How to Choose The Right Event App

Associations are looking at event apps – knowing what questions to ask can help find the right one for your members.

By Paul Plasterer

female hand holding phone with app icons
As with most technology for associations, event apps represent a challenge and an opportunity to expand services and value to members and sponsors.

Event apps – members are asking for it and the board wants it. Executive management thinks it would help engage members, grow the association, and make up for some lost revenue from the last year and a half.

You’ve used similar apps before and have your own ideas on what works (and what doesn’t!) when it comes to apps. Your inbox is flooded with sales pitches from the dozens of products on the market. It’s an app, it’s easy, it’s “plug-and-play”, “turnkey”, “off-the-shelf”; what’s not to like?

As with most technology for associations, event apps represent a challenge and an opportunity to expand services and value to members and sponsors.

What is an Event App?

An event app is a downloadable application available through a standard app store, such as Google Play or Apple. “App” is short for “application” and it’s a mobile version of a larger event application. Event apps can also be a single third-party mobile application that connects with other association technologies, such as association management software (AMS) or learning management software (LMS).

Web apps work both with a continuous internet or wifi connection and also in an offline mode. The continuous internet/wi-fi connection makes for a better experience, especially as the day of the event draws nearer. Room number or speaker time changes? Just make a quick admin update and the event app will push out the corrected information.

7 Keys to Selecting a Mobile Event App:

Take a moment to consider what you would like to get out of the app. The list below is a casual guide to help make that choice; if you can think of other ways to make an event app decision let us know

1. Member Experience

The customer experience is the most important. Start with a general idea of who the member is and how they will navigate the app.

There are a number of ways the member will interact with the mobile event app. Think from the standpoint of the member: what is the easiest way to get the app on their mobile device? Once installed, how do they navigate to the event sessions and experiences that matter most? Determine the list of features the app should have for the right member experience before reaching out to the vendor.[k2] 

2. Event Type

Each event type presents business and technology challenges. Some event apps work well with live presentations and others work better with pre-recorded webinars. How the app works with live or pre-recorded content should be one of the top considerations when determining if the event app will deliver the necessary value.

The longer the content is available the more likely the event can continue to provide value. What direction to take depends on what the association wants to get out of the event; having the option of all three types of content (live, pre-recorded, and post-event) gives the widest range of possible engagement and value.

3. Event Size and Frequency

A single large event will likely make up the bulk of the cost and effort.

Pricing for event apps depends on how many participate and how many events will be hosted through the app. As the annual meeting is the highest priority, start with the expected number of participants, including members, vendors, and presenters of the largest event.

Understand how you may want to use the event content in the future before locking down pricing.

4. Existing Event Application

If your existing event platform already has an app, consider this option first.

It’s possible that other apps may have more features and be easier to use, but there can be challenges in switching platforms or adding additional layers to your technological footprint.

Selecting a different event app can also be a way to explore other options. Event apps may have a single use plan, so consider starting with a smaller project first, then determine if the app meets the needs of the members and association goals.

5. Sponsors, Presenters, and CE

Loading and accessing targeted programming, whether sponsored or key content coming from presenters and keynote addresses is important. As with physical events, be mindful of the quiet booth in the corner and the high traffic spot with potentially high interactivity. Digitally, this is a different process, but the core idea is the same.

Mobile Event Apps can be a good way to host and post CE content. Whether it’s presenting the live CE session or having the video/training session available afterwards, keep the members’ educational journey in mind when looking for the right event app.

6. Technology

Playing nice with others is not just for kindergarten – mobile apps should also work well with other technologies.

AMS (Association Management Systems), LMS (Learning Management Systems), CRM (Customer Resource Management), and CMS (Content Management Systems), accounting, marketing, and social media all have their own branding, visual, and data connectivity issues to consider. 

Save time and overhead by first understanding what data goes where. If an integration is needed, its best to know as soon as possible.

7. Timing

Like other information systems, mobile events require planning and set-up before launching. Use the “save the date” announcement to target an initial launch and then plan your timeline backwards from there. The goal should be to include the app download in the initial announcement, or shortly thereafter.

Ideally, 2-3 months is enough to research and make the choice. Another 2-3 months should be planned to set-up, test, and make available the full set of choices to the members, sponsors, and presenters.

Ask the vendor what their lead time and required deployment time is. They can often set up everything in 1-2 months, depending on the size and complexity of the event.

Event apps can help create an engaging and successful event. With planning and preparation, finding the right app for your event may be less challenging that it may seem. Use the recommendations above to help guide the process and good luck!

Now it’s time to work on the other 42 items on your to-do list. Good luck!

Are you a tech guru? Or do you simply have a case study on how technology has worked for your organization? Consider speaking at Association Forum’s SmartTech Conference. Call for proposals is open now through Jan. 16, 2022.

About the Author

Paul is a member of Association Forum's Content Working Group and director of strategic consulting at Starkweather Association Services. Starkweather Association Services focuses on association technology needs. 

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