This article explores a few of the benefits and disadvantages of using an event app for conferences, exploring functionality and cost-effectiveness.  Your professional conference organiser will be able to help you source and evaluate the most appropriate software, but below you will find some initial tips.

Great for networking

Apps are a great networking tool that can give a tremendous boost to the networking power of an event.  Used properly, before, during and after a conference, apps can really help delegates to identify the people they would like to meet.  This is particularly advantageous if you wish to encourage remote-delegates (those attending digitally) to engage with the event.  Remote engagement is already a trend embraced by many organisations at their conferences.

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An event app also presents wider opportunities to support the conference including uploading registration data for fast badge printing or exhibitor scanning.

Good programme tool

Entire programmes can be loaded on to apps and updated regularly.  We all remember what it’s like when something changes at the last minute, the addendums (version 2 of the addendum etc etc).  Apps allow instant changes, and with push notifications (alerts sent to your mobile) attendees can instantly be made aware of updated information.

As an added bonus most apps also incorporate search tools that allow delegates to view sessions, and even posters, according to keywords.  This can be very useful for attendees who are interested in sub-disciplines or particular procedures that might be spread out over a number of different streams.  For example, this cross-referencing feature proved very useful in a biotechnology congress we ran a while back.  Biotechnology by its nature overlaps in many areas in its application so such a function adds a lot of value to the attendee experience.

CSR benefits

Of course apps can reduce consumable resources and save money by using apps.  Rather than printing 200 page proceedings, 90% of which are thrown away after an event or never even opened, digital apps are often more cost efficient as they are reusable.

Where your event app can fall down

There’s no question that apps have revolutionised the way we communicate at events but they’re not always the answer to digitalisation.

Event app cost versus benefit

There are occasions where it doesn’t make economic sense to use an app.  Entry level pricing for most apps is around the £3,000 to £5,000 mark just for the software.  The final price depends on the level of sophistication and customisation you require.  Additionally to this is the cost of project and content management, which can easily double that initial investment.  As a one off cost for a conference this doesn’t really make sense for anything less than 1,000 delegates.  Users can of course get better return by using the same software over a course or series of events.

At-a-glance programme viewing

Replacing a printed programme with an app presents challenges with a conference that has multiple streams containing a number of speakers.  The limitations of smart phones make them very difficult to use to display overall programme formats.  For medical congresses this can create challenges for delegates that wish to compare streams (a greater proportion than you might think!).

Appathy

Whilst most of us now have smart phones which allow for the use of apps, a large proportion of delegates still do not engage at conferences in this way.  For many, the thought of downloading and having to learn how to use “yet another” app is too much….this is called #AppAthy.

Like any good software app providers are able to provide reports on download and engagement rates for their products.  Results that we’ve seen are quite a mixed bag ranging from as low as 20% of attendees to as high as 90%.

As a side note: all organisers need to be conscious that onsite communications need to be across a number of channels. Emails are not always read, twitter posts ignored, notifications not enabled and announcements not heard.  However, if you communicate across a range of these onsite you will get your message through to the majority.

Better approval process

New apps have to be approved by both Android and Apple in order to be made available on app stores.  It used to be the case that approval might take up to 2 weeks although in recent years this has become much quicker.  Companies such as EventMobi and CrowdCompass have recently developed more generic apps which will allow organisers to create an event which will be able to use a number of general app facilities, rather than having to create new ones from scratch each time.  It remains to be seen how popular this will be.

Choosing the right provider

If you are planning to develop an event app the following tips may help you select an appropriate provider

  • Work with a company that has a demonstrable experience with developing apps for conferences and events. Functions and interaction are very different with events compared to other apps and it’s important to work with an expert.
  • Try to avoid a “one conference” mentality when choosing your provider. Select someone who can provide a product that can easily be re-used, or “re-skinned”, for future events
  • Consider off-the-shelf modular packages that can be adjusted for your use. I’ve not yet met a client who needs all the bells and whistles that most apps offer.  If you’re new to it, start small with one or two of the most important functions.  As you develop over time, and your delegates become used to the technology, you can add more.

In conclusion

Apps are a great advance in technology that can really support and underpin the value proposition of your event.  But there’s no such thing as “one-app-suits-all”. You need to use a variety of communication options to be able to get your messages over to your audience.

By Rob Eveleigh

First published 05/06/2018