Five Ways to Maximize Your Event Apps

If your association has an events app but no in-person events these days, all is not lost—as long as you utilize them for ongoing engagement.

This state of affairs might sound familiar: A few years ago, you spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on a mobile application intended to boost engagement at your in-person events. It was used for a few days during the gathering, then forgotten until the next event.

But now, you don’t have any in-person events, or those events are hybrid and taking place over a time delay. What are you supposed to do with your investment?

Mark Wallach, manager of mobile business development for Results Direct, which produces websites and mobile applications for associations, agrees that events are often the bedrock for app uptake.

“We believe that engagement begins with events,” Wallach says.

Wallach says that the challenge is that some associations only see apps as useful for events. “It’s almost like they get everybody in their house, and then they kick them out of the house afterwards, so they’re missing opportunities between,” he says.

But at a time when people are experiencing so much virtually, your app actually has potential to be more important than ever—even if its use case has shifted. A few tips from Wallach for helping your app make the leap:

  1. Build a moment that drives people to your apps. Even if your association doesn’t have a traditional in-person event to promote, it’s still important to convince people to jump into the application, with the hopes they’ll stick with it. This might take the form of a content package that’s sponsored and that can only be accessed through the app, or a virtual event. “Now, is that ideal? No,” Wallach says. “But if you’ve paid for it, you’ve got it. Here’s an opportunity to use it.”
  2. Treat Google and Siri as your competition. Your content might show up in search engines, but you’re not the only industry resource for that information—making search engines a risky gamble if you make that the primary way users find your content. “You go to your phone and you say, ‘Hey Google what’s the latest XYZ,’—unless that association has phenomenal SEO and they’re the top three rankings there, their content isn’t given to the person,” Wallach says. “Somebody else’s content is, and ultimately somebody else is monetizing that.” He suggests that associations treat their applications as one-stop shops for resources. This can be especially important if your association offers specialized information, as you can use apps to limit or gate access to niche information that you hope to keep as a member benefit.
  3. Build with integration in mind. Associations with complex tech needs may use application programming interfaces (APIs) to coordinate their many tools, especially when it comes to their association management system (AMS). Apps rely on those connections. Wallach says that Results Direct has opened APIs for some of their pIatforms, and that plenty of other vendors do the same. “We make the APIs available, but I recommend that they integrate with—if they have their choices—their AMS, anything that identifies what types of members like they are, and anything that handles their registration,” he says. Another important area of integration, Wallach says, is with your content management system (CMS). He cites one association that decided to build a deeper app integration with their existing CMS because 90 percent of their members were accessing the CMS-based content in mobile settings. “They figured, if they’re using their mobile device, we should be on the phone,” he says.
  4. Leverage what your industry peers use. Between vendors, open-source, and in-house creations, the app landscape is crowded. Looking at what others in your industry are doing—such as state or local groups, or fellow niche organizations—can help you land on the right solution. Wallach says that many app makers specialize in specific markets and recommends identifying which option fits your industry’s needs. “Then convince your friends and neighbors, if they’re looking to go this route, that maybe we should all be going in a similar route.”
  5. Consider who owns the app internally, and in what portions. Shifting a little-used app into a more prominent platform creates a new set of tasks. Wallach says this might be a situation where one staff member decides who does what—perhaps the communications or membership team owns a portion focused on engagement, but the meetings team continues to manage the meetings portion of the app. However the work is divvied up, putting someone at the center who can manage the process can be helpful. “That manager doesn’t necessarily know everything about the organization, but they can interact with the various silos of the organization,” he says. “They can be the resource, or the conduit across all those silos.”

(damircudic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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