Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 12 Days of Conference - Day Three

As we prepare for 2013 I am hosting a series of blog posts called "The 12 Days of Conference".  Each day a different expert from the meeting, convention planning, speaking and hotel industries will add their single best idea on how to create better events or other tips for how to improve the "Conference Attendee Experience" in the new year.

Mobile Apps: Choose Wisely and Not Too Early
By Donna Kastner

No doubt about it – 2012 was the year of the mobile app. With more than a billion smartphones in use and tablet adoption accelerating fast, our appetite for mobile apps grows ever stronger. I caught a stat the other day that speaks volumes:

“The average person looks at their phone 150 times a day or once every six-and-a-half minutes of every waking hour.”  (From a speech by former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen at Mobile App Africa)

The mobile app frenzy is catching on in conference circles. Most planners have either launched a mobile app or they’re getting ready to. As with any new technology, tales from early adopters often yield valuable lessons, as new considerations emerge.

Here are three caveats to help you make your best mobile app vendor choice:

1.   Don’t Choose Too Early
Mobile apps are primarily content aggregators, making this a toolset with low barriers of entry – hence, many players on the field. There’s a lot of jockeying for position going on and the top performers in 2012 may or may not be at the top at the end of 2013. Hold off on decisions for as long as you can. You want to secure a vendor at least six to nine months before your conference, but steer clear of multi-year contracts because the field is still in flux and prices will continue to drop.

2. The Vendor You Know vs.The Vendor You Don’t Know
Your mobile app will likely be aggregating data from three primary sources: (1) registration data; (2) exhibitor data; (3) session data.  It makes sense to look at vendors you’re already working with in these areas to find out what they’re developing for the mobile app space.  Engage too many vendors and you’ll find yourself managing a three ring circus. As you evaluate mobile app vendors and settle in on a short list of finalists, if one is already doing a great job of managing one or more of these data sets, that’s a plus and should tip decisions in favor of the vendor you already know and trust.

3. Adoption First – Then Monetization
Many planners are tempted to maximize first year ROI from the mobile app up through ads, banners, upgraded exhibitor profiles, etc. While it’s understandable, it’s the wrong approach in year one. Strong and sustained revenues come to those who put the attendee and their adoption first. The mobile app must be easy to use and a constant source of helpful information that enhances the attendee’s experience. It must be superior than what is available in print (hint – scale back on the print to improve value of your app). When attendees first open the mobile app, if they’re deluged with promotions, they’ll tune out. When that happens, sponsors and advertisers don’t renew. As you earn eyeballs and clicks, sponsors will be eager to support your app at a premium price, because now you have ROI proof.

What has been your experience with attendee mobile apps for conferences? What features are “must haves” for your event?

Donna Kastner is the Director, Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. She helps conference organizers improve their Annual Meeting education, attendee engagement and financials.

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