Mobile Apps for Meetings: Implementation Lessons from the Trenches
This is not a piece about how to choose a mobile app. This is our take on “lessons learned” regarding app implementation - things to consider after you’ve made the decision to introduce a mobile app for your conference.
Over the years, members of our team have researched, vetted, and implemented dozens of event apps for all types of organizations, mostly in the association space. In the association world, resources and staffing can be limited, so approaching the project management components of rolling out a mobile app can be daunting. Here are a few important lessons we’ve learned that we think will help you get started.
There are five key elements of any mobile app build that aren’t always at the forefront of your mind when you select your platform, but they should be assessed deliberately before starting your implementation project:
Onsite Ops and Support
Building, testing, and launching a mobile app should be treated as its own project, in tandem with your conference. It needs its own project manager, and if you are the lead planner for your event, that project manager cannot be you. The project manager should be very familiar with your app’s technology or have the technical proficiency to not be intimidated by it. They should be able to dedicate their time and attention to managing what can be a very complex undertaking with a protracted timeline. Know your limits and find an expert, either internally or externally, to guide the process and ensure its success. At Scurry Street, Candace is our resident technology wizard. She manages all of our technology-centered projects (registration, websites, mobile apps, process development) and mobile apps are kind of her thing! Our clients love working with her to take their mobile app vision and make it a reality.
All apps require some degree of graphic design - creating splash screens, backgrounds, even building sponsor ads, or even re-cropping speaker headshots. Do you have an internal resource for this? They should have a grasp of your branding standards and an eye for what works well on a small screen. Most design needs are not complex, but they can be time-consuming. Be sure you have a resource in place for this important role.
Think of a mobile app like building a website. It will require input and deliverables from almost every part of your organization. Depending on how your organization is structured, this could be several different departments or just a few people. Bring them all on board with the project plan and be sure they understand what their contribution will be.
This is an often-overlooked, but critical, part of any event app’s success. Have a plan to manage all of the content files that will be housed in the app - presentation abstracts, supporting documents, slide presentations, etc. Some apps enable speakers to manage their own files throughout the process. Those apps are often on the higher end of the pricing spectrum. For our clients, especially those with a focus on academic, scientific, or research-driven content, it is important to get all the educational assets to where they need to go. Five minutes before their session, a speaker may need to update the slide presentation they gave you three weeks ago. Or they have additional material attendees will need during the presentation. Your project manager may need to work closely with the programming team to ensure this process flows smoothly. Develop a plan to manage this, especially onsite and after the event.
Onsite Ops and Support
Are you prepared to support your app users during the event? Who will make real-time updates in the app as new information becomes available or announcements need to be made? If this is your first event with your app, consider an onsite help desk, staffed by either representatives from the app provider, or very proficient members of your own team. To ensure high adoption rates, it is usually well worth the additional expense to have real people providing onsite support to ensure the successful introduction of any new technology.
And finally, test, test, and test again. Build this into your project timeline. As we like to say at Scurry Street, make sure the boat floats before you put it on the ocean. Allow plenty of time for approval from the app stores, which can take 6-8 weeks. The prospect of building and launching your event app can be intimidating, but with careful preplanning and the right experts and resources in place, you can provide a very powerful resource and communication tool to your participants.