The Basics of Mobile Apps
Finding the best mobile event app for your conference can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and lose focus on what really matters: providing a convenient way for your attendees to access event information while at your conference. With that goal in mind, we’ve put together an overview to help your association learn the basic functionalities that are available in a mobile app and, most importantly, the benefits that different event app features offer your attendees.
The first decision to make when choosing your mobile event app is selecting the right type of app for your event. To help you decide, think about the goals for your organization, conference, and attendee and exhibitor experience.
Types of Mobile Apps
Mobile event apps come in three basic forms: native apps, web-based apps, and hybrid apps. Each of these types of apps has its own unique advantages, and depending on your specific needs, one option might be better suited for your event than the others.
Native apps are built for a specific operating system, such as iOS or Android. These apps are self-contained, meaning most features operate with or without an internet connection once you’ve installed it. All of the content, maps and other information you need on your app will be built-in for optimal performance on each attendees’ device. However, an internet connection will be required to update content once a user has installed it on their device.
Web-based apps are built using HTML code, just like traditional websites, but are specifically optimized for smaller-screen devices. Using these types of apps requires an internet connection, since all content will be hosted online. On some devices, users can create an app-like experience by adding a bookmark to their home screen that, when clicked, will take them directly to the website.
Hybrid apps use a native app “shell” that is built for each operating system, but pulls content from the cloud. These apps can offer partial functionality while offline, but require an internet connection for the app to fully function. Some examples of these types of apps would be Facebook or Twitter; the base app is designed for the phone, but the content is downloaded from the internet.
The table below illustrates a few of the major pros and cons of the three basic types of mobile apps.
|Native Apps||Built specifically to the needs of the various operating systems such as Apple’s iOS or Android|
- Speed, performance and user interface are optimized
- Works without Internet connection
- Must build a specific app for each operating system
- Takes more time to develop and deploy
- Higher development costs
|Websites built using HTML that are designed specifically for smaller screens|
- No need to distribute using app stores
- Works on any device with a browser, but experience varies
- Lower deployment costs
- Slower performance
- Internet connection is required
|Native app shell with feeds from the website|
- Caches content, so it works offline to a degree
- Downloadable from app stores
- Easier to deploy cross-platform than native apps
- Lower cost than native apps
- Doesn’t run as smoothly as native apps
- Offline performance can be inconsistent
- Built to specific operating system
Which Type of App is Best?
When choosing the type of mobile app that is best for your event, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. First, internet connectivity will largely determine the usability of your event app. Does your conference location offer free WiFi? If not, a web-based or hybrid app may not be the best choice. If attendees have to pay for WiFi just to access your app, there’s a good chance they won’t use it. A native app with preloaded content would be a better fit in this scenario.
Also, consider how much you’re expecting your attendees to rely on the app during the conference. Will the app be something used to only check session schedules? Or will you encourage attendees to browse program content throughout the day? If you expect attendees will use the app regularly during the event, you’ll want to choose an app that has better performance, like a native app. Some other factors to consider include:
- Will the attendees be downloading the app ahead of time, or at the event?
- Will the venue’s WiFi be fast enough to support all of your attendees’ devices?
- What types of content are you trying to provide your attendees?
- How fast or slow do you need content to load?
Ultimately, you’ll want to choose the type of mobile app that fits your association’s objective. Access to content can largely be done on offline native apps, but interactivity and live information feeds will require internet access and will be better suited for a hybrid app.
Increasing Engagement with Mobile Event Apps
A mobile app can increase engagement at your event by creating new opportunities for attendees to learn about your conference and connect with speakers, sponsors and their peers. Interactive features such as direct messaging, personal itineraries and live polling can help your attendees create an immersive experience and truly connect with their colleagues before, during and after the event.
These attendee connections are crucial to the success of your event; many attendees come to network, and mobile event apps can help facilitate these connections. Incorporating social timelines directly into the app can help attendees interact with speakers and other attendees while at the venue. This is especially helpful if your conference is large, and finding specific people might be a challenge. The ability to network virtually can expand the number of connections your attendees make and helps open the door for new conversations.
Another way to keep your attendees engaged via the app is to include the ability to build a personal profile. A profile allows the user to enter their personal and professional information to create more networking opportunities. Profiles can also let attendees build personal itineraries that help them navigate through a busy day at the conference.
