If you host a large event, whether with customers, partners, prospects or the public, you know the joys and struggles of producing and distributing meeting materials. Even if, like me, you feel a beautifully designed printed piece is a thing of joy, you may just be ready to move away from a printed program guide to something more interactive. That’s the situation we were in recently as we helped a B2B technology client prepare for its bi-annual developer and user meeting.
I’d had the good fortune to have managed the app for Richmond 2015, the UCI cycling championships held here in Richmond., That global event gave me experience working with an experienced vendor to create highly branded and highly engaging mobile experience for a large and diverse audience. We reached out to that vendor as well as a few others to get pricing and proposals on replacing our client’s printed program with a mobile app.
Our main goals for the project were to:
- Create a branded interactive conference guide that was easy to update and reflected the forward-looking nature of the company and the conference
- Provide an interactive map of the venue
- Give users the ability to “favorite” events and build their own agendas
- Provide networking features for attendees
- Use push notifications to update attendees on important events or changes
While it wasn’t necessarily a goal going in, all the options we priced came in below the cost of the printed program (paper and ink are expensive). Here are a few things we learned throughout the process.
Changes Gonna Change
One huge drawback of a printed program is that the final schedule must be locked in well in advance of the event. Of course, with careful planning, it’s often not difficult to solidify most things in advance, but there are always last-minute changes. If a speaker misses a flight or stays home sick, you can just update the app. In our case, that was as simple as logging into a web-based administration panel and clicking a few buttons. You also can’t include last-minute sponsors or trade show vendors in a printed program, but can easily add them to the app.
Don’t Be Too Pushy
Once the app is on their phones, it’s very easy to send push notifications to your users, but you should use that feature sparingly. You’ll need to decide what works best for your event and audience, but we found that limiting ourselves to one or two push notifications a day made the most sense for our client’s multi-track conference. We also kept the notifications informative rather than promotional, helping attendees find their way to events on time.
The Networking Effect
It wasn’t clear from the outset how extensively the attendees and trade show vendors would use the app’s networking features, but they turned out to be a useful addition to the conference. Our app allowed users to log in with their LinkedIn account, allowing users to see what sessions their LinkedIn connections were planning to attend. It also let attendees make new connections at the conference and message other attendees.
This first foray into deploying a conference app was a big win for our client, but there are even more opportunities ahead. For instance, it would be possible in the future to integrate the app directly with the conference website, reducing the duplication of information. Additionally, the app we chose can allow for session feedback directly in the session description in the app. Also, for an additional fee, it’s possible to use Bluetooth beacons to provide greater interactivity within the venue, popping up alerts when users approach a certain location in the venue, or even providing “turn by turn” walking directions from one session or trade show booth to another.