Technology

Is It Time To Go Mobile?

By Marcus Underwood • September 5, 2010

The rise of mobile applications has already changed the way businesses interact with consumers and many app stores are now enormously popular. Apple’s App Store has seen more than 2 billion downloads of 100,000 applications by 60 million users, while more than 200 million users worldwide can access Nokia’s Ovi Store and Google’s Android Marketplace. So what does all of this mean for your association?

Mobile communication channels are here to stay, and your members are using these devices in their everyday lives. A lot.

  • Mobile applications have become enormously popular with consumers and are dramatically changing the way associations are interacting–and planning to interact–with their members.
  • Mobile applications can serve as both a membership benefit and a driver of non-dues revenue. Just make sure you’ve nailed down your goals, objectives and capabilities before green-lighting your mobile initiatives.
  • Before jumping on the mobile app bandwagon however, make sure you have carefully determined the type of information members want from you, how much of their work day is spent on the move and the types of mobile devices they’re most likely to be using. Otherwise, you risk wasting precious staff time, money and damage to your reputation.

The question you must answer is whether or not they want to use these devices for business or even if it makes sense to do so. As with any technological innovation, the excitement of realizing: “I can’t believe I can do that on my phone” drives initial adoption (and media exposure). However, in many cases, just because you can do something on your device doesn’t mean it is a more efficient and effective way to do something on it, like communicate.

Before diving headfirst into a potentially costly and time-consuming investment, ask yourself these questions:

1. What information do my members want from me?
Not all information translates well to a mobile device. Long-form articles, image-heavy stories and regulatory topics are best communicated through your print magazine or website. Mobile excels at accessing reference material, current events and location-specific content. Think about what your members might want to use when away they’re from their desks, on a job site or at a customer’s office.

2. What is the typical day like for my member?
Are your members on the move every day, or do they tend to stay in an office working in front of a computer most of the time? Obviously, the more they are on the road, the more they need portable information.

3. What types of devices are most popular for my members?
Blackberry, iPhone, and Droid platforms are the three leaders, but each requires a separate development effort. Before plunging in to the mobile fray, survey your membership to understand the types of devices they use. If you discover that 80 percent of them use BlackBerry, that’s where you will want to first spend your time, effort and money. Keep in mind though, technology changes all the time and this year’s winners may be next year’s losers, so you need to stay current with members’ secondary and tertiary preferences as well.

4. Am I looking at mobile as a member benefit or revenue driver?
Offering your members any kind of mobile application can easily be promoted as a member benefit. Even members who don’t use it will perceive themselves as belonging to a forward-thinking organization.

However, making money from your mobile offerings is another matter altogether. Sponsors and advertisers typically pay for eyeballs, and even the best applications will attract only a small fraction of your membership base initially. This will change over time, but your best bet in the short-term is to find a single sponsor who is interested primarily in being associated with the “forward-thinking” nature of mobile applications, and is less interested in precisely measuring the cost-efficiency of an advertising “buy.” Additionally, small screen sizes and limited ad functionality (like not offering Flash) make mobile a difficult sell for many conventional ad concepts.

Naylor Mobile Initiatives

As many of you know, Naylor has been asking the same questions above of its own clients and we’ve found a number of common communication needs that we can address. In September, we launched two new applications that are available to our association partners. The first is the NaylorNet MobileMarketplace. This application allows members to locate product and service suppliers while away from their office. This reference tool is concise and can be location-specific. The second is the NaylorNet Mobile Newswire. This application provides convenient access to our association partner’s eNewsletter content, which typically contains current events, calendars and association updates. Information is updated as it is published, and is also archived and searchable. Both platforms were built to work on the Apple iPhone and BlackBerry.

There are an infinite number of applications that you can build and customize for your membership. But before jumping in, ask yourself the four questions above to avoid wasting time and money, and to ensure the maximum probability of success with your members on the move.

Marcus Underwood is Vice President and General Manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.