There is a real pressure nowadays for any self-respecting conference to have it’s own mobile app. The problem is that with so many options to choose from, finding the right one for your event can quickly become overwhelming.
At Yasmo, we’ve worked with our fair share of event organizers, and we like to think we know what we’re talking about. So whether you have a tiny budget or a huge one, whether you’re looking for core features or an app with bells on it, whether you want one for the prestige, or to avoid being written-off as a digital dinosaur, here are the top five questions you should ask yourself before choosing the app that’s best for your event.
1. How tech-savvy is your audience? Let’s face it: almost everyone owns a smartphone nowadays, but not everyone knows how to use it properly. Figuring out how tech savvy your audience is will help define exactly which features you should deploy at your event. To take two extreme examples: if you’re catering to socially awkward Internet execs who sleep with their mobiles under the pillow, then you have to be prepared to provide them with an immersive experience that satisfies their social network addictions. And any tool that helps them get past their natural shyness to actually talk to people face-to-face rather than through a screen will make your conference a bigger success. If, on the other hand, your delegates are old-school B2B industry grandees with a lot of white hair who still read the print edition of the Wall Street Journal, then giving them anything more than a basic participant directory is probably going to be like casting pearls before swine.
There are many, many functionalities out there that will help enhance your event: browsable attendee profiles with photos, sending meeting requests, the ability to see who is in the same room as you in real time, interactive floor plans, asking live questions to speakers, video streaming, opinion polls, instant messaging, Twitter integration…you name it. Knowing your audience will allow you to pinpoint exactly what you can, and should offer.
2. How demanding are your sponsors? The events industry has changed. You can count yourself lucky in today’s environment if your sponsorship revenue has remained steady despite the economic crisis and competing requests for your benefactors’ money. The days are gone when a sponsor was satisfied simply with a big banner in the main auditorium and their logo on the events program. Nowadays they want more visibility for less…and yet what you need is more sponsors to make ends meet. Squaring that circle has led to everything from the coffee break to the dinner flowers getting their own patrons.
An app, in that sense, can be a boon for the cash-strapped organizer because it provides an additional platform for sponsors. This can be as modest or as fancy as you want it to be, ranging from a simple wallpaper background, to more complex rotating banners, push notifications and on-screen promotional offerings, depending on the app you choose. The pitch to sponsors is simple: people are glued to their phone screens, and your company will be constantly in their face. One problem, however, is measurement, and the choice between a more or less robust system to track and analyze user data will depend on how hungry for stats your sponsor’s marketing department is.
3. What kind of ‘community’ do you want to build? The new buzzword in the events industry (and, well, in every other sector) is community building. You’re just not ‘happening’ if you don’t have a vibrant online community around your event. Everyone’s talking about it, but then again, very few people seem to know exactly what it means, or what the point is, and what you tend to see is a lot of puff and announcements that don’t amount to much. There are a good few ways to create a community. One is using well-known marketing channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to get your target audience to engage and share information about the conference. Another is to build your own social network around the event. Some apps can help with that by allowing attendees to connect and communicate with each other, and by providing access to event material. Users will love it because they won’t have to worry about missing out on any meeting opportunities, or losing valuable business cards or speaker presentations.
Let’s be honest though, user experience is only one part of the equation. In our view, you want your community to help you do three things: attract delegates to your event, help you get the word out about how great your event is, and – particularly if you organize recurring events or conference series – you want the community to help you cross-sell and bring repeat business. These should be firm objectives when choosing your app.
4. How integrated do you want to be? A subset of this question is: how big is your budget? If you have existing systems, processes, CRMs and databases, then you’re likely to want your event app to work seamlessly with all of that to avoid duplicates, loss of data, etc. One of the best ways to do this is to develop your own app, so that it is completely integrated into your existing systems. The issue here is that this requires technical skills, time, and more than anything, deep pockets. Believe us, there is A LOT that can go wrong when building an app, and you really need to dedicate the resources to avoid a counter-productive result that leaves your users frustrated, and your much-vaunted “vibrant community” looking like a ghost town.
We’re not going to repeat here the long list of well-known advantages to using off-the-shelf technology such as the lower budget requirements, the immunity to technological advances and the avoidance of maintenance costs. What we will say though, is that you need to choose your app carefully to make sure it is compatible with all your existing tools.
5. And finally: think ease of use! Seriously, this is the single most important piece of advice we could give you. You can have all the killer features in the world on your app, and they just won’t get used if the user interface is too complex. Getting this right is quite multi-layered too. Going back to our first tip about knowing your audience: the grandees won’t have much patience for these new fangled tools, so even if your app just gives them a list of other attendees to look at, make sure it is straightforward!
For the more demanding Internet execs, you need to think about how the app is going to sync with their twitter feed, phone calendar, Facebook profile, etc. You should assess ease of use from the moment a delegate logs in: is the sign-up form too long? Can delegates login using credentials from other social networks like LinkedIn? And you should stress test the various functionalities (how easily can attendees add contacts? Will that sync with their phone book? Can they use the app whether they are an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry user?)
More than anything, you need to make your own life as easy as possible. The best app isn’t necessarily the most technologically complex, but rather the one that best takes your needs into account, such as easily uploading delegate lists and making last minute changes to the conference program. Before you sign on the dotted line, we recommend that you give any third-party app a thorough test run to make sure you are comfortable with it.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our short compilation of tips, and if you’ve made it this far, we’d like to reward you by putting our money where our mouth is and offer you a free trial of our application. See more information here, or if you’ve had enough of reading and just want to get started already, then sign up here, and see how easily you can build the beautiful, customized events app you’ve always dreamed of. All in just a few clicks!