When people are using smartphones and tablets more and more for everyday purposes, it’s unsurprising that apps are hugely popular. An app that offers something interesting, useful and unique for its users can be extremely worthwhile - just look at WhatsApp, the messaging service recently bought by Facebook for an eye-watering sum of $19 billion (£11 billion) on the back of its widespread appeal.
While we can’t all build a WhatsApp, event planners can harness some of the potential of mobile apps to add real value to their events. Providing useful content such as event details, speaker profiles and maps - as well as other relevant materials like industry research and news pieces - an app can be an important way of keeping delegates engaged not just with the event itself, but before and afterwards too. With no limits on the kind of content you can distribute through your app, the sky really is the limit. If you’re thinking of investing in an event-specific mobile app, bear these tips in mind.
Choose your poison
Your attendees will be using a wide range of mobile devices, so bear this in mind when you think about which operating systems you’ll be providing apps for. The two most common are currently Android and Apple’s iOS, but other delegates could be using Windows 8 or even a version of the BlackBerry OS. Each system has different requirements for its apps and if you’re planning on getting your app listed in mobile stores, you’ll need to be aware of the different timeframes for approval with each provider.
Plan the life cycle
Because your app will be permanently visible on the the menu of a device until the user chooses to hide or delete it, it can play an important part in your marketing strategy before, during and after the event. For example, if you have an online event registration system that is fully optimised for mobile use, you can include a link on the screen to download the event app. This could then be a great way to send out notifications and supply running content that will engage attendees and contribute to valuable conversations. Similarly, it could even be used to support question and answer and networking sessions at the event itself, and to send out post-event surveys to gain feedback.
Think about layout and branding
Your event is a brand you are trying to promote, and it needs to be represented using a consistent visual style. You probably have a colour scheme, logo and font on your event's or your organisation’s website, and it’s important to continue that into your app to ensure continuity. In turn, this will help ensure a specific representation of your brand sticks in their mind. Remember to think carefully about layout, too - a finger is a much bigger cursor than that of a computer mouse, so you will need to have fairly large menu and selection buttons and keep the amount of content on any one screen to a minimum.
Call the cavalry
Building a mobile app takes lots of skill and experience using programming languages and software that the casual IT user will struggle with. To produce anything of quality you’ll need more than a quick read of “App Design for Dummies”, so unless you’re a developer or seriously know what you’re doing, call in a professional. There are plenty of talented freelancers out there who will do a much better job than any novice, and the chances are much higher that your attendees will be impressed with the results. Unless you’re a specialist, the best thing to do is provide a detailed brief for someone who is.
Keep the app updated so there’s a stream of content to engage attendees. Including an automatic refresh function will allow your app to instantly download every new piece of information that has been added to the app since it was last opened, so there should always be something new to look at. If you’re willing to invest a little more to get notifications sent directly to the user’s device when they are not using the app, consider push notifications - you will have to register with a push delivery service, but it could be an important means of reminding users about the app and the event itself.