Here’s a simple and not-so-shocking truth: we use our mobile phones a lot.
There were 3.7 billion unique users of mobile devices worldwide as of January 2018. Tech-savvy Americans, for example, spend an average of three to four hours a day interacting with smartphones each day. Young adults are estimated to check their devices 86 times a day.
Now, here’s a more complex reality, which is crucial for event organizers to understand: laptop and desktop are alive and well, at least in some use cases.
While smartphone use is overwhelmingly popular for social media activities, messaging and catching up with news and gossip, the majority of consumers in western markets also have desktop (and tablet) devices which they tend to use for more detailed review and purchasing. Dave Chaffey, Smart Insights
Fine, you say. So what?
Glad you asked, say we.
In a hyper-digital world, the key to attendees’ engagement lies in creating a multi-channel experience. An event planner should be present in every place her attendees need her to be, anytime, on every device and platform. She needs to deliver a smooth flow between phones, laptops, desktops, tablets - and real life. It is critical to inform and inspire and connect before, during and after your conference or trade show.
To be relevant, you need to go omni.
Go where? To the digital spaces where your attendees, exhibitors, partners, speakers, visitors, and guests are.
To achieve that you need to implement a cross-platform approach. Your app should be both web AND mobile. A web application is useful to prepare before when you're seated in front of a big laptop or desktop screen at the office or home.
The mobile app becomes a game-changer when someone becomes, well, mobile. Whether in a taxi, airport, or at a convention center - this is is the moment for live networking on the go.
Wait, you say once more, isn’t my mobile event app the essential tool? I need to see adoption, engagement and usage rates soar!
In no small part, your event app can still be the spark that sets everything in motion.
That is, to be honest, mostly true for people who tend to never let go of their phones. But not everyone is like that. Plus some users are not always quick to install the latest version of the phone's operating system.
Thus, we bear in mind an event app is a BIG part of the story but not all of it. The platform approach we mentioned earlier - web app and mobile app combined - is the best way to help people benefit from face-to-face interactions such as meetings or workshops. Its core value is in getting people to have quality in-person experiences.
These, in turn, are still the best ways to engage and convert potential customers.
So let’s focus for the time being on the question of how your app can drive attendee engagement.
The good news is that visitors at events are certainly more comfortable with using meeting apps than they used to be. Yet, many event organizers aren’t going to be satisfied until their usage rates start hitting the 80-90% levels.
Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do to maximize downloading and adoption before your event and usage rates during and after it. By "usage" we mean networking, scheduling meetings, getting program updates and other activities that are a sure sign of attendees' engagement and satisfaction.
Let’s lay down the journey:
% Download and adopt before > % Use during and after > % Engagement overall
Aha! You pose another question. How do I get them to download and then connect to other relevant people?
In this blog post, we’re going to break down exactly how you go about doing that in simple, actionable steps.
What’s hurting your event app usage rates?
Hate to break it to you, but it might be you. :/
Ok, not you as a person - we know you’re lovely. And smart. And committed.
But that, sadly, is not enough.
The top reason that usage rates are low for an event app is lack of communication with attendees. Attendees are excited about your event, they trust you as an expert and hence if you tell them something? They’re going to pay attention.
Problems emerge when you forget that your attendees have lives outside your event. There’s work to do, families to see and any number of things which rank higher than downloading your event app. It doesn’t help that most of us (thanks to prolific smartphone use) have goldfish memories.
So let’s update our little magic formula:
Communication > % Download and adopt before > % Use during and after > % Engagement overall
See what we’ve added?
The one part you can control in a direct and immediate way: communication.
What does that mean for you? What are the snowball effects miscommunication can have - and how to avoid them?
1. Talk to your attendees: Timing and frequency of communication
Your attendees need to be told enough times, in lots of different ways (email, social media, person to person are just a few examples), why they should download your event app.
