<

[Product update] Infrastructure Analysis Tool is now available with Business Accounts.Learn More

x

Should You Mobilize Your Meeting or Conference Data?

Published on
15,026 Points
4,226 Views
13 Endorsements
Last Modified:
Awarded
Editor's Choice
Jason C. Levine
Creating effective web sites since 1993

Overview


I am the Vice President for Technology at a company you've never heard of that runs scientific conferences and trade shows for not-for-profit organizations.  As soon as Apple opened the App Store after the release of the first generation iPhone, I was besieged by requests to create apps for conferences and have now spent a very long time carefully going through the various options available. As my clients have limited budgets for their meeting IT services, I had to take a very hard look at costs, benefits, and drawbacks of apps and mobile web sites and I'd like to share my experience with the community here.  This will be a series of articles that touch on the whole process of providing mobile access to your conference data and future articles will go into great detail on app development and mobile web development. This first article will attempt to take the 10,000-foot view and address some common questions we hear from clients when we try to convince them that mobile development is worth their while.

Client: Can we afford an app and/or mobile-friendly meeting web site?


Given the cost of printing program books, flyers, your inability to change something once it has gone to print and the impact of all of that paper on the environment it make good sense to take that budget and throw it at mobile development.  In my experience, even a small (~300 attendees) scientific conference's print run can cost many thousands of dollars and generate a program book that is several hundred pages in length.  Larger conferences have exponentially larger print budgets (well into tens of thousands of dollars) and thus could get even more bang for their buck from going electronic and mobile.  The cost of mobile development is fixed no matter how many people download the app or access the web site and the “number of pages” isn't really relevant to the cost.  Smaller conferences can actually publish more information for the same overall expense by concentrating on mobile development.  This does lead to a discussion of going full paperless vs. some limited printing so the Luddites have something to read too.  I'm happy to have that debate in the comments section below.

Conscientious organizers also arrange for recycling of unused paper at the venue and frequently that comes at a cost to the conference as well.  Obviously, going full paperless will remove that cost and other associated trash collection costs if the venue charges for those services separately (and many do).

Client: What other advantages will I get from an app or mobile web site?


Aside from the cost savings there are several other compelling reasons to mobilize your conference data.  

First and foremost, the mobile web version of this stuff makes FANTASTIC search engine bait.  It is fresh, relevant to your organization's mission, and stuffed with keywords and long-tail phrases.  Publishing even the most basic conference information should result in a big kick to impressions and inbound users and you should find interest and attendance increasing.

Almost as important is that a printed conference program or slide deck is dead as soon as it prints.  If there are any changes you either have to live with your materials being incorrect or publish a “changes” supplement just before the meeting begins and even that can be rendered useless if there are more last-minute changes.  By contrast, you should be able to update a meeting app (and can absolutely update a web site) with up-to-the-minute changes or revisions ensuring your attendees have access to the most recent data.  It's also a lot easier to display rich media materials (images, videos, PowerPoint slides) electronically than in printed form (see my “How Do I Print A Video” article, coming soon). Electronic content typically has one more huge advantage over print...it's searchable.  Instead of thumbing through index pages in the back of a book hoping to find a reference to a talk you wanted to hear, having an app/web site should allow you to just search for it and instantly see all of the information available.

If you run a conference that has a trade show or exhibit hall, your exhibitors will absolutely love you if you allow attendees to search the trade show participants by name or product.  This brings more traffic onto the trade show floor and makes your exhibitors more likely to exhibit with you again.  If you have the ability, you can even sell enhanced listing features like links or logo placement for additional fees.

Apps (and mobile web but not quite as much) also carry a “buzz” factor that exists but is hard to nail down in a quantitative fashion.  My anecdotal experience for non-IT conferences (IT specific populations EXPECT an app/mobile web so that calculus is different) is that having an app legitimizes the conference and makes it seem that the organizing group is “cutting-edge” and it does seem to provide a morale boost for the attendees.  I have witnessed many world-class surgeons acting like kids with a shiny new toy as they demo their conference app or mobile site for their friends while standing in lines or waiting for a talk to begin and recruit others to download the app or access the site.  Conferences actually depend a great deal on this sort of positive buzz and energy.  It affects the ratings in post-meeting evaluations which makes the organizers look and feel good and can also affect attendance at future conferences as people want to be a part of positive, fun things again.  Finally, it allows non-attendees a window on the conference to see what they are missing and, if social networking is embedded, a way to engage with attendees who will reinforce what a wonderful time is being had. All of this adds up to better attendance and repeat business for the planners.

Your conference materials are automatically archived and available as long as you are willing to keep the app in the app stores or the web content up.  This makes it easy for new attendees to go back in time and see past presentation information and use it to make an informed decision about whether to spend money on your conference in the future.  The more thoughtful readers will note that this means you should have the best possible app or site you can from year-to-year since it's likely to always be out on display.

