Mobile Apps For Events. Great Idea Or Hyped Nonsense?

Mobile Apps For Events. Great Idea Or Hyped Nonsense?

Mobile Apps For Events. Great Idea Or Hyped Nonsense?

Not a day goes by without receiving a pitch from a company providing mobile app development for meetings and conferences. We started wondering if planners, attendees, or the companies pitching these products drove the need for these apps. With that in mind we reached out to planners and developers, asking for their feedback, and great conversation ensued. In this post we’re sharing the thoughts and experiences of planners and attendees. Comments are geared towards the use of apps for attendees, not the planner. That’s another story which will be addressed in a future blog post.

THE REALITY

There are many companies providing apps to the event and meeting industry. Some integrate with existing software and services, others are stand-alone apps to provide a specific function, or set of functions to the attendee and/or planner.

Many of the planners we heard from implemented an app for the first time in 2013, most with mixed results. Furthermore, reliable and affordable Wi-Fi at event sites isn’t yet the norm and causes access problems. Privacy issues and corporate policies against downloading apps on company phones offered another layer of challenges. The wide variety of devices and operating systems causes issues as well. There are generational differences in adoption and use rate also.   

BY THE NUMBERS

Adoption rate by attendees hovers between 20% to 60% of registered participants, depending on the demographic of the audience. Adoption rate however does not mean utilization rate. How many people used the app after downloading it? That numbers seems a bit harder to come by.

PLANNERS IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Sara Reardon, Senior Director, Event Management at National Patient Safety Foundation shares: “We are implementing a mobile app for our annual conference for the first time this year. We have promoted it through our marketing campaigns and we asked attendees when they are registering if the have a smart phone, and if they would use the app. The majority has indicated that they will use the app, for those who do not we plan on providing a small printed piece that has all the essential information.”

Melinda Eggenberger, CMM, Vice President at Lex Mundi shared that their organization is using a mobile app for their conferences. Most attendees like them, although they still want to see a printed agenda and participant list. About 60% are using the app, but she is hoping this will increase. Using the app and understanding the navigation has a learning curve. The biggest issue is that many of their members (lawyers) use a Blackberry and the event app is very difficult to download to the Blackberry. Fortunately, many of the attorneys have iPads.

Tamara Olson, CMP, Global Travel and Event Manager at DJO Global shared: “We have used a mobile app for our national sales meeting in 2013 and 2014. In 2013, about 60% of our attendees downloaded the app, but given that 1/3 of our attendees were from outside the US and still largely using Blackberries, we felt this wasn't too bad. In 2014, by building on last year's experiences and by using pre-event content teasers as a reminder to download the app, we got to 75%. Push notifications to alert attendees of last minute room or time changes are a big plus for us.”

John Nawn, Founder at The Perfect Meeting had strong opinions on the topic. “I'm not a big fan of apps because most that I have seen deliver a poor user experience, if they 'work' at all. And this applies regardless of how much money is spent on the app.”

John beliefs that planners 'want' apps in the sense that everyone else has one, and they look out of touch without one. Others are pressured into adopting one by their stakeholders. Neither of these reasons makes for good justification, but that doesn't stop if from happening all the time anyways.

In terms of attendees needs, John believes attendees will use tools, like apps, which enhance their meeting experience. The problem is that too few apps meet that criteria. Most are 1st generation, push-oriented, and not all that value-added.

A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW

Rick O'Connor, Founder of SMSnet, the Event and Sports Text Messaging Company shares: “Only 56% of mobile phones in use in North America are smart phones capable of downloading an app, and statistically, only 68% of smart phone users will download an app. That means potentially, a maximum of 40% of attendees will use your native app, plus you need Wi-Fi for updates, otherwise users must use their own data plans. Any phone with web browsing capability can access a web-based app, that's about 80% of all phones in use. You need Wi-Fi or use your own data plan for a web-based app to function. Text Messaging does not require Wi-Fi or data, does not require downloading anything and most importantly, it works on every cell phone, that's 100% potential of all attendees. Much of the information that needs to be shared with attendees can be shared via text and links.”

ATTENDEES IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Tyra Hilliard, Speaker, Writer, & Consultant and Associate Professor shares: “I love technology, but as a conference attendee and speaker, I have to say I'm not a big fan of mobile apps. I use them to check the schedule and that's about it. Otherwise, I'm on Twitter using the hashtag (nice when the Twitter feed is part of the app). So many features on most mobile apps I've seen for conferences are not intuitive and for such a short adoption window, it isn't worth my time to figure out. And I don't want to be inundated with a lot of things I'm not interested in.”

Leah Brown, Director of Group Sales at Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, attended a conference in Washington, DC and used an app and loved it!! As an attendee, it was great to have appointments, notes, and more all in one place.

TOP FUNCTIONS

1. Access to program details
2. Connecting with other attendees
3. Viewing speaker bios and session details
4. Scheduling
5. Event evaluations/onsite voting
6. Social media integration
7. Event map
8. Low learning curve
9. Easy to download

TOP TIPS

1. Understand what the app needs to do before you build it. What’s important to your audience?
2. Understand your audience, technical limitations and most commonly used devices. Do you need an iPhone, Android, Windows and Blackberry app?
3. Promote the use of the app on all marketing materials! No promotion = no adoption.z
4. Insure the bandwidth at the venue can accommodate the use of the app for all attendees.

What are your experiences? Share with us on Twitter @Eventinterface #EIMobileApps or Facebook.

Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.