Timing is also crucial. Early emails may set the stage. However, proximity to the event creates relevancy. One way to go about it is to go for 2-2-2: two weeks before an event starts, then two days and two hours.
Apps for conferences and trade shows aren’t going to rank highly in anyone’s priorities unless you make sure they do.
This is a question of feeding attendees information about your meeting app, one drop after the other. Leaving it to the week before? You’re shooting yourself in the foot.
The first thing to do is analyze the social media data you already have. When are your attendees generally online looking at your posts? Does this vary across different platforms (LinkedIn and Facebook tend to differ significantly for example)? What devices are they on at different times of day? All these factors will impact what sort of content you post at which times.
In an ideal world, you should start talking about your event app from the moment you begin your event marketing campaign. It should be well integrated from the outset. Scale up the number of posts you make as you move closer to the event.
The Key Points
- Don’t leave event app development to the last minute
- Create a clear promotion schedule early on
- Make promotion of the app one person’s responsibility
2. Connect them: Wifi and connection speed
When you don’t communicate well enough in advance about your event app, more people will download it at your event rather than beforehand. Downloading an entire meeting app is a more significant burden on your event’s wifi capabilities than were they just receiving new notifications as to event progress.
If you notice event app download rates are low in the run-up to your event, don’t assume that this will mean that usage rates will be low. 60% of event planners rank on-site internet as one of the most important elements of a successful event (*source: emb). Make sure that your wifi infrastructure is capable of handling the pressure of many attendees downloading the app.
If your event app is relying heavily on online access (which in 2018 should be most of you), slow or patchy wifi can drive your attendees insane. Not to forget the impact on your poor event team.
Given the choice between using frustrating wifi to go on Facebook versus engage with your meeting app? You know which one most are going to choose.
No matter how brilliant they might be, event apps are probably not entertaining enough to be worth the long wait.
The Key Points
- Talk to your venue about wifi limitations
- Look at download rates the week before your event to predict what download rates during your conference or trade will look like
- Create an incentive to download beforehand (extra content, free coffee, etc.)
3) Inspire them: Make it interesting
Gone are the days where you could post a text update on Facebook, and it would pop up in your attendees’ news feed. The ability of your social media to tell attendees about your app lives and dies by its engagement rates.
In other words, you need to create an update that will seduce a lot of people to find it inspiring or entertaining enough to like or share it. Moreover, they'd better do it fast for the algorithm to rank your content high enough on the feed.
Oh My F***** God.
So, what gets you engagement rates?
A photo is a nice start. But video content is taking the lion’s share of timeline space on social media. Gifs or even Instagram Boomerang can be a great halfway point if you don’t have the time or resources to look into more complex video content. Also, they are easy to set up and tend to have a strong FOMO effect.
“Video is growing to dominate your audience’s online activity: 78% of people watch videos online every week, and 55% watch videos online every day.” Sophia Bernanzi, Hubspot, @soph_bern
The Key Points
- Keep text-only posts to a minimum
- Be strategic when you post
- Investigate new means of creating visual content
4) Explain it to them: Tell your attendees why they should use your event app
Posting links to the app store wins only half the battle. You also need to sell your attendees about the benefits this app is going to provide to them. Why did you choose this app for your event? What initially made you think that your attendees would get good use out of it? What kind of problem - noise, lack of time - are you solving?
You’ve already convinced yourself. Now it’s time to convince your audience.
Again, repeat exposure might help. You’re likely to find yourself saying the same thing several times, but familiarity increases people’s openness to trying new things.
Try to stay to a few core messages that fit your ideal attendee. This may work much better than trying to cover too many target audiences with too many features.
The Key Points
- When deciding on an app, keep a clear list of why your attendees will enjoy it
- Get testimonials from past users where possible
- Keep your message streamlined along a few clear messages
6) Make it easy: Simplify on-boarding and UX
Simple is the new smart.
