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How to Choose a Mobile Event App (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts designed to be a "Checklists for Event Organizers."  I'd like to first help you determine how to best select a mobile event app vendor. Let's start by considering three topics: attendee profiles, desired behaviors, and the event environment.

Event organizers are hearing from their attendees... and attendees want a mobile app. There are obvious benefits to implementing a mobile app for your trade show, private event, corporate gathering, or public conference -- saving money on paper print-outs, pleasing attendees, sponsorship opportunities, etc. But we understand it’s an investment... and it's not always easy to decide which vendor to go with!

So, you want to explore your options. That's smart. In assessing the mobile event app vendors, you will find that they each have different features, benefits, and price points.

In this post, we will cover  three of the many topics to consider about when purchasing an event app: attendee profile, desired behavior, and event environment.


1. Attendee Profile

What type of mobile devices are they using? Are they using tablets?

If you can take a poll during registration to determine which mobile devices will be in use at the conference, you can definitely save some cash when purchasing an event app. Be sure to ask comprehensive questions, as many attendees use a Blackberry phone, but will carry their iPads at the event (this happens often).  If you have a majority of Android users, you can focus your purchasing dollars towards making a superb experience on Android phone and tablets. This also gives the vendor a better sense of where to invest the majority of time and polish. Going with a vendor that has the ability to cover all platforms (even if you don't need them all at first), makes for easier scaling as your event grows.

*A quick note about iPad apps: Yes, you can use iPhone apps on an iPad. But keep in mind, that it is not quite the same as a native iPad app. Many vendors say they run iPad apps, but then just stretch the iPhone app on the iPad device. If you have a large population of iPad users and the budget, we recommend going for a native iPad app. It’s a fantastic device and should be leveraged to elevate your content and brand.

Are they tech-savvy?

Often people surprise you at events (and, who are we kidding, in life in general). Some of our most active app users have been in their mid 70s, and others are in their late teens -- so make sure to answer this question based on data, rather than assumptions. If they are tech-savvy, then you may want to invest more resources towards an event app, because it will prove to be very valuable to this crowd.

Does the community live on after the event has ended?

If yes, then you may want to consider purchasing an app that you can keep “turned on” throughout the year.  Many of our customers choose to do this to extend the reach of the event, showcase the event to potential sponsors and get more registered attendees for the following event. For those that cannot attend the event, it’s a good way for them to contribute in building the community. Event app vendors typically charge a monthly hosting fee for this service.

You should ask the app vendors if they can “archive” old content, so that the event activity remains in the activity feed and on user profiles, even after the event is over. You should have the ability to add content on-the-fly without an app update. This generally requires “cloud configuration” so always ask if that’s possible.


2. Desired Behavior

What do you want your attendees to do at the event?

If you want them to attend as many sessions as possible, then you should have session information prominently located in the app, and you should have a way to track which sessions are being attended. Allow attendees to share which sessions they are attending on the app. Some apps allow users to "check-in" to sessions, leave feedback, take notes, take a photo, and rate the session, all from within the app. All this activity goes to a main “activity feed” where you can keep your finger on the pulse of the event.

The same rules apply if you’d like to encourage attendees to stop by sponsor booths on the expo floor, rate speakers, go to the after parties, generate a buzz on twitter, etc.

How will you incentivize attendees to behave this way?

It’s simple -- games, rewards, and social. If you want them to check into your platinum sponsor booths, include a prize or reward associated with that “check-in.” For example, if I check in to Acme Corp booth, I unlock an in-app reward that gets me $5 off lunch at the convention center cafe.

Another way to incentivize behavior is through points and virtual badges. Just like Foursquare does on the consumer side, there is an opportunity to employ the same game mechanics at corporate events, trade shows, and conferences. If your app vendor provides these options, you are likely to get higher app engagement.

All event attendees have a similar goal: make attendees happy and engaged. We know from all the successful social consumer apps (Facebook, for example) that “social” is a strong indicator for success. Make sure the app you select has social components. These make the app more “sticky” and encourage attendees to share comments/feedback, build relationships, interact with attendees, and access your content.


3. Event Environment

What is the environment at the event? Is it spread out or in a central location? Mostly outdoors or indoors?

 This is where geofencing and maps become important. Geofencing allows the surfacing of relevant, contextual information based on location. For example, as I approach the expo hall (indicated with a geofence), the app might push me a message “The Expo Hall is open until 5pm. Come on in!” This type of push notification encourages activity and can disseminate relevant information to the people that need it.

Interactive maps are important, particularly if the event is city-wide or if you have lots of out-of-town guests. Some events are static, and others are interactive with walking instructions, and more. If this is important to you, make sure it's in the app.

Is wifi available? Is there good cell coverage?

If you are offering attendees free wifi, then the app generally goes much smoother. If not, then you should consider the cell coverage in the area. If you have a lot of international guests, using the app on 3G will be very costly for attendees. The solution for this is offline mode and data caching.

Simply put, if coverage is spotty, you will want an app that can work regardless (it needs an offline mode). If the network is overloaded, data caching means attendees don’t have to wait extended periods of time for the app to load and for your content to populate.

We know... selecting an app vendor is important and it can be tough. Just make sure you’re asking the right questions and weighing your options.

Believe it or not, there's more to consider! But, not to fear. Just stay tuned -- next up I'll cover another important set of topics:

  • Event Software Integration
  • Customized Content
  • Social Media Connections
Anything you want to see covered in this ongoing "How-To Guide"? Any questions or suggestions? Please feel free to post a comment on this post, start a thread on our facebook page, or send us an email (
By DoubleDutch Insider | 1 February, 2012

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