumer of this sort of personal developmental behavior, so I was delighted to be able to volunteer my time putting together the website to help promote the event. The URL for the site is at the end of this article.
I got involved ostensibly to help set up a PayPal payment system, but I ended up re-coding the site and updating it on a regular basis. I also did some minor text editing and giving of advice. We never did get the PayPal part of it running, but hope to get to that next year.
It Takes a Village
... to pull off an event like this. Fortunately, Ruth, who was running the show, has a crack team of doers, writers, gofers, drawers, photographers, and other assorted helpers. As this is a fund-raiser for a non-profit, all are volunteers, and hard-working ones at that.
My job was to follow her direction and populate the site with the information the attendees would need to encourage them to attend, choose their classes, and find the event location and lodging for their stay.
Selling the Soup
As with any promotional activity, the web site is but one part of the picture. There were ads in all the major national Photoshop magazines, one-page brochures available at local camera stores, and articles in local papers. All mentioned the web site.
Here's why you want to use the web for your event:
No need for a fancy and expensive 4-color brochure - you can put up pictures cheaply and easily that would cost a fortune to print and send to people. I even put up a picture gallery of the previous year's event to give people an idea of what to expect.
Instant updates - adding a speaker or feature? No problem, just edit the web pages involved (I did this a lot).
Instant access to a sign-up mechanism - once you have figured out which classes to attend, you could click a button, fill out a form, and email in your application. In our case, this got complicated, as there were a number of different discount schemes involving signing up for several classes and hands-on sessions. To pull this off with a PayPal account would have been a major programming project, and we ran out of time and resources.
And, of course, links - you go to the site and "Click here for Accommodations", "Click here for Maps", "Click here to visit the Summers-Knoll School".
Have one person at your company be the contact for the web guy/gal. As an old hand webberizer, I have had some dicey experiences trying to follow directions from several people who had different ideas how things should be done. All my directives were from Ruth and things went smoothly from my perspective.
Have a clear idea of your audience, what exactly you are selling, and the message you are putting out to sell it. Pretty standard advice for any site, actually. You tailor your pages to fit the demographic you are trying to reach. In our case, we went after graphics people who were presumed to have reasonably fast connections to the Internet. But I still tried to keep file sizes small to accommodate those with modems.
Contact the webmasters of the sites you are linking to (local motels, etc.) and encourage them to link to you. Don't forget the local convention bureau; make sure you are on their calendar and they have your URL. Remember that the more sites that link to you, the cooler Google thinks you are and the more likely you are to appear at the top of the list in searches.
Speaking of which, don't forget elementary SEO (Search Engine Optimization) when having your site built. You want to include a good assortment of keywords in your code, and those keywords need to appear on your pages. Put the names of your presenters and class topics in your keywords, so that people looking for them can find you in Google. If you do a search on "Photoshop seminar Michigan" you find us at number 1.
The other nice thing about web information is that it can be done very quickly. I had a professor contact me because she had an event coming up in a week and the attendee information piece still needed to be completed. She didn't need promotion, as the people coming to the event (Project Great Start) already knew about it. She needed directions to the venue from several different directions, a list of local restaurants, information about the speakers (including downloadable PowerPoint presentations), and a printable agenda. She gave me all the info in a couple of Word documents, and some pictures to work with for a logo, and turned me loose. I put together the entire site in 5 hours, most of which was taken up by the logo design. (I don't mean to brag here - any competent web worker can do this in a similar amount of time.)
So the next time you have company coming to your company, call your webmeister first to prepare the way.
Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler and digital photographer for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes visitors to his website at www.mondodyne.com.