By Alejandro Contreras, Director, Technology and Platforms, American Express Meetings and Events and Danielle Puceta, Global Channel Lead, DoubleDutch
Not long ago, meeting attendees were bombarded with printed welcome packets, brochures and conference agendas the moment they arrived at an event. Meeting planners had to collect, interpret and store all of the information that attendees provided manually. While they were able to track their attendees’ participation, keeping all of their feedback and contributions together posed a serious, time-consuming challenge.
Now in 2015, we are seeing a dramatic shift in the way we run events. Mobile apps are not only making a splash in the consumer world, but the business world is also taking notice, particularly in the meetings and events space. All the paperwork of the past can be found within a single device in the palm of your hand. And this mobile trend is really taking flight. In 2014, a study by Meeting Professionals International and DoubleDutch showed that 63 per cent of meeting planners are using mobile apps at their events, and this number is expected to jump even higher over the next year.
Although the benefits of event apps are hard to deny, simply having an event app is not enough. A lot of careful planning goes into creating an app that is right for a specific meeting or event. More specifically, there are four critical components that meeting planners should consider when designing an event app.
1. Manage the basics
Event applications can serve many functions, but it’s most important to make sure they are easy to use. Many attendees may multitask during the event; therefore it is important that the app is intuitive.
On a most basic level, you want to include event-critical information such as the agenda, maps, and background on sessions and speakers. Beyond that, meeting apps also present an opportunity to put the most valuable and timely information at attendees’ fingertips, so be sure your app allows you to make changes on the fly. Apps also present planners with the chance to create a closed social network. By leveraging in-app engagement tools planners have the ability to create a socially connected experience for attendees.
To drive adoption of your event app, display attendees’ status updates and feedback in real time on large screens throughout the event venue. These visuals not only add an extra layer of interest to the experience, but also give attendees something to strive for: their name in lights. By giving clear instructions on how to download the application and illustrating attendee engagement and activity, users are more inclined to opt in and join the action.
2. Discard distraction
Attendee distraction is a key concern for planners in today’s hyper-connected world. Improving the meeting experience through in-app features such as surveys, live polling, real-time Q&A and other techniques can help keep attendees engaged with your content, and out of their inbox. For example, some planners use “the scavenger hunt” concept to tap into attendees’ competitive nature. This allows meeting planners to provide a checklist of goals in the app for attendees to find and check off their list. Other engaging activities can include trivia challenges, where organizers ask attendees questions and encourage them to participate by posting status updates to earn points.
Additionally, meeting planners can share important real-time event information using promoted posts, which are updates pinned to the top of the activity feed for a set amount of time, or by designating an “App Champion” to evangelize technology and act as the voice of your event.
Attendees are able to use the app to elevate the conversation by using hashtags, tagging/mentioning other attendees, and posting status updates to the activity feed, similar to popular social networks. For example, attendees can use status updates to post what they’re learning about and can write comments to network or arrange meals with others attending the event.
3. Emphasize surveys and polling
Another benefit to using an event app is the ability to collect attendee feedback at the event, rather than waiting until after its completion. The app uses contextual triggers, like time and location, to prompt attendees to give their feedback on a particular session or speaker. With the information still fresh in the attendees’ mind, meeting planners benefit from more relevant responses and higher completion rates. While paper surveys have a 20 to 25 per cent completion rate, surveys given within a mobile app during the session can have a 60 to 100 per cent completion rate.
Making polls fun is also critical. For example, at an internal company event, meeting planners can implement a company culture trivia quiz into the mix, creating an entertaining new way for attendees to interact during the meeting and also learn about the company and executive leaders participating in the conference. Live polling is a great way to generate interaction, buzz and get people to use the meeting’s mobile app to give feedback in real time. For an external conference, attendees could be surveyed as to what they are most excited to learn about. Events that utilize live polling see an increase in engagement of up to 25 per cent.
4. Use the data
Meeting planners can use the app to communicate with attendees during the event, gather real-time feedback for course-correction and identify opportunities for improvement that can be used to plan future events. This can include feedback on goals, presenters, facilitators, venue, content, format and design. By measuring feedback from attendees, planners can evaluate their ROI and make improvements in the moment and for the future. For instance, if certain sessions are more popular compared to others, meeting planners can use this information to adjust the room size and session activities for future events.
A good event app will not only avoid paper piles (and save money on printing costs), but can also add to the overall event experience in a positive way. Although there are many tools to sift through and various levels of functionality to consider, keep your special event goals in mind and only select those that help achieve them. Most importantly, data is only beneficial if you put it to good use, so make sure to thoroughly review past event data when considering event app functionality.