You want to include a mobile app in your meetings strategy, but it’s not as easy to do as you had hoped. You need to know when developing a mobile app makes sense—and when doesn’t it—how much it will cost, which features should be included and which can be safely ignored, and much more. In May, we gathered three mobile-app experts for a webinar developing and using a mobile app for meetings. (An archive of the webinar, which was hosted by MeetingsNet, can be accessed for free here.)

Attendees peppered the presenters with questions during the session. Here are the top 10, with answers from the presenters: Jessica Levin, CMP, MBA, president and chief connector, Seven Degrees Communications; Midori Connolly, senior technology advisor, Seven Degrees Communications, and CEO and “chief AVGirl” at Pulse Staging and Events; and Elizabeth Summy, MSc, CAE, vice president of the division of personal membership groups with the American Hospital Association, who spoke about her first-hand experiences developing apps for 10 personal membership groups comprising more than 32,000 healthcare professionals and technicians in the United States and worldwide.

How long does it take to develop an app?
Summy: You should give yourself at least three months to develop and market a meeting app, though you may be able to speed up the process after you’ve done it once. If you want to sleep, give yourself 12 weeks minimum.

How can you spur adoption among attendees who aren’t used to mobile apps?
Connolly: One thing you can do at the event is to include a “genius bar,” similar to the area in an Apple store where you can sit on a stool at a bar that serves information, not cocktails. Many events are creating these areas to serve as a hands-on help desk to get people set up with the app.
Summy: In addition to having a genius bar, we had information about the app at the registration desk, and we ran info on a video loop before the general session to help familiarize people with how to use the app.
Levin: 1. Promotion. 2. Patience. 3. Training. 4. More patience. 5. Find evangelists and demonstrate benefits. 6. Remember, an app might not be good for your event.

What functionality can we put on the app?
Connolly: Think about the must-haves, should-haves, and the nice-to-haves. Must-haves include the schedule, sponsorship, maps, exhibitor information, messaging to attendees, messaging between attendees (on an opt-in basis), and reporting capabilities. It’s also important to include permission-based updating, so users don’t have to sit and wait for the app to update when all they really want is a quick schedule check. Should-haves are social networking, personalized agendas, a “what’s on now” function, and speaker and attendee profiles. And if you can, great features to include are multimedia accessibility and sharing, social-gaming elements, audience-response systems, and instant surveys.
Editor’s Note: Click here for a Directory of Mobile Meeting Guide Developers.

Does it make sense to reuse the template once you have developed an app, or should you develop a new app for each event?
Summy: We are largely recycling our apps. Every app will have a different venue, map, speakers, etc., but once you settle on the tabs you want to include, my experience is that you can just change the color and maybe reorder them a little, and you’re good to go.
Connolly: Reusing also makes sense in terms of keeping the branding consistent. People will know where to find things—they don’t have to go hunting around for information.

How long does it take to upload data such as the city map and agenda?
Summy: While uploading the data isn’t too time-consuming, you need to plan time to drill down and check how every element presents once it’s uploaded. Things can present differently than you might expect.

The benefits of having an app for large annual meetings are clear, but what about for smaller monthly meetings?
Connolly: Yes, definitely! It can be an excellent tool for building a year-round community, in addition to providing agendas, sponsor information, and messaging.

How much does an app cost? What should I ask potential vendors?
Connolly: It can be as little as about $500 for a mobile Web site (including most of the must-haves), but you can spend up to $50,000. Summy: For an iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android app, the total cost for us was about $8,000. Levin: There are a number of developers and price ranges. I would get three quotes as a best practice. Talk to your colleagues about who they are using and make sure you can test previous apps that the company has developed. I would also look to vendors who specialize in events. They understand the model. For me, vendor support is a big factor. Small staffs might need more support than large staffs who can manage more of the process.
Editor’s note: For more information, see 10 Questions for Mobile Meeting Guide Developers.

How do you reach attendees who don’t have smartphones?
Summy: We haven’t moved away from our on-site guides—maybe someday we will, but we still are offering them this year. Another thing to keep in mind: Be sensitive to the types of devices your attendees use. My organization works in a healthcare environment, and lots of our hospitals support BlackBerry devices, which are locked out of downloading apps. Your attendees also could be locked out of downloads on their official devices for security reasons.

How can you determine whether your venue’s Wi-Fi can support the number of users you expect to have?
Connolly: A rule of thumb is that you need 100Kb/s per attendee (uploading and downloading).

If the venue doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, do most smartphone data plans allow attendees to use the app anyway?
Summy: We did experience some problems with that, even though we spent a lot of money making sure the venue had wireless throughout. The good thing is that now we put wireless accessibility into our contracts. But we did have to buy it, and it was expensive. If you don’t have it, attendees will be grumpy.