If you have recently attended a large conference, there is a good chance that a free mobile application was provided to its attendees. Conference mobile applications have come a long way in the past 2-3 years, both in functionality and cost. Used effectively, these applications can greatly improve your members’ experience while attending your conference, without draining resources.
Conference mobile applications, in their simplest form, make the information that you would normally have in a print conference guide available on a mobile device. Session descriptions, times, locations, and speakers are the most used items. However, most new products are taking this model further and integrating social into the application. Now, you can tweet or post to Facebook during programs and interact with others within the application to build ad hoc communities. Members can send private messages to other members within the application, and even share their schedules so they can see what their friends are attending, or where they could meet up.
Benefits of Conference Apps
Have you ever had last minute schedule or speaker changes to your program? With a mobile application, these can be updated any time, and provide you with direct messaging access to all the attendees. Getting this information out during a busy conference is a huge hassle, and traditional methods can be ineffective. With a mobile application, it’s quick and your attendees are immediately up to date.
Another big trend driving mobile conference application growth is that it is a very “green” solution. Conferences generate volumes of printed material (guides, handouts, maps, etc.), and providing that information online or in a mobile application can significantly reduce the amount of printed material.
These applications also provide a very good way for your sponsors and exhibitors to interact with your members. Members can often schedule meetings with exhibitors through the application directly, and exhibitors can provide material electronically through the app (no more plastic bags filled with fliers to try to stuff in your luggage). Exhibitors and sponsors will also pay for this access, which brings me to the next topic; cost.
As recently as three years ago, if you had the foresight to want a mobile conference application for your show, you typically had to pay for custom development. I can recall an ASAE show just two years ago where one of the presenters was pleased with having to “only” spend $20,000 to build one for their show. Custom-developed applications were the norm, and off-the-shelf or templated products were few and far between.
That has all changed now, and sophisticated products can be had for less than $10,000, and in some cases, much less. Usually, the amount of customization you require and the number of attendees are typically the major influencers of price. Most providers now offer solutions that are available on all platforms (iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry, and mobile Web), and typically all included in one price. Some providers will do all the work for you, while others provide an online Content Management System that allows you to enter all the information and keep it all up to date.
Combinations are endless, and the market is extremely competitive right now. I receive a sales call or email at least once a week from a company offering these kinds of services. Find a company that has been used by someone you know if possible, and ask them for feedback on how much time it took them and what amount of technical issues (if any) their users had when using the application.
Naylor offers a mobile conference application for some of our clients and many times the costs can be fully supported by application sponsorships. Whatever solution you choose, your members will appreciate it, and it will enhance their experience at the show and increase the likelihood that they will return next year. A win-win for everyone.
Marcus Underwood is vice president and general manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.