Creating an engaging event app can benefit your association, as well. As host of the event, your association can create a profile to post polls, questions and conversations on the social timeline. Real-time activities like live polling can help spark discussions between attendees, while at the same time providing your association with instant feedback about the event. You can use this information later to improve on your event and help attendees know their opinions matter.
Other Benefits of Mobile Apps
In addition to increasing attendee engagement, mobile event apps offer other benefits as well, from providing event information to generating extra revenue to giving attendees easy access to conference content. Here are some additional benefits that a mobile event app adds to your event.
Simplify event navigation
Emails with conference maps, directions, hotel and parking information are easily buried in your attendees’ and speakers’ inboxes. Instead, all of this basic event information can be hosted on the event app for your attendees to access before and during the conference. GPS-enabled maps can also help your attendees navigate inside the venue and the surrounding area, if necessary.
Your event schedule is another piece of important event content that can be housed on the app. Help your attendees keep track of session start times and speaker locations by including this critical piece of conference data.
Provide up-to-date event information
Mobile apps offer a unique ability to keep your attendees up to date about information throughout your event. Push notifications can help deliver timely alerts if a session has been moved to a different room, for example. Sending a notification directly to attendees’ phones will avoid confusion and reduce the time your staff spends redirecting people.
To keep attendees informed throughout the day, an RSS feed can provide a consistent stream of event updates and information right on the attendees’ phones. A real-time Twitter feed can help them stay informed and engaged throughout the day.
Deliver content directly to attendees
With so much content available to attendees, you want them to be able to access it quickly and easily. An event app can be configured to give your attendees the ability to access abstracts, papers and presentations right on their mobile devices.
Promote networking through gamification
Gamification is another way to incentivize attendee engagement and mobile app use. Features such as leaderboards turn engagement into a game by awarding points to users who conduct certain actions on your app, such as posting a photo on the social timeline or participating in a poll. You can control how many points each action earns, meaning you can strategically incentivize certain aspects of your mobile app.
Generate additional revenue
Your mobile event app doesn’t only have to benefit the attendees. Sponsorships on event apps are a common way for associations to monetize their event. Banner ads and other branding opportunities can allow your organization to generate some extra revenue during the event.
Create value for your exhibitors and sponsors
Exhibitors and sponsors are an important part of your event’s success, and a mobile app increases the value your conference offers them. A live activity feed within the app lets you promote your event sponsors and exhibitors with sponsored posts, banner ads, document downloads, eCommerce links and promoted sessions.
Using a mobile app with lead retrieval allows exhibitors to focus on connecting with attendees, and not on collecting their information. Rather than taking notes on a sheet of paper, exhibitors can simply scan a QR code with their phone to sync an attendee’s information to their device.
Get real-time insight
One of the best things about mobile apps is that they can track how your attendees use them, providing you with insights that can help your association in the future. Perhaps you want to see if people used the engagement features more than the content features. Analytics can help you make informed decisions about what type of app and what event app features you should focus on for next year.
Case Study: How A Mobile Event App Helped IWCS
Offering a mobile event app at your conference can have a dramatic impact on how attendees engage with your event. One association, the International Wire and Cable Symposium (IWCS), experienced this effect first-hand with the addition of digital content to its annual event.
As a tech-based association, IWCS understood how important technology is to its members, which is why it elected to offer content from its annual meeting in print, on a conference content website, on a USB and through a mobile app. The introduction of this new technology helped them increase attendee engagement and participation and raise the profile of their event.
IWCS’s event app included session handouts, program/speaker info, attendee profiles and conference details. In the first year, 87% of attendees downloaded the app, proving the true capabilities of mobile event apps.
To learn more about IWCS’s strategy to increase attendee engagement and participation at their annual event, read the case study, “Blending Print with Digital Content Reinvigorated an Annual Conference.”
Mobile Apps are the Future of Engagement
As you move forward with a mobile event app, be sure to focus on the benefits you’ll be providing to your attendees, and not just on a list of features that sound good on paper. It’s a good idea to talk with other association professionals that have experience creating mobile event apps to gain insight on what has worked for their conferences. A conversation with an Omnipress Event Specialist can also help answer any remaining questions you have about creating an app.
If your association is looking for a new way to improve attendee engagement at your annual event, consider trying a mobile event app. From the variety of capabilities and features to the numerous benefits they provide, event apps are a great choice for conferences of all sizes.