Juice Up Your Conference App

The Apple Iphone 3GS gets a Phone.

It’s time to juice up your attendees’ conference experience with a mobile app.

The best built-for-purpose conference apps provide a seamless and user-friendly experience that can be customized by the attendee.

Conference Mobile Apps Here To Stay

Built-for-purpose conference apps have hit the fast-follower stage.

In fact, most major conferences are in their second or third year of implementing this attendee-centric tool.

The quickly changing app landscape, however, means everyone can benefit from a few pointers.

Six Tips For Mobile App Vendor Selection And Attendee Adoption

Whether you are an early adopter or a fast follower of conference apps, these six tips will help with your next vendor selection and attendee-adoption plan.

1. Don’t choose too early.

New mobile app providers have few barriers to enter the marketplace. It’s a Wild West world as the playing field changes constantly. Today, most mobile conference app solutions are primarily configurable content aggregators, not enterprise solutions. Lock in your app vendor six to nine months before your conference. Don’t sign multi-year deals until the dust settles in a couple of years.

2. Mobile web vs. native.

Until hotels and convention centers resolve WiFi bandwidth cost and availability issues, your conference app needs to be on at least three platforms — iPhone, Droid and mobile web. Tablets are a fast fourth platform to watch. 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. This model has two fundamental flaws:

  • Your exhibitors despise multiple solicitations.
  • 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. Attendee expectations are high and settling for a cheaper model that does not have the most current functions can make you look bad. 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. When you’re reviewing potential conference apps, ask how the provider will help you market the app. Once the decision is made, launch the app at least four weeks before your conference. 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.

Coming Soon To A Conference Mobile App Near You

It’s just a matter of time before your conference app is tightly integrated with registration, expo and speaker management platforms. Look for major industry technology providers to build or partner with leading mobile app solutions. Once mobile apps are 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.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2012.

When you attend a conference, what features do you expect on their mobile conference app? How do you feel about the conference organizers when they don’t provide a mobile app or it doesn’t work the way you expect?

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  1. Dave,

    Great article. Just wanted to note that the last section “Coming Soon To A Conference Mobile App Near You” it was noted that it is just a matter of time before these apps are fully integrated with the AMS or registration page (thus saving the pain of Excel uploads / dual uploads). Our Nimble Mobile (http://nimbleuser.com/Mobile/) product does just that for iMIS and Nimble AMS and we have a flexible provider and are adding for other AMS systems as well.


  2. Jay Tokosch says:

    Dave- good article. You hit many of the points we have been preaching for years. I would offer two notes on this: In number one about not signing multi year deals until the smoke clears. I can see why you said this and I agree that in the 7 years we have been doing mobile apps we have seen a lot of mobile apps come and go. However, if you are working with steady provider that has been around a while you could be missing out on continuity within your app, discounts on pricing, and MultiShow apps that do a great job of carrying over your audience by not signing a multi year deal. And in number five – launching your app 4 weeks before your event. You really want that to be as far out as possible. The great thing about apps is that you can update them constantly and people have grown to expect additionally updates so if your data is not all ready publish what you can inside the app today and start building your audience as soon as possible. Plus you need more then 4 weeks to promote it properly. And it is good to have any sponsors information being seen prior to the event. Again, love this article and I want to have us put it on our website. Jay!!

  3. Dave Lutz says:

    Thanks for adding to the conversation Jay! Interestingly, this article was penned nearly three years ago, yet is still relevant today. There has been a bit more stability thanks to stronger providers like your company. We still see many conferences launching their app one to two weeks beforehand. Would love to see more hitting the 30+ day mark. Glad to hear your pushing for that too! I’m still not sold on multi-show apps. That concept serves the organizer, exhibitors and sponsors more than the #1 stakeholder…the paying attendee.

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