Finally, it can increase the social interactions of your attendees in positive ways.  A well-designed app and mobile web solution will integrate Twitter and Facebook functionality and allow attendees to spread your information via their social networks.  This is all free marketing for your meeting and organization and you should be doing everything in your power to encourage it.  Good developers can also create mechanisms to allow attendees to interact with speakers and moderators via the mobile solution which enriches your Question and Answer portions of the meeting.  People who are too shy to approach a microphone or who don't have a good grasp on the spoken language at the conference can submit their questions electronically and give the panels more choices for conversation starters.  If you can get your attendees to Tweet about your conference using a pre-defined hashtag you will create dozens or hundreds of brand evangelists that can promote you and will alert people to interesting content that might otherwise have been overlooked.

Client: So you're saying we really need to have mobile-specific development?


Based on the points above there should be no question as to IF you should have a mobile presence for your conference in this day and age. The only question would be what kind.  Nearly everyone is walking around with some sort of smart phone that is, at a minimum, capable of accessing web sites.  A majority of that majority has a device capable of running apps and nearly everyone prefers to carry a phone or tablet instead of multiple program books, syllabi, flyers and other assorted swag that conference planners generate to justify their existence.  Having your meeting content available for mobile devices and taking advantage of that built-in market is just smart.  It can be cost-effective, useful, and enhance the attendee experience in many ways.

Thank you for reading.  If you have any questions or want to discuss a point I made above, please leave a comment for me below.
13
  • 7
  • 2
  • 2
  • +4
15 Comments
LVL 51

Expert Comment

by:Keith Alabaster
Hello the house.... with the plethora of devices/os's etc, is it worth while touching on the fact that developing one version of an app for one environment does not necessarily cover everyone?

I mention it because - a specific - a number of airports have taken the app route to track where people are in terminals and their movements (so as to site concession stalls on the most used paths etc), to publish timetables, latest info and - of course - to squirt in a few 'visit us in terminal 4 for a 10% discount' links as well.

The feedback to the apps has been great - however, almost all of the airports (ranged from Heathrow, Dallas, JFK, Shanghai and some god forsaken place in Monrovia I think) all said that they now spent as much time developing the app to run on the different media as they did on the traditional web sites. Costs are down, granted, but the excitement of a year or two back was a little dimmed I thought.
Keith
0
LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
Keith,

The next article will be app-specific development advice and I will touch on the resources needed for multiple OS app development there.  You are completely correct in your assessment of the field but there are shortcuts that people can take to cover iOS and Android simultaneously.

Also, I'm cheating (a great deal) by limiting the discussion specifically to conference apps.  These things have VERY short development cycles and lifespans (typically 3 months and a month respectively).  That alone makes them quite a bit different from an app such as you describe that is persistent but also has to change constantly to respond the demands of both management and customer feedback.  I get to throw one out there and forget about it for the most part :)
0
LVL 58

Expert Comment

by:tigermatt
>> Conferences actually depend a great deal on this sort of positive buzz and energy

I dig this 100%. I went to a conference/trade show (mixture of the two) for education in January, as one of my focusses is IT in education for a large school, and never looked at most of the rubbish I was given. In fact, I think it's still under my desk at work in a large bag. Had they made an app available which not only had input from the conference organiser as to the location of exhibitors, but also had the exhibitors' material in there too, I reckon that would have made me more interested in what I was looking at. It would also have been a huge outlet for me locating exactly what I wanted to see, which would have delivered the "positive buzz and energy", because I would have got the most out of what I was there for.

You said the IT community expect an app or some special development for a conference/function/event, but do you think we are close to the non-IT community cottoning on to this?

Maybe a year or two out, I can see this becoming a game changer as more people adopt tablets and smartphones.

As for the development cycle itself, it would be cool if you managed to put something together about that, as it's obviously going to vary significantly from an app which has to last the test of time. Perhaps that's what you're planning to integrate into a future article.

Very nice article, Jason. Voted "YES".

-Matt
0
Learn SQL Server Core 2016

This course will introduce you to SQL Server Core 2016, as well as teach you about SSMS, data tools, installation, server configuration, using Management Studio, and writing and executing queries.

LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
I went to a conference/trade show (mixture of the two)

Most are.  Education for the attendees, business opportunity for the trade and the organizers make money both ways.

It would also have been a huge outlet for me locating exactly what I wanted to see, which would have delivered the "positive buzz and energy", because I would have got the most out of what I was there for.

Exactly.  Happy attendees are the best possible outcome and the more the IT team can do to deliver a personalized experience, the happier most folks will be with the conference.  The flip side of this is IT has do things extremely well.  If you publish an app or mobile web and the UI/UX is generally horrible the whole thing will backfire on you.

but do you think we are close to the non-IT community cottoning on to this?

I would say we are the tipping point, yes.  A good test is to walk into a mobile phone provider and attempt to buy a non-smart phone.  I don't know about the UK but in the USA
it is almost impossible to get a device that isn't "smart" enough for a decent mobile web experience.  Androids and iOS devices predominate.  Blackberries are in an odd situation - they have numbers but no one wants to develop for that OS.

Maybe a year or two out, I can see this becoming a game changer as more people adopt tablets and smartphones.

