In 2017, people spent nearly 3 hours per day on their mobile phones. And 85% of the time spent on phones was spent on apps, not in the browser! It is therefore no longer enough to offer your members a mobile responsive website. Native apps are the future and a must-have for every association. Jelmer van Ast shares 5 mobile strategies to attract new members and increase the value of your association’s membership!
Associations represent professionals in a certain field; like-minded people looking for ways to develop themselves professionally and advance their careers. Associations bring those people together, offering them tools and platforms for knowledge sharing and interaction. Arguably the most important platform for this purpose is the annual conference. In the 8 years since we have introduced our very first event app at a conference in St. Louis, USA, where I delivered a presentation myself as part of the final phase of my Ph.D. studies, I have experienced first-hand how event apps have gone from a nice-to-have to ever-growing strategic importance for the associations behind them. In this expert briefing, I would like to share with you how you can take your event app and turn it into a membership product that’s right at the heart of your association.
Why go mobile?
Let’s first take a look at the event app itself. The value of events and conferences often gets challenged with arguments about their one-sided communication and time-consuming attendance. Why go there if you can find the same information online? We believe in the opposite, seeing conferences as unique meetings of minds and concentrated points of knowledge exchange. We believe that conferences remain a key element for every association. Yet, the world of conferences is evolving, and associations have to keep up with the needs of their attendees. By incorporating a mobile app into your events, your answer to the demand of constant accessibility is by being at the tip of your members’ fingers.
The focus on a little screen might seem to contradict the goals of your association or conference: you want to make an impact and enable your attendees to gather helpful insights and meet the people that matter to them. The last thing you want is an audience of people only looking at their phones. But mobile apps have actually proven to be a great tool to reach and even enhance these goals. Interactive features such as ask-the-moderator, live voting, or session rating allow attendees to actively take part in discussions and presentations. Messaging makes it much easier for delegates to contact each other and exchange views at your events and beyond. This benefit is especially valuable for young professionals, offering them a platform to profile themselves and come into contact with inspiring peers.
And let’s not forget about your budget: an app allows you to digitalize your printed materials such as programs, announcements, and floor plans. The change from print to digital comes with many more benefits, such as easy and real-time communication of last-minute agenda changes and the possibility to highlight sessions through announcements and push notifications. You will save cost, time, and the environment!
Mobile apps are a great opportunity for associations to increase the impact and lifespan of their events and to implement new communication channels. Join the revolution, if you haven’t already!
- Choose a native app for iOS and Android; a mobile website is no longer cutting it.
- Choose your event app wisely: content, interaction, and networking should be the three core pillars.
- Use push messages to remind, update, and activate your attendees.
Build your membership with every event
For associations, it is great to see an active community gathered within their event app. The app presents them with a unique channel to communicate with these attendees. But in most cases, the connection disappears once the conference is over: attendees uninstall the app because they no longer see its use. A great loss, since you lose contact with many potential members.
Luckily it doesn’t have to be like that, and we have seen the first associations already making the move to a more sustainable and more strategic solution. The key here is to find a way to offer a value that stretches beyond your event. A solution that links your membership to the events and the other activities of your association. A multi-event app that serves as an association-wide platform. It is important that you provide your attendees with valuable knowledge beyond the conference and embed journals, publications, and other content. Stay in contact and provide additional value and you will see your community and membership grow with every event.
An upgrade to a multi-event app is also conforming to the new App-Store guidelines. In late December, Apple announced an amended version of its controversial App-Store guidelines and confirmed that branded event apps are alive and well. However, an event app needs to be published in your own association’s App Store account. And should you wish to publish your second event app, the only allowed way is to upgrade to a multi-event app and host all events within. A challenge? Rather an opportunity, since they offer a variety of benefits for associations.
One of the main benefits is that valuable event knowledge will stay accessible throughout the year. You can also add new content such as full papers, videos, or journals after your conference and inform your users about this. Your event app will be transformed into a digital, mobile library.
With many potential members in one app, you shouldn’t miss to seize the opportunity and activate them to join more events. Inform your annual congress attendees about your focused seminars and invite your course participants to attend the annual congress. With the app becoming the go-to portal on their phones to access anything related to your association, it’s then a small step to trigger them to become a member. This will grow your activities, membership, and registrations. It’s time for associations and their events to reinvent themselves. An upgrade to an association app will be a game-changer.
- Choose an Association App: A branded, year-round, multi-event app. Or check if your current event app can be upgraded to one.
