With nothing to benchmark against, Logan Fleck wasn’t sure what success would look like when this year she launched the first full-featured conference app for the Pharma Forum, an annual event for pharmaceutical meeting planners co-organized by her company, the Woburn-Mass.–based Center for Business Intelligence, and MeetingsNet/medical magazine.
But now, with the three-day March conference behind her, the numbers speak for themselves:
• 71 percent of attendees downloaded the app (434 total downloads)
• Each user opened the app an average of 24 times (10,521 total opens)
• Each user looked at an average of 239 pages (103,863 page impressions)
The app was designed by QuickMobile and could be downloaded onto iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Fleck, CBI’s digital marketing manager, is happy with the results, but even happier knowing that next year’s experience is likely to attract even more users, provide more benefits to the sponsors, and be easier to manage because of all she’s learn along the way.
Here’s her best advice coming off a successful firstexperience.
Strategy: Before Fleck was involved with the conference, Pharma Forum had a less robust, Web-based app that wasn’t able to meet the conference’s strategic goals. For 2013, it was essential that the app be able to improve sponsors’ by giving them a tool to communicate with attendees, and improve the on-site experience for everyone by providing polling, push notifications, and paperless access to the conference materials—agenda, session descriptions, attendee directory, speaker and exhibitor information, and feedback forms.
Communication. Make sure you work well with your developer. “Once we were introduced to QuickMobile, it was such a seamless process. I wanted to work with people who would talk to me like a person, not with a lot of jargon.”
Timing . Fleck completed thewith QuickMobile in early January, which gave the team about nine weeks to develop and promote the app before the conference began on March 19 at the Orlando World Center Marriott. While the app was ready on time, she’ll give herself at least a few more weeks for development next year. She has two warnings for first timers: First, Apple can take as much as three weeks to approve an app for distribution through its App Store, and if there are any snags along the way, you go back to the end of the queue. Second, don’t forget to build in time to work with your legal counsel. “I didn’t realize that I needed to get buy-in from our corporate legal department to give us copyright information” for the app, she says, a process that added several days to her already tight timeline.
Manpower. “It’s really important for someone on your app team to know a little about the digital experience—about functionality and usability—and is a little bit creative in terms of layout and design,” she says, but most important that the team can commit a considerable amount of time to the project. “It’s not like you just upload your content once and that’s that. Every single day you have to make tweaks. It’s the minute things that will bog you down,” she says, citing the typical flurry of changes to speakers, sponsors, and attendees in the month before the event. “Once our app was accepted by the App Store, it was a matter of making sure that the content was reflective of what was going to happen on site. We had session changes; people wanted to update their titles; sponsors wanted their logos bigger or smaller. It’s all those micro requests.”
Security. Attendee usernames presented some unexpected hiccups. “Protecting our attendee list is very important. Anyone with an iPhone or Android device can download the app, but it doesn’t open without a username and password,” explains Fleck. To make things simple, participants were told to use their first initial/last name as a username and everyone had the same password. “It was too cumbersome for our team to send out 600 separate e-mails with unique log-in information,” she explains. Unfortunately some attendees had duplicate first initial/last names, and therefore couldn’t log in. These people had to be helped on a case-by-case basis. Next year, to strengthen security and avoid duplication, Fleck expects to send out unique usernames and passwords as part of the registration confirmation.
Polling. The app’s polling feature can add interaction, says Fleck, but you need to plan ahead. What Fleck learned is that sessions get bogged down when presenters switch back and forth between their PowerPoint and the polling display. “Ideally you’d need two screens, one for the live poll and one for the presentation,” she explains.
Promotion. Attendees received their password information in a “know before you go” mailing sent out about a week before the conference. Fleck says that launching a week or two earlier would have been ideal, nevertheless she planned a successful campaign to build awareness. Her dailyoutreach on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn in the days before the conference sent people to a landing page on the CBI Web site with information about the app. On site, a seven-foot-by-four-foot banner reminded people to download the app, a few smaller posters had the same message, and the conference organizers spread the word in their opening remarks.
Support. Be prepared for all kinds of questions on downloading and using the app. On the app’s landing page at the CBI site, a form invited participants to submit questions. And on site, Fleck worked with a QuickMobile representative to staff a tech-support booth in the registration area. Common problems included devices running old operating systems (on an iPhone, users needed iOS 5 or iOS 6), and people who didn’t know their iTunes passwords or who forgot to turn off the caps-lock key when typing the password.
Monetize. Be creative with your sponsorship ideas. Fleck made a last-minute effort to sell push notifications to the sponsors on site and was delighted with the response. Sponsors were eager to use the system to drive attendees to their booths for giveaways or events.
Build on Your Success. Fleck is already at work on ideas for the 2014 conference, and at the top of her list is extending the life of the app before and after the meeting. Her strategies will include broadening her social media campaign and making use of pre- and post-event push notifications.