In my experience it has hit different segments of the population at different speeds.  Because we do primarily medical/surgical conferences we have found penetration to be extremely high.  Our populations have a lot of disposable income and there has been a push towards electronic medical records for years so they are highly familiar with tablets and other mobile computing hardware/initiatives.  By contrast, we did a legal conference where there was little to no demand for an app as more than half of that conference had Blackberries and no real expectation of anything to be available for them.  

There is a cautionary tale in this.  Don't do an app for the sake of doing an app...do some basic market research and make sure your population is ready for it.  But that's a subject for the next article...

it would be cool if you managed to put something together about that, as it's obviously going to vary significantly from an app which has to last the test of time.

Wow.  Mind reader you are :)
0
LVL 56

Expert Comment

by:Mark Wills
Think some of the comments make for even better EEA reading *laughing*.

Good Article and Voted Yes...
0
LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
I always think the discussion is the best part.  So c'mon people...more the merrier.
0
LVL 75

Expert Comment

by:Michel Plungjan
I have just 30 minutes ago bought a domain name where I plan to create a database and tools to populate a date picker web app. Using jQuery mobile, I should be able to handle any iOs device and most smart phone browsers in one go.
I am enthused after experiencing the greenwheels.com web app, which is saved as an icon on my iPhone and behaves like an app, but is actually just html with some javascript.
0
LVL 15

Expert Comment

by:Eric AKA Netminder
Jason,

Solid, well-written article.

Do you consider the short development/shelf life time frames to be a drawback at all? Or have you found the transition to largely mobile conference packages to be a case of "build it once and put a new coat of paint on it for each new conference?"

ep
0
LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
Do you consider the short development/shelf life time frames to be a drawback at all?

No.  In fact, I consider them to be an advantage.  Short dev cycles mean you have to concentrate on features you know you can produce and that acts as a natural suppression on scope creep.  You also have to get your data organized and ready which tends to make the other meeting planners happy and/or productive as more things are ready further out.

mobile conference packages to be a case of "build it once and put a new coat of paint on it for each new conference?"

This is largely the case but the specifics will be discussed in the next article. There's only so much variation possible in conference structures, especially when the same company plans all of the conferences.  Once you have a working app, rebranded/iterative versions are trivial to produce.
0
LVL 56

Expert Comment

by:Mark Wills
So, is the development so very specific to yourselves, or, do you think there might be an application space for generic deployment (and maybe revenue) ? Or is that not part of the thought process as much as supporting your own conferences (specifically) given the short dev cycles...
0
LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
So, is the development so very specific to yourselves, or, do you think there might be an application space for generic deployment (and maybe revenue) ?

The latter.  In fact, the application space is already very crowded with SaaS providers.  It's being written up in part 2 this week.
0
LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:younghv
This Article makes for terrific reading. Although not a heavy user of smart phones, I can see how this would be valuable to even a casual user - and immensely profitable to the organizers.

Profit being one of my favorite things.

"Yes" vote above.
0
LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
Although not a heavy user of smart phones, I can see how this would be valuable to even a casual user - and immensely profitable to the organizers.

It's less of a profit center and more of a convenience for the attendees.  We haven't summoned up sufficient courage to put a conference app out there for a fee.  In our case, our largest conference is about 5,000 potential customers and if we got 100% buy-in for the app at $0.99, it could possibly cover production costs of a simple app.  

Now a huge show that has 20,000 or 30,000 attendees over several days might be able to get away with charging for an app and getting their money back and then some.  The problem is attempting to convince someone who just paid $800 for a ticket to cough up the additional $0.99.

Easier and better to raise everyone's rates by $5 across the board :)
0
LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:younghv
I was thinking of the "profit" generated by using the app and NOT running up those huge printing/distribution costs.

It will be interesting to watch the development of this as you go forward.
0
LVL 70

Author Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
I have just 30 minutes ago bought a domain name where I plan to create a database and tools to populate a date picker web app. Using jQuery mobile, I should be able to handle any iOs device and most smart phone browsers in one go.

Michel, I missed this comment before.  Apologies.  Yes, JQuery mobile (and PhoneGap) are the tools of choice for a mobile web site and really have simplified the process.  However, it is still not quite at the level where less-than-great coders can generate good quality mobile sites or apps.  This is good news for you...it gives you a new market for your skills.

I am enthused after experiencing the greenwheels.com web app, which is saved as an icon on my iPhone and behaves like an app, but is actually just html with some javascript.

And that's the secret sauce.  You can even be a regular ignorant person like me and get the same effect with WordPress and plugin.  Details to come.
0

Featured Post

Angular Fundamentals

Learn the fundamentals of Angular 2, a JavaScript framework for developing dynamic single page applications.

Viewers will get an overview of the benefits and risks of using Bitcoin to accept payments. What Bitcoin is: Legality: Risks: Benefits: Which businesses are best suited?: Other things you should know: How to get started:
From store locators to asset tracking and route optimization, learn how leading companies are using Google Maps APIs throughout the customer journey to increase checkout conversions, boost user engagement, and optimize order fulfillment. Powered …

Keep in touch with Experts Exchange

Tech news and trends delivered to your inbox every month