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September 09 2012

How to Take Your Meeting Mobile

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

Everywhere you turn, there's another app for this, that and pretty much everything - - except meetings. In the PCMA Technology Think Tank, attendees were confronted with a statistic that reveals the industry's behind-the-times approach to technology integration.

Eighty percent of attendees have smartphones, but only nine percent of events are actually utilizing mobile applications.

As more consumers turn to their mobile devices to keep current with the world, attendees took a closer look at why taking their meeting communications mobile is a must.

Your App vs. Your Website

Making the most of mobile technology isn't as easy as compiling your sessions and speakers and uploading it to the Apple Store and Android Marketplace for download.

"Right now, many organizations are simply putting their websites into a mobile format, but this doesn't work," Trevor Roald, mobile event technology evangelist, QuickMobile, says. "Technology must be complimentary. Your attendees will want to perform different functions on a phone versus a tablet versus a computer."

"You must be able to get content to your audience in a manner that's relevant to them," Roald adds.

Attendees may want to browse sessions before the meeting on their computer, but once they're on-site, they want more. They want an app that adds more to their experience with the ability to share pictures, find out what's happening in networking hubs around the conference at any given moment and connect with like-minded attendees.

The Cost

Roald says that QuickMobile's app development starts as low as $5,000, but the cost can increase based on what kind of app you're looking to create.

As expenses stay at the front of your mind, Roald cautions against considering charging to download your app. While two dollars for a download may seem cheap, your attendees are already investing a good chunk of money to travel to your destination, participate in your meeting and pay for accommodations.

Some Think Tank participants discussed building in the cost of development into registration fees rather than making the app an additional expense. Others contemplated how to avoid the cost altogether.

"Don't be afraid of how much mobile app development might cost you," one attendee advised. "Approach it as a way to drive more sponsorship dollars."

The Cost Cutters

Think Tank attendees continued to discuss the budget implications of developing an app, and many commented on the fact that mobile technology can also provide big cost-savings. If you are still paying to produce and distribute on-site programs, apps can dramatically reduce your expenses.

While you can reduce many of your paper expenses with mobile, Greg Van Dyke, senior vice president, global sales and marketing, PSAV, and Think Tank moderator, warned attendees to factor the potential increase in on-site Internet costs. As more attendees use your app, you may require more bandwidth.

Your App = Engagement

Some meeting planners may worry that an app will lead to thousands of attendees staring down at their screens versus up at presentation information and general session speakers. However, Roald highlighted how mobile technology can exponentially increase attendee engagement with an app from Event Camp Vancouver 2011.

In an effort to highlight the event's eco-friendly mission, QuickMobile developed an interactive app that awarded attendees with points for performing different sustainable actions. It was all part of a goal to encourage sustainability and achieve "1,000 Acts of Green" over the course of the three-day event. The gamification approach to the app was a big success with attendees earning points for everything from drinking organic coffee to using less paper.

All-Year App Access

Some Think Tank attendees voiced concerns over creating an app with such a short shelf-life: the duration of an annual meeting.

"Your organization wants an app for revenue generation, content delivery and brand awareness," one attendee said.

In order to meet those objectives, it may be worth considering an organization application versus an event application that can deliver updates throughout the year to increase your organization's relevancy and eliminate the need to develop a new app each year.

The Time is Now

Regardless of what type of app you develop, it's clear that all planners must embrace mobile. As other organizations compete for your attendee's attention and dollars, you need to ensure that you are staying ahead of the smartphone curve.

"Failing to open up to this technology is really failing to capitalize on an opportunity," Roald says.

Need more info on what to consider when developing your app? Check out this guide on how to create the perfect event app from QuickMobile.

Be sure to check back next week for more coverage on what technology can do for your organization, your meeting and your members.

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