By Phil Rappoport
The growth of mobile app usage for meetings and events continues to climb rapidly, and the tipping point might be occurring right now. The 2016 Event App Bible revealed that while 30 per cent of event professionals already incorporate mobile event apps, an additional 37 per cent said they planned to use event apps within the next year.
Apprehension that existed three to five years ago is clearly giving way to acceptance. An oft-heard obstacle was the reluctance by leadership in the organization, typically representative of an older demographic, to embrace technology in their organization beyond a website and a CRM. The reasons for adopting mobile event apps vary by organization, and they are not mutually exclusive. Some are choosing to seize technology because they must cut costs to produce printed materials or they have seen a significant demographic shift to a younger, more mobile audience, where everyone is carrying at least one mobile device. Others feel that sustainability is a core value of their organization, and going mobile makes a statement.
New school vs. old school
The fact is, mobile event apps can capture the same meeting information as a printed program guide, and attendees can use it before and after the event. Not only does having an app offer convenience to change the agenda on the fly, it acts as a tool to foster networking among attendees and sponsors that a printed agenda will never achieve.
As the adoption toward mobile event apps has grown, so has the community of providers. There are now more than 100 providers of mobile apps for the event and meeting industry. User interfaces are different. Some features, such as speaker lists, are common among apps, but other features are unique. Some providers specialize in large-scale trade shows or medical-related events. Other providers tout their Facebook-like activity feeds to elevate the fun, collegial aspect of conferences, with pricing all over the map.
So, what’s the best way to begin the search to find the best mobile app?
For starters, it is important for the event planner to establish an “attendee value proposition,” which can be a mission statement or a list of items reflecting your event goals, your requirements, and the expectations you have of your attendees.
It sounds like a chore, but is it necessary? Yes, having that road map is beneficial to both you and your provider and it can eliminate miscommunication at the outset. Articulating it up front to potential mobile app providers — either verbally or through an RFP — will help providers focus on the planner’s needs and ensure that the provider’s set of features matches the desired outcomes and expectations.
Let’s create a fictional conference, starting with goals.
Goals: The first goal is to increase attendee satisfaction 20 per cent, which we measure by surveys. We have done the analysis and an increase of 20 per cent will generate an increase in early registration for the following year as well as a respectable increase in membership renewals.
Another goal is to reduce the cost of the printed agenda, including graphic design, printing, and shipping. Instead of eliminating it this year, we will start our transition to mobile by shrinking the size of the book, promote the keynote speakers and meeting tracks, and maintain space for sponsors who still want to see their logos in print before agreeing to ditch the hard copy and entirely embrace mobile.
Requirements: The requirements for our conference are that we need an app that is available on both mobile devices and the web, so that our contingent of laptop users can access the app. Another requirement might be that we have 300 abstracts. If the abstracts are not going to be available in the printed guide, they need to be easily accessible and listed by category. We also offer CEU/CME credits, so we would like the app to be able to help us process those. In order to know we have the best speakers, we are going to need a rating system. This is a very active attendee base, too, so we would like to do some polling during sessions.
Expectations: Our expectations are that 75 per cent of our attendees will install the app and use it every day of the conference. We also expect that attendees will make new professional connections and download presentations, and that at least half of the attendees will take advantage of the app for their CEU/CME credits.
So, the Attendee Value Proposition for the conference might include a list like this:
- A variety of networking features to enhance connections among attendees
- The ability to create a personalized schedule from the list of concurrent sessions
- Connecting attendees to exhibitors, such as scanning features, appointment-making, or a fun activity such as a scavenger hunt
- Referencing notes and contacts one year after the event
- Rating sessions and speakers
- Instant polling to enhance engagement during sessions
- Continuing education credit execution
There is no correct list or “value proposition” because every organization is different. But keep in mind that it needs to reflect what the organization is expecting the attendees to value and take advantage of at the event.
After you have created your value proposition, you need to identify some potential app providers through research, personal experience, or industry contacts. How can you distinguish among prospective mobile app providers? Here are some key points to consider.
- Features, navigation, and customization: View several apps from each provider you interview. Think about the demographics of your attendees. From the very first screen, can you envision them quickly understanding how to find the information they are looking for? If the event itself will have a lot of content, is the app organized so that you can easily navigate to schedules, speaker profiles, downloadable presentations, surveys, polls, and note-taking? If socialization is important, look at chat capabilities, activity feeds, and gamification. Find out what is standard and what costs extra.
- Support and workflow: Gain a good understanding of the provider’s timeline and other requirements to produce the app. Review the back-end publishing tool. Does it seem easy to use? What kind of training and ongoing support will the provider make available to you in the months leading up to the event, and what are the help procedures and availabilities during the event for last-minute changes or glitches? Look at the provider’s statistics for app adoption. And ask providers about issues they encounter from their end, too.
- Contracts and pricing: Review what is included in the app proposal and what may cost extra. Do you want to try the app for one event and then make a long-term decision, or does the provider require you to commit to multiple events and years? Are you getting your own branded app, or do your attendees need to download the provider’s app first and then search for your event? Are there fees to integrate with your registration platform? Is the provider charging an annual fee? Can the app perform without WiFi? Is there a web version for laptop users and those without iOS (Apple) and Android devices, and is it included in the price or does it cost extra? Is the app provider developing new features?
Do not assume that the most well-known names in the app industry are the easiest to work with, and do not assume that a higher price means it must be a better product. Pricing varies widely across our industry, and that contributes to a lot of head-spinning among event planners. Reach out to references and ask them for pros and cons of that app provider.
Good luck with your selection. Be sure to look at usage metrics and get feedback from your internal staff and attendees after the conference to determine issues to address next time or features that you can promote better. Attendees will remember whether the app has been a help or a hindrance to their event experience, and they will be sure to offer you their opinion. Long term, you and your attendees will appreciate the app that works well for you.
A good resource is the annual Event App Bible, which can be downloaded for free at http://www.eventmanagerblog.com/event-app-bible/. It lists many providers, their features, and if known, pricing. To help compare app providers, we have developed a one-page worksheet that lists some key questions to ask. For a free copy, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Questions.”
About the author
Phil Rappoport is Vice President, Sales & Marketing for AgendaPop, a mobile event app based in the Washington, D.C. area, serving associations, nonprofits, and corporations worldwide. For 30 years, Phil has served in marketing and promotion management capacities for companies in technology, consumer products, and broadcasting, such as AOL, ABC Television, Fox Television, Sony, and Tribune Broadcasting. Phil is a sought-after speaker for several national meeting professional organizations. He can be contacted at email@example.com or +1-703-793-4955.