Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2012

Forward Thinking: Amp Up Your Conference App

By Dave Lutz, CMP

Built-for-purpose conference apps have hit the fast-follower stage. In fact, most major conferences are in their second year of implementing an attendee-centric tool. But the changing app landscape means that everyone can benefit from a few pointers. 

Whether you were an early adopter or now are a fast follower of conference apps, these tips will help with your next vendor-selection and attendee-adoption plan. 
  1. Don’t choose too early. Barriers to entry are very low for new solution providers.  It’s like the Wild West out there, and the playing field is changing every few months. Today, most conference app solutions are primarily configurable content aggregators, not enterprise solutions.  Look to lock in your app vendor six to nine months before your conference. Don’t sign multi-year deals until the dust settles in a year or two. 
  2. Mobile web vs. native. Until hotels and convention centers resolve bandwidth cost and availability issues, the choice is clear: Your conference app needs to be on at least three platforms - iPhone, Droid, and mobile web. Don’t let anyone sell you a bill of goods on doing anything less.  HTML5 isn’t there yet.  Bandwidth is unreliable. 
  3. Beware of too-good-to-be-true pricing. There are a number of vendors who offer a free app as long as they get a portion - or all - of the advertising revenue. There are two fundamental problems with this model: One, your exhibitors despise multiple solicitations; and two, organizers are most successful when advertising and enhanced listings are bundled across print, web, and mobile. 
  4. App choice is a reflection of your brand. If your organization wants to be viewed as the industry leader or on the cutting edge, you should select the best app today’s money can buy.  Even though most event apps are free to attendees, their expectations will be high. Make sure that apps in this category are fully functional on the iPad and Droid tablets. 
  5. Adoption before monetization. If attendees don’t use the app, sponsors, exhibitors, and banner advertisers won’t get the eyeballs and clicks they want. While you’re reviewing solutions, ask how the provider will help you market the app. Launch the app at least four weeks before your conference, and consider cutting back on print to drive attendees to your app for the most complete and up-to-date info. Make sure that your solution is content-rich, with access to handouts, slides, and videos. Apps that allow attendees to take notes and accelerate networking are considered best in class. 
  6. Graphic and Excel skills required.  When your conference app is available on multiple platforms, you’ll be asked to provide 10 or more variations of logos for splash and navigation screens.  When it comes to data, most app companies will provide you with templates for importing data.  If you don’t have the in-house skills to accomplish these tasks, expect the vendor to assess service fees. 

Breakout

On the Horizon

It’s just a matter of time before your conference app is tightly integrated with registration, expo, and/or speaker-management platforms. Look for major industry technology providers to build or partner with leading mobile app solutions. Once it’s common for mobile apps to be integrated with enterprise platforms, it will pave the way for segmented communications, extended use before and after the conference, Amazon.com-like recommendations, and, best of all, mobile commerce.

More Resources
Still not convinced about going with both mobile-web and native solutions? Check out this article to learn about the challenge the iPad is creating for hotel bandwidth.  

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

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