Event App Tips: 7 Ways to Make Your App Successful

Here at Guidebook, we have checked out a lot of conference apps, trade show apps, and all sorts of other event apps. We have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the what-were-you-thinking-nobody-would-ever-use-that! We thought that our research and observations might be helpful to event organizers who are considering diving into mobile this year.

Of course, we’re a bit partial to our own apps, so we stayed away from talking about providers and their offerings. Instead we focused on the features that make for a successful event guide, regardless of the company that produces it. Hopefully, the event app tips below will help you figure out what strategy works best for your  needs.

1. Offer User-friendly Schedules and Listings

By far, the most popular features in any event app are bound to be the schedules of sessions and/or the searchable listings of exhibitors and other presenters. These features help attendees find out where to go and what to do, so special attention should be paid to the user experience. Is it easy for attendees to find and keep track of the things that interest them, or do they get bogged down in hunting and waiting for things to load? Just because schedules and listings are available doesn’t mean that attendees will use them. Make sure that these sections are user friendly!

2. Social Elements Increase Participation

Whether you participate or not, your attendees are going to be engaging with your event through Twitter and Facebook. People use it to find out which sessions are worth attending, what speakers are saying, and which booths are must-visits. Carefully integrating social media into your event app can enhance this participation tremendously. One way to do this is to collect all of the Tweets about your event in one place, and allow people to Tweet from the app. Including a mobile-optimized version of your event’s Facebook page is also a great way to get people to “like” you.

3. Sponsorships Can Make You Money

If your event has sponsors, exhibitors, or other companies that would benefit by communicating to your audience, you can leverage that by allowing them to sponsor the app. Most high-quality event apps will let you sell a sponsorship banner and keep the proceeds, which can mean a significant amount of extra revenue. Beware of low-end apps that finance themselves by selling ad space in your mobile guide, or ones that don’t have the capability to allow you to sell sponsorships. This can be a great revenue opportunity!

4. Easy Updates and Content Management Are Key

One often-overlooked characteristic of a mobile event app is the content management system (CMS) that is used to add and update it. Make sure to find a content management system that your staff is comfortable with using. If you have a wealth of technical resources and staff time at your disposal then you might be willing to deal with a system that requires training and programming knowledge. Otherwise, try to choose an app that a non-technical administrator can manage without difficulty.

5. Promoting the App is Crucial

The phrase “build it and they will come,” was certainly not said in reference to event apps. Promoting the app is important, especially if it is the first time that your event has offered an app. Unless you send out emails, put up posters, and advertise on your website, you will likely find yourself disappointed with the number of people who use your app. Some vendors provide the necessary promotional materials to their customers free, others charge for that service, and some just leave it up to the event organizer to figure it out.

6. Avoid Clutter

When event organizers start designing an app, it’s only natural for them to start dreaming about all of the cool possibilities that the mobile realm offers. This can lead to some innovative and creative ideas, but it can also lead to unnecessary clutter (and higher-than-expected development bills!). A good starting point is to think of all of the things a user might want to do while they’re on the go. Eliminate from that list anything that attendees could do more efficiently on their computers or on paper. The features that are left should be the core of your app.

7. Understand the Difference Between Native and Web-Based Apps

Native apps typically offer a better user experience than web-based apps. Well-designed native apps can work without Internet or cellular signal access and they can take advantage of your phone’s natural abilities to allow for personalization and customization. There are two potential issues to be aware of. First, native apps are often more costly to develop, because they require engineers that are experts in a particular platform (like Android or iOS). Second, not everyone can use native apps. For instance, a native iOS app could be used by iPhone, iPad, and iPod users, but not by Android or Blackberry users.

Mobile websites, on the other hand, can’t match the interactivity of native apps and require constant Wifi access in order to be usable. They do have the advantage that they are cheaper to create and can be used by anyone using a web-enabled device, regardless of brand or operating system.

There’s no reason not to offer both native apps and a mobile website to your attendees if it can be done at a reasonable price – that way each attendees can choose the option that best suits them. If you have to decide between the two, however, here are some user statistics. Together, iOS and Android dominate the U.S. smartphone market with more than 80% market share, so if you are going to pick two platforms to develop natively for, those are the ones that make the most sense. Blackberry owns most of the rest of the market, but their numbers are declining steadily every year.

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