Strong and successful companies know that. Look no further than Apple's iPhone (or Samsung's S9!). Thousands of innovations are packed into one beautiful, well-designed, intuitive experience.
Event organizers and planners would be wise to do everything they can to deliver precisely that.
First, don't ask your attendees to invest time and energy in on-boarding. Remember, they might haven't yet seen the value. It's your job to make things only a tap away from users.
Onboard participants through a web app well before your event. Get their registration info (which should be as rich as possible to support future networking down the road) to create their account. All they will be required to do is activate their account by defining a password.
Fear you not. Experience and data show that attendees will come to see the value of the mobile app a short while before the event - and download it.
Now let's talk about the app itself. Here's a question: Would you ask someone to use a tool you don't like yourself? Nope, you shouldn't be doing this.
Put yourself in users' show. Try to empathize and see things from your attendees' point of view. Now, let's take away the noise and confusion that are often present at events and replace them with a beautiful tool that actually works.
Ah. That feels good, right?
Whatever you call it - user-obsessed or user-focused or user-friendly - your app should be at the forefront of design. Deliver anything less than that, and your exhibition guests or conference visitors will wander away from your app to other, more intuitive digital places.
Give your stakeholders - visitors, exhibitors, partners, sponsors - what they've come for. Don't insult their intelligence with a boring, valueless replica of your website.
Identify and address their top needs. Do they come to your event to network? Go ahead with delivering a great networking feature where they can target, connect and meet with the right people.
Did they come for the content? Make it easy for them to navigate through the program and select sessions they want to attend. Share a reminder before everything starts so that they don't miss out.
If frustration is the enemy, fun and efficiency are your adoption rate's best friends. Make sure your attendees enjoy your digital tool so much they want to use it again and again.
The Key Points
- Use a web app to onboard attendees, and make it a breeze
- Put yourself in your users' shoes: are they likely to enjoy and benefit from your app?
- Design an experience that delivers everything your audience thinks it needs - and then go beyond that
6) Keep at It: Don’t forget about onsite promotion
You’ve put a huge amount of work into getting a panel of presenters that your attendees respect and want to hear from. They are best placed to make a compelling case to your attendees about why they should use your event app. Getting them to mention the app at the beginning of each session and point attendees to the download sites could make a significant difference.
It can be stressful to try to download apps when attendees are also trying to handle registration or travel arrangements. Hence, a space where everyone is settled and attentive is an ideal location to reiterate the value of your meeting app.
Make sure you have someone on site who understands the app and can help attendees with their problems. That person can either be someone from the event app company itself (let’s assume it’s Swapcard, ok?). Alternatively, it could be a team member who enjoys technology.
Make it clear and visible to attendees that this person exists and they can ask them anything about how the event app works. Ideally, this person should be at or near the registration desk, so they are immediately apparent to attendees as they enter your event space.
The Key Points
- Leverage key speakers influence
- Create small lulls and pauses in activity to give attendees a chance to download the app
- Have onsite support available to attendees
- Support should be clear and visible
Event app usage rates are one of the leading causes of frustration among event organizers. A lot of resources go into putting together an event app.
Getting your event app to be used by your attendees is key to getting a proper ROI on the resources you put in. Without a good adoption rate, your data and analytics will be limited, and the event engagement is not going to see the boost it should have from an event app. Ultimately you will be left wondering whether the experience was worthwhile or not.
Last but not least, don't forget the people which finance your event. Think of what a high engagement rate means for your partners, sponsors and exhibitors.
The higher the adoption rate --> the higher the visibility you provide on the platform --> the higher the number of interactions and meetings --> the higher the conversation --> better ROI.
Phew. Sounds easy, right? It's not. The fruits are not always low-hanging. But they can be.
That's why you need to select a provider with a track record of and commitment to supporting organizers, exhibitors and sponsors. Using great tech to deliver in-person experiences may feel like an uphill journey. At the same time, the view from the top is quite a thing.