Aron Ezra, CEO of San Francisco–based MacroView Labs, helps companies to create “mobile ecosystems,” reaching prospects, employees, customers, and vendors. For companies and associations that want to start going mobile by launching a mobile app at their next meeting, Ezra offers these eight steps to an awesome app:
1. Start early. Ezra recommends three months' lead time: That’s eight weeks to create the app, including rigorous testing and time to get approval from app stores, plus four weeks to promote it.
2. Know your primary goal. This dictates how your app is structured and what features are included. An app based around "delivering first-class service" will look different from an app whose primary goal is "getting additional leads."
3. Don’t duplicate your Web site. Think about how your people behave in the mobile world. Pre-event, the typical user goes to your event Web site to see the location, agenda, and dates. On site, however, they want to know where their sessions are and how to get to the lobby from the ballroom. Your app should take advantage of the phone’s capabilities, including the GPS, camera, and QR-code reader, to create a customized experience.
4. Balance where the app content comes from. Allowing the user to download everything at once makes your app always usable, but it’s also static. “It’s like going to print,” Ezra says. On the other hand, if everything has to be downloaded from a server each time a user wants to do something, they can be frustrated by weak signals or slow transmission rates. Ezra’s solution is a hybrid, which requires using a content management system, or CMS. Users download the framework, but you are able to change content as needed and push it out to all users. The app is continually “checking in” with the server, and updating occurs automatically.
5. Let the app pay for itself—but not by charging users! Find a sponsor for the entire app, or sell ads. Are there local merchants who might want to reach your attendees? “These apps can be very profitable,” Ezra says. Factor in savings from not printing or shipping agendas.
6. Then again, don’t make it about sales. You want to showcase sponsors, but you don’t want an app that looks like an ad.
7. Don’t annoy your attendees. What’s annoying? A confusing user interface, too many required steps, notifications that seem like spam instead of offering important information, or incorrect content. Know your people, make the content relevant to them, and don’t bury critical info.
8. Let your imagination loose. “We are only in the foothills of this technology,” Ezra says. “There is a lot more innovation to come.” So don’t look only at what others have done. Explore what is possible.
Best Practices in App Promotion
Obviously, no matter how cool an app you’ve created, it will be successful only if people download and use it. That takes some work on your part. Here’s what Ezra suggests:
1. Make users evangelists. Offer useful tools such as QR-code readers, check-in services,, photos, videos, and special offers that encourage users to share the app with their friends, colleagues, and social networks.
2. Make people want to play with your app. In addition to usefulness, you need something fun. How about a trivia game about senior leaders? Ask your developer what other companies have done to increase engagement with their apps.
3. Talk it up early. Start your promo work one month out, so attendees aren’t hearing about your app for the first time at registration. At your event Web site, redirect smartphone users to a mobile Web site. (You can include a pop-up that says, “Hey, I see you are on a smartphone, click to download our iPhone app.”)
4. Train registration staff. They should be able to describe the usefulness of the app to attendees, and tell them how to access it. Also, use lots of on-site signage.