Post authored by Timothy J. La Fleur, CMP – Meeting and Event Manager at Experient.
With any new technology there are some basic questions to be asked: What is it? What does it do? How can this benefit my event?
First, we’ll tackle the question of what it is; but before we get too far along, we should understand that there are two basic kinds of mobile conference apps: “Web-based” and “native-based.”
Web-based apps can be accessed by any Internet-ready phone.
By using the web browser on your phone, you can access a conference app much like accessing a website.
Native-based apps are downloaded and installed to your smartphone and work like any other program feature (e.g. calculator, alarm clock, camera, etc.).
These conference mobile apps are small programs that can be installed right to your Blackberry, iPhone, or Android platform phones. They are typically created and designed by a third party company with your specific event in mind.
With each of these apps, there are very distinct advantages and disadvantages. For the Web-based, the primary advantage is that you can access the app on any Internet-ready. Of course, the major disadvantage is its reliance on a fast and uninterrupted cellular connection. If you are in a location that has a bad cell signal, your app will run slowly or not at all. Native-based apps, once downloaded to your phone, run independently of any Internet connectivity. No matter where you are, you can use your app. The major disadvantage, however, is that native-based apps require attendees to have a Blackberry, iPhone, or Android platform phone – which, right now, isn’t always the case. Ideally, you would like an app that can be simultaneously Web-based and native-based to reach the largest number of people.
The next piece of the puzzle is what do these conference apps do? These apps can virtually serve many functions for your conference, but I will break them down into 4 major areas.
- Replace the conference program book.
- List exhibit hall floor plans and help attendees manage which exhibitors that they would like to visit.
- Act as a personal concierge for the attendee by helping them choose and locate local dining, entertainment, and attractions.
- Act as a conference message board, serve as the pulse and conference lifeline for your attendees, and used as platform for social media engagement.
A conference app can be used as an electronic program book by housing all of the relevant session information, including session abstracts, session times, meeting rooms, speaker bios and any handouts they wish to distribute as attachments. In some apps, you can build your schedule as you go by clicking on “add” buttons while searching the list of sessions. Additionally, you could link to web-forums right from the session description to engage with other people who are going to this session as well, and start the attendee engagement before the session even takes place. You could also post surveys for attendees to complete about a session they just attended.
Not to be outdone by the program books, the exhibit hall is another place where conference apps can be very beneficial. Conference apps have many ways to give exhibitors new and additional exposure. Most conference apps will allow for the exhibit hall floor plan to be shown on the attendee’s phone to assist them in planning their time on the show floor. In some apps, an attendee can add which booths they want to visit and the app will map out a best route based on flow of the exhibit hall. Show managers can also provide exhibitors the opportunity to put a small bio together about their company for quick access by attendees. The information medium can be anything from static text to a short informational video about themselves and their products, or a simple link to their website.
Conference apps also act as your personal and private meeting concierge. You can either have a link to Google maps where you can plot and plan their trip, or you can have pre-determined restaurants and venues for your attendee to choose from based on experience and customer ratings. Of course, be sure to include contact information and directions to the selected venues.
Lastly, these apps can serve as a conference message board. Show managers can send text messages and alerts through the conference app to announce a change in schedule, session cancellations, or room changes. Or, use the app to promote special evening activities and receptions, or remind attendees that the trade show floor is open encouraging them to visit. Through the conference app, you can remind or alert your attendees of almost anything.
There are many benefits from using a conference app for your event. First and foremost, it can be a cost savings for your event. Since conference apps have the potential to replace large quantities of printed materials, you save printing and shipping costs. Not mention if there are fewer printed materials you reduce your carbon footprint and therefore make your meeting greener.
By using a conference mobile app, you also open a new world of sponsorship opportunities where one or more official sponsor(s) could cover the cost of the conference app build out and therefore become a new revenue stream for your event. Another sponsorship opportunity would be the conference alerts or possibly exhibitor alerts to announce happenings in their booth such as book signings, raffles, or sponsored food events. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is engaging attendees in a new way. As a society, we have switched to consuming media and information “on demand” and this expectation is creeping into the way our attendees want to access conference information.
Don’t think that mobile apps are only for the benefit of attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors. Meeting planners can utilize certain apps for their own use to improve the planning or onsite process. One example is a “clicker” app to count the number of attendees at a catered event. I found an app named “T-Counter” which not only allows you to collect data, but also allows you to e-mail the information for real time data collection. This is just one example of what could go into a “Planner’s App Toolbox.” The website www.meetingapps.com contains various types of apps that might be helpful, although currently they only provide apps for iPhones.
As media consumption continues to evolve into 24/7 access, the modern conference attendee will expect their conference information to do the same. This emerging trend has tangible benefits for many events and as planners we should continue being ahead of the technology curve.
To take a walk through the mobile event app for CES, click here.