Janet Green, with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s communications department, and Mike Sansone, owner and
founder of ConverStations and “godfather” of the Blogga Nostra, gather for conversation and coffee at Panera Bread
Co. at 6740 University Ave. in West Des Moines for the Central Iowa Bloggers’“offline meeting” in November. Photo by Amanda Ripp
Janet Green, with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s communications department, and Mike Sansone, owner and founder of ConverStations and “godfather” of the Blogga Nostra, gather for conversation and coffee at Panera Bread Co. at 6740 University Ave. in West Des Moines for the Central Iowa Bloggers’“offline meeting” in November. Photo by Amanda Ripp
Far from the streets of Italy, Iowa's "blogging mafia" gathers for an offline meeting at a local restaurant. Laptops with a side of conversation are on the menu, not spaghetti.

Central Iowa's "Blogga Nostra" is an eclectic group of local bloggers, made up of professionals from a variety of fields, and it's growing in membership, influence and popularity.

"The reach (of blogging) extends beyond borders; it brings money and business into Iowa," said Mike Sansone, the owner and founder of ConverStations, a consulting company that coaches businesses on blogging and social media, and "godfather" of the Blogga Nostra.

The Central Iowa Bloggers' nickname came about when a member referred to Sansone, who traces his roots to Sicily, as the "godfather of the Iowa blogging family."

Central Iowa's blogging family is building connections within the group and throughout the nation.

"In the old days, it took a phone book and a chamber of commerce to extend your business to another city," Sansone said. Blogga Nostra members are extending their businesses through more high-tech means with their blogs.

Blogging has already opened new doors for Angela Maiers, an independent education consultant who recently joined the Central Iowa Bloggers.

"I have seen a difference, not just with blogging, but being on the Web," Maiers said. "It has helped me to build connections with businesses and other educators, and helped me to prepare students for the 21st century. There are powerful people with powerful ideas outside of the classroom and I have made those connections through blogging."

Maiers said she has had informal discussions with a fellow Blogga Nostra member about the possibility of business ventures. Blogging has also connected her with a teacher in Hawaii. They plan to meet, Maiers said, when she travels to Hawaii to conduct a workshop and will discuss possible collaboration on future projects.

Timothy Johnson, chief accomplishment officer of Carpe Factum Inc., a visiting assistant professor at Drake University and member of Central Iowa Bloggers, met his favorite author, Steve Faber, through blogging.

"A couple of months after I began blogging, I got an e-mail from Steve, out of the blue, complimenting me on my writing," Johnson said. After making the connection, Faber spoke to one of Johnson's classes.

Mike Wagner, founder and president of White Rabbit Group Ltd., a brand consulting company, and a Blogga Nostra member, said blogging has allowed his company to "enlarge its reach."

After making speeches or conducting workshops around the country, Wagner has a platform to continue conversations with consumers that could lead to possible business opportunities.

"When there are possible business opportunities, you are able to sustain those relationships," Wagner said. "You have a shot to do business with people. Typically you hand a business card to someone and they throw it away. Give them a brochure, maybe they read it and then they throw it away. With blogging you can keep up the conversation. You keep business growing and react to consumers through an interactive piece."

Besides making connections and creating business opportunities, links from fellow bloggers help members with search engine optimization.

"You link out to other people, or mention them on a post; it is a reciprocal effect," said Rush Nigut, a local business attorney and member of the Blogga Nostra. "They write about you, and then someone else writes a link. That's how it grows."

If a blog is linked to a more popular or higher-traffic blog, it will be easier for search engines to find the site, increasing the blogger's popularity. Brett Trout, a local patent attorney and a member of Central Iowa Bloggers, said, "This is huge to Google."

Linking to members of the Central Iowa Bloggers and outside blogs also helps to broaden the readership of the blog. Someone seeking legal advice may be on Trout's blog, click on a link to Maiers' blog and then discover advice on education.

"The diversity of the group makes for different readership; it allows us to cross audiences," said Andy Brudtkuhl, a Web developer for Simplifive LLC and a member of the Blogga Nostra.

In December, 10 Central Iowa Bloggers attracted attention when they were listed on a blog that recognized 239 "outstanding bloggers" from across the nation. Sansone, Maiers, Johnson, Wagner and Trout made the list.

Blogging is a cost-effective and personable way to represent an individual or business.

"The cost is minimal," Nigut said. "Bloggers can spend anywhere from nothing to a couple hundred dollars per month. Web sites can cost thousands of dollars to maintain."

Blogs allow for interaction with readers and a conversational voice, whereas Web sites and brochures use a more professional voice, Sansone said. "But with blogging, now we can see who they really are," Sansone said.

The Blogga Nostra holds an "offline meeting" the first Friday of every month at 8 a.m. at Panera Bread Co. at 6740 University Ave. in West Des Moines.

"This is the blogosphere offline," Sansone said about the monthly meetings. "Conversations in a community and people with various interests connecting."

Learn more about the Central Iowa Bloggers, or Blogga Nostra, at www.centraliowabloggers.com.