Mobile Apps for Smaller Events – IT Investment Decision

Should I build or buy a mobile app for my event, is it useful?

There are many reasons for building and using mobile apps at different event venues, particularly if the venue is physically widespread and attendees plus operators number in the thousands. Custom, mobile tools are essential. What about smaller events – when does a mobile app’s value actually kick in?

Let’s walk through some decision criteria, from different perspectives.

At the end of the day, there should be SOME kind of return-on-investment (ROI) for the event owner, and the mobile app user. Building, maintaining and marketing mobile apps isn’t really a cheap, disposable kind of value proposition (not yet, at least, except perhaps for building brand equity).

Reasons a mobile app at an event should be useful, is for:

– real-time;
– location-aware;
– personalized;
– multimedia data and information sharing and collection;
– among on-foot participants (among attendees, staff, presenters, advertisers);
– where always-on Internet connectivity isn’t necessarily required;
– and the event “experience” persists for a while (i.e. there’s good reason for the app to remain on the device for days, weeks, months – it’s not just “app-spam”).

This means the “native” app is interacting with individual device sensors, including geo-location, cameras, personal data and real-time user behavior and device usage.

That’s key – if a user is interacting with the app, but the app isn’t interacting with the mobile device – the user might as well be interacting with a mobile-enabled website(which can be a very app-like experience, with HTML 5 these days).

For a smaller event (i.e. with hundreds to a few thousand participants), what value then can a “disposable event app” (i.e. an app focused specifically on the event) provide to participants? Why should they be using an app on their phone, vs. physically participating in and paying attention to the event itself?

Use Case #1; The Typical Event Participant – I’ve arrived at the single-day event, with or meeting some of my cohorts, and am geared up to participate. My cellphone’s charged up, I’ve looked at the event website (and bought tickets), basically know what I’m going to do, and have communicated w/my communities (and the event) via Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Things I might need at the event, via a mobile app vs. website:

1. Real-time, push notifications or alerts of event activity and schedule info, specials, coupons, cool alerts – both for everyone, and personalized for me (i.e. what are my friends or contacts doing, social media “helpers”, the “buzz”, the twitterstream, what’s special for me based on interactions I’ve had);

2. Easy, hopefully fun or interesting and immediate ways to contribute to the dialogue or feedback, when and as it happens (w/pics, comments, votes, check-ins, etc.);

3. Quick and easy-to-consume event info (and maybe take notes or use tags to organize it), when and where I need it, plus a way to subscribe to event or related info for future consumption or interaction (as in, this is cool, let me know later about this topic, proximity-based content, just-in-time FAQs, etc.);

4. Personal event tools – like find-a-match, translate or convert content, sign up for activities, create personal schedule, subscribe to more or follow-up activities, games w/prizes, virtual business cards, buy things (or contribute time or money), take part in online/offline games, etc.

Use Case #2: They Typical Event Staff Lead – I’ve prepared the night before and have arrived early to the event, and am ready to work with my team and support the event venue and participants. Things I might need at before, during and after the event, via a mobile app vs. website:

1. Real-time communication, alerts and notifications, like the participants, but also information from people and systems about the status of certain processes, inventory, sales, workforce status and locations, etc.;

2. Data collection features, to load real-time or batched into other systems or reporting tools (like inventory levels, quality control info, issue list, contacts, photos/videos, traffic data, notes for next time, etc.);

3. Background event, facility, presenter, sponsor or vendor information (including agreements, contracts, contingency information), easy to access and search specifically for event organizers, managers;

4. Event performance and participant feedback information, real-time and via analytical tools.

If a “Disposable App” doesn’t seem like it would offer immediate or enough value according to the use cases above, considering what you’d likely pay to build and use it (and considering the other kinds of tools that may already be available)….consider also this – a branded app supporting both the brand and the community (i.e. potential and actual event participants) that’s working all year long, and is then ALSO used during the event, might be the better ROI.

This would mean a permanent, vs. disposable app, offering:

– A continuing, two-way dialogue channel and community-building mechanism, continual buildup of knowledge and participation;

– A continuing source of analytics regarding community feedback, behavior, interests;

– A platform to continue and maintain the event brand, “experience” and “buzz” beyond the event itself, and to maintain branded marketing messages;

– An ongoing way to test and expose previously unknown benefits or value of the event, based on how the community responds to the app content.

So in a nutshell, for smaller events;

(A) think first if there’s a really unique reason, use case or feature for investing in a mobile app, that may in fact ultimately (1) become a “disposable app” and (2) really be something readily created as mobilized features of your existing website;

(B) think if there’s good reason to create a more persistent, branded community app that lives before, during and after the event. There probably will be, if building the brand, community and potential revenue base is in fact a year-long, continual process.

(C) What sort of event is it? Are people walking around drinking beers, listening to music outdoors, socializing with friends? Or are people listening to presentations, networking, testing vendor products. Staring at a mobile app all day might be helpful and produce new revenue opportunities in one case, but not really the other.

Investing in a mobile app might, however, simply be a really cool thing to do, that you’re not really expecting explicit value from, and that tells your customer base that you’re a legitimately connected and mobile-aware brand. If so, just build it, and see what happens – perhaps an “unintended” or “unexpected” benefit lays in wait for you!

(Crass marketing message – if you do in fact have a Northern Virginia or Dulles Toll Road corridor event, along the Dulles Metro Silver line, Tysons to Reston and Herndon – post your event on our mobile Fairfax Events app, GoFFX!).