But free apps are awesome....aren't they?

As the smartphone quickly takes over the world in either incarnation of iphone or Android, it is clear that there are many reasons that their rise to the top has been so prolific. Smartphones have changed our interaction with business, pleasure and with each other. Smartphones can do things that have not been possible in the past, with an accelerometer, screen, microphone and speaker there are an unlimited amount of tasks that can be performed from vibration measurement of structures to Pokemon Go.

Apps on devices are cheap, or even free, as they span the globe reaching a massive audience. Some apps have very simple uses and make cut out the need to search on the internet, whilst others have complex and far reaching disruptive changes such as Uber and AirBnB. All spectrums of apps has also touched events with the rise of event apps: most provide a version that is free to entice the event manager to try the product but have a paid component to them for further features .Event apps that allow a free use have a number of options that can be excellent for the user in a conference environment

  • The program – Full agenda of the days ahead with the ability to change rooms or speakers on the fly so that it is always up to date.

  • Bio for speakers – A resource to inform your conference delegates a idea of the speakers experience and an summation of the presentation ahead

  • Maps –floorplan of the conference area (not all apps give this free)

  • Downloads – resource for powerpoint presentations or sponsor flyers

  • Bulletins – Breaking news whilst at the conference.

  • Links – Website links for presentations, speakers, sponsors or the conference.

But if you can get this free what more would you need?

For event managers this seems to fit in the need for most conferences but, as the requirement to show KPIs and justify the need to stage the event, reporting and measuring are important and invaluable. Most post survey responses on paper are little use and hard to collate, and it is clear that technology does have much more of a role to play in this space.

Within events, polling apps has become very popular, and when asking the right questions, has allowed both organizers and the audience to explore topics more deeply and change the agendas to focus on the right areas. This measures the needs of the conference and ensuring its continuation in future with evidence shown to the association or sponsors. This technology has changed the direction of the conference on the day, or been the driving force to change the direction of the event for the future using the reporting from the polling at previous event. Polling has the interaction with the audience to allow for simple multiple choice, anomalous question times, topic or agenda choice, heat mapping or word clouds, all with the use of the audiences’ smartphone in the room.Post event surveys can be added on the platform and provide a quick way of the delegate giving feedback without picking up a pen. Polling can be free for a limited audience size and some of the features above are limited but the reporting always carries a cost, advertising pop up removal (not good if your support is a large corporate and the competitor comes up during the conference) and background customization also come the paid version. 

Audience mapping is a new option that is getting more attention, sponsors want more for their dollars and the knowledge of where or what the audience find more compelling is data that can help to increase the sponsors contribution especially if you can show audience habits. Mapping of where the audience are within a room or conference floor is easy as no one goes anywhere without a smartphone. As mapping shows where your audience are, the data gathered will show hotspots for advertising or product sharing, show topics that are more popular or speakers that are in vogue, stands within the expo hall that are popular or even food stations that delegates prefer. Push notifications can provide delegates with information close to them to explore and further the interactive component of the mapping,areas can be found on maps showing exactly where you are on the conference floor, certain presentations can be seen to be more popular than others and sales people can find customers or vice versa with ease. All reporting is easily shown on maps during the event in real time and provided after the event for analysis. At present, this technology cannot be done without cost and is likely to be something that is always monetized given the data importance.

 Webcasting events at first were perceived as diminishing the need to go to conferences but evidence has shown that it actually opens up the conference to others that would not normally go. Webcasting can broadcast the conference around the world and still have the interactive experience using Q&A or live polling. Side by side headshot and slides can be shown on the webcast with speaker profiles, sponsor specific advertising and twitter type feedback in tickertape across the page. Registration for online delegates provide full reporting with delegates details, time watched, links clicked and even enable a paid portal if required. Periscope and Meerkat are free in this space but advertising pop ups are constant and the bandwidth can be an issue especially if you are watching from different devices and no data reporting comes with these products.With the paid webcast services, the reporting on audience watching and duration they have watched, shows the measurement for future events. These paid services are key in providing a stable and advert free (or sponsor specific) platform and allow for additional support for Q&A, customized backgrounds and hosting services after the event.

Social media can be used very effectively in conferencing given the uptake by the populous in everyday life, and a hashtag seems to be created for every part of life these days #writingblogaboutevents. The need for delegates to comment about their day does make this use enticing as social media trending can make the marketing department drool for more. Many apps allow you to pull comments together to show in a screen friendly format either as part of a presentation or around the room but free versions are very limited. Paid versions allow for ad free social walls: which I have covered in polling and webcasting, moderated content: nothing is worse than having an unfair comment cycle that is coming up every few seconds and makes other comments less impactful, customization of background and also privacy: allowing for a social wall to be limited to the room rather than the whole social media world.

With over two million apps developed for the largest platform Android, it seems that we have an appetite to continue to create more ways to keep ourselves educated and informed, and the smartphone is unlikely to disappear in the near future. Event apps will grow, free components will still exist, but data analysis will always have worth and those that use the data effectively will be ahead of the rest and provide the events that delegates and sponsors will want to attend.

Mark Higgins