|Why Launch an App?|
Mobile applications are becoming nearly ubiquitous for association events. With app development timelines becoming shorter, and development costs decreasing, there’s no better time for associations to evaluate the benefits of creating a custom mobile event app.
Why Launch an App?
Many of the reasons that associations should consider a custom event app align directly with the mission of the organization and the goals of the event: delivery of industry or profession-specific information and education; creation and sharing of relevant content; and engagement and interaction of attendees, sponsors and exhibitors.
An event app also enables data analysis and decision-making for the event planner by capturing real-time information. For example, attendees’ pre-event session preferences can be analyzed to manage crowd flow and session seating planning; instant in-app session evaluations provide immediate insight on specific program elements. It also eliminates the need for printed agendas, speaker profiles, session handouts, attendee contact lists, evaluation surveys, and exhibition directories, which is an advantage to both the environment and the budget.
Probably the top reason however, is enhancing attendee engagement. A well-designed event app creates a functional user experience that fully engages your audience, providing tools for interacting, connecting, contributing and participating that extend the experience beyond the dates of the event.
What App Features are Most Important?
While some developers offer more than fifty unique features built into customized apps, a basic event app should include the following:
· Alerts and notifications: tools to push information to attendees. Alerts may be created and scheduled in advance, to be sent shortly before a big keynote address or the opening of the exhibit hall. Push notifications can be activated instantly to provide direction in the event of a venue or time change, an onsite crisis, or other logistical changes.
· An interactive session schedule: users browse the schedule and select which of the concurrent or breakout sessions to attend to create their personalized schedule. Some apps can also perform session check-in and attendance keeping for CEU tracking purposes.
· Interactive attendee, presenter, and exhibitor directories: robust apps will link directory listings to social media accounts, plus offer a headshot image or company logo, a short bio, and contact information. Some generate a QR code that may be scanned to share contact info via the app; others allow attendees and exhibitors to set appointments in advance.
· Access to event content: speaker presentations, reports, proceedings, event photos and video and exhibitor demonstrations are offered through an “event library”; interactive session notes and live comments during sessions can help create new content.
· Instant Feedback & Communications: audience polls, live Q&A, speaker and session evaluations and interactive “bulletin boards” provide real-time information to speakers and event planners and facilitate the sharing of information among attendees.
· Social media integration: users post and connect directly with popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. Creating a hashtag and tracking it in a live Twitter feed is one example.
· GPS-enabled features such as interactive exhibit hall diagrams with “find-a-booth” directions feature, and venue and local area interactive maps can provide walking or driving directions based on the GPS position of the user.
Where Do I Start?
With the growing demand, the universe of developers has also increased, making outsourcing a highly viable option for associations that cannot or do not wish to invest in the in-house software and launch. Ideally, you should seek a developer with recent similar experience in the same size and type of event, and ask for references from other relevant association customers. If your association is using an AMS system, ask the vendor whether an event app is available to integrate with your system. Don’t forget to include your marketing and event planning team in the development discussions for their insights as the “foot soldiers” responsible for logistics and marketing; these are the people who will likely be working the most with the event app. Discuss the development, testing, launch and customer support timeline and plan accordingly.
AMCs can leverage their buying power to vet and engage an app developer for multiple events, multiple associations, or both.
You also need to ensure that the app development plan includes both the launch and the ongoing marketing. Don’t believe “if we build it, they will use it,” rather, plan a proactive launch campaign starting weeks or months before the event to encourage attendees to download and install the app and start using the scheduling and interactivity features. Consider a contest and prizes for first app download, an on-site drawing for those using the app, and the marketing of special “offers” only available through the app. You will also need to ensure that knowledgeable customer support is available either from the developer or from a trained staff member. On site, display signage suggesting the many ways to use the app while at the event, and integrate the use of the app in every session.
Oh, and don’t forget to provide quality Wi-Fi access and mobile device charging stations to ensure that attendees stay connected and engaged!
Kathleen A. (Kathy) DeMarco, CAE is a Senior Account Executive for Stringfellow Management Group, and serves as the Executive Director for Generic Animal Drug Alliance (GADA), Equipment Service Association (ESA), and Web Sling and & Tie Down Association (WSTDA), and as the Association Manager for National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). She has worked in association management for over 25 years, encompassing advancing roles in project and program management, strategic planning and implementation, membership development and retention, budgeting and financial management, meeting and event logistics, and communications. Kathy recognizes and embraces the value of information technology and social media as tools for associations to advance their missions and provide engaging member experiences.