- Target your push messages to invite attendees of past events to your upcoming events and use them to announce abstract submission or registration deadlines.
- Show membership value! Offer a special reward to attendees who become a member after an event through the app.
Event or association apps offer plenty of useful features for attendees, such as professional content and networking opportunities. But should you make these benefits accessible to all event attendees? Not necessarily. The next strategy is easy and will go a long way: connect your app to your membership database. By asking users to log in with their membership account, you can restrict the areas and features of your app to your members and increase the value of your association’s membership.
Make sure to not lock essential parts of your app such as the floorplan or personal program. Rather let the restricted features enhance the overall experience of the conference. Social features like member messaging are an ideal way to make your membership more appealing to conference attendees. By offering your members an in-app video library with webcasts or live feeds of sessions, presentations, or satellite symposia, you maximize the impact and audience of your event immediately. They get the possibility to attend your events from around the globe or to re-watch sessions from the comfort of their home. A win for members and associations.
Furthermore, a forum on your association app that’s not specifically linked to an event, but rather serves as a year-round place for knowledge sharing is an especially suitable area to make member-only. Likewise, a searchable member list definitely should live behind a member-only login. Seize the opportunity to clearly present the member-only benefits and include a link to allow non-members to join your association.
- Choose a vendor who supports integration with your membership database.
- Make logging in with a membership account the only way to log into the app.
- Include a call-to-action button on the login page when accessing member-only areas to make it easier to become a member.
The biggest member opportunity: Millennials
One of the main themes of last year’s Associations World Congress was the difficulty of attracting Millennials to membership rolls. Millennials are individuals who turned 18 after the year 2000. With the baby-boom generation retiring and generation X in place, the future of associations depends on their success in attracting this largest generation to date. Whatever you do, remember that members of the Millennial generation are mobile natives. They prefer and expect the world to be available to them on their mobile devices, wherever and whenever. The employment of your app is an important and empowering strategy to increase Millennial membership.
Unlike the individualistic Generation X, Millennials are joiners and value collaboration and teamwork. But they won’t join an association just because they should. Associations need to show them clear value for their money spent and their invested time. One of the reasons Millennials join associations is professional advancement. They need a way to network with peers and professional leaders in their field. The opportunity to communicate via messaging is a feature that every association should incorporate in its mobile app. Let key association members host topical discussions about a relevant subject or create a scientific dialogue with opinion leaders.
Another key reason for Millennials to join professional organizations is career advancement. Does your association have a job portal on its website? Great, embed it in your app! Motivate current members to list their job openings in your job directory and perhaps even encourage them to let members of your association hold a plus over external candidates. Combine job postings with the opportunity to contact the association member who posted them on your app forum. Or include a job candidate list where app users can upload their resumes.
- Feature your app prominently, promote downloads, and communicate Millennial-specific reasons to download the app.
- Offer networking features like member profiles, messaging, posting, and sharing.
- Include your job portal or use an in-app forum to include job postings.
From passive attendees to engaged members
I am sure the following has happened to you before: you are on your way home from a great conference, and suddenly think of an important question that you really should have asked the presenter. But now, you are too late… A frustrating situation most attendees have experienced several times. Does it have to be that way? Luckily not. The right event app allows connections to stay alive and questions to be asked at any time. What were once passive audiences can now be engaged participants, thanks to Q&A or voting features. Use your app in the right way to take this even further: engaged participants can be easily turned into engaged members by turning interactive features like messaging into member-only areas after the event.
An especially powerful strategy is to host exclusive expert sessions post-event. Invite conference presenters and experts to participate in a Q&A session within the app a few weeks after an event is over. Announce these sessions to your members and promote them among the attendees. Members can then ask further questions, give feedback on a presentation, and explore certain aspects more in-depth.
Another idea to promote 365 engagement is to ask your members for input during the year, better discover their objectives, and let them vote on ideas to implement at your next conference. There is also much to discover about the interests of your attendees and members through the analytics dashboard of your app. Feeding back your takeaways to your members will also make them feel a lot more engaged with your association.
- Engage presenters to interact with the audience and take advantage of interactive features in the app.
- Highlight interactive sessions in your app to feature them more prominently and attract greater audiences.
- Monitor and evaluate the engagement of your attendees using the analytics dashboard of your app. The captured insights will help you to better understand the needs of your attendees and make wise decisions for your members.
Mobile apps are all around us, and event apps have become a must-have. The time has come to employ apps more strategically and use them to attract new members and increase the value of your association’s membership altogether. If you are interested in an App for your Association, contact us!