Mobile for Conferences
I was speaking to the organizer of a conference the other day and when it came up that I build mobile websites and applications for businesses, he asked me if he should have a mobile website OR application for his conference. My answer was a resounding “yes!” Yes, you should have one or the other; but probably not both. In this article, I will attempt to explain the advice I gave him and what kinds of things you need to think about if you have a conference, event, meeting or reunion coming up.

Mobile Website or Mobile Application: Which is the right one?

The benefit of a mobile application for your event is that it sits on the user’s phone and all the content is accessible even if the user doesn’t have an internet connect. The drawback is that events are very fluid things so things are constantly changing. If you want to update your content, you would have to push an update through the app store. Obviously, if content is changing every day that would mean constant downloads by the user.

Now mobile apps can have static content and “dynamic” content that you can “feed” to the application such as blog posts, etc. However, in my opinion, if you’re going to have that, you might as well just build a mobile website so that *everything* can be dynamic and it can change as fast as the event details are changing. So with that in mind, I’m going to continue this discussion assuming you want a mobile website. This is almost always what I recommend to clients—even though I enjoy building mobile applications—and is what I recommended to my client during our conversation.

The Main Benefits of a Mobile Website for a Conference

As I mentioned, being able to update content instantly is the main benefit. Here’s an example: your marketing person has contacted several potential sponsors in the city where your conference is taking place and promised (sold/traded) them premium placement on your event website. Great! As we all know, the check doesn’t come in as fast as the commitment so you’re not going to give them placement until the terms of the agreement has been fulfilled. Once that happens, you can immediately “flip the switch” and they can easily go to your site and see that they are being featured. Otherwise you have to say, “ok, go update your app and you’ll see the changes.” That’s a bit “clunky,” don’t you think?

An even more common example happens during the conference. Session locations change or presenters want to include “handout” documents, a list of links or a myriad of other changes / updates. With a hybrid app/site you can do this as well but, again, you might as well have a website in that case. At a conference in 2014, there will almost certainly be internet access throughout the venue so that’s hardly a concern. And frankly, anyone who attends a conference in 2014 probably has a smart phone and that means they have some sort of data plan. So, I don’t see connectivity as the deciding factor between a mobile app vs a mobile website.

Can I Make the Argument for A Mobile Application for a Conference?

So while I tend to recommend a site over an app—mostly due to cost and timing issues—I can tell you there are cases where a conference or event would want an application. Normally this happens for very large, diverse or specialized events. Mobile applications allow you to more “easily” (note I’m not saying cheaply) build custom functionality that a website isn’t really meant to do. An example here would be if one of the core benefits of your event was to help attendees meet one another. You could build a social networking area into your event app that allowed people to find and chat with others. Or, let’s say you wanted to do instant polling and that data was going to be used at the end of the conference in some way. Heck, you might even want to build your own Flappy Bird game inside the app that gives people something to do while they’re in between sessions. More practically, visitors could review the scheduled events and flag their favorites that get logged in a “My Schedule” tab so they can see at-a-glance what they want to do for the day.

What Types of Things Should Be Included?

Once you’ve made the decision between a website or an application, you now need to decide what content to include. I’ll list some common items for you to consider. Just remember that anything you put on your mobile website (or application) is going to be viewed on a small screen. So a PDF with lots of text or a large map isn’t going to be very “mobile friendly.” You will need to format your content differently than you would on a standard desktop website. Also images, videos and all other content needs to be reduced to the smallest possible size so it loads quickly on the mobile device.

Here are some of the categories to consider; with explanations where appropriate:

  • Save the Date – it’s always a good idea to have a mobile website available several months ahead of time so it gets indexed by the search engines. Even if you don’t have everything in place, it’s a good idea to simply place a countdown clock to the date of your event.
  • Social Sharing – if you have your social properties in place, you could also put those on the home page for people to help you get the word out about your event. Consider these: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Xing
  • Plan Your Event – information about accommodation partners and booking information goes here. In addition, event booking or registration.
  • Sponsors – include sponsor logos, links and other information prior to and during the event.
  • Virtual Tour – whether it’s a fancy 3D video, a map or even photos, your attendees would like to see the venue prior to arriving and information about the surrounding area once the event commences.
  • About – obviously, you will want pertinent information about your event, the venue, speakers, etc. This is essentially your marketing kit.
  • Nearby – people not familiar with the city your event takes place will appreciate you helping them with their research. Let them know about nearby attractions, activities, and other interesting information.
  • Food – likewise, in addition to providing information about conference breakfasts, coffee locations, etc., provide people with local restaurant links, phone numbers or even “specials” that the restaurants might be providing to event attendees.
  • Specials / Sponsor Offers – if you, your sponsors or your speakers are offering special pricing on pre-registration for another event, books, coaching packages, etc. Here is the place to put that information.
  • Video – sales video, vine videos, recap videos, etc. Those go here: pre-event, post-event and during the event are all possible.
  • Get Our Newsletter – email signup could be on a “tab” or on the front page prior to the event so people can stay information of the latest news.
  • Contact Us – email, address, phone, social, etc.
  • Testimonials – this is good for pre-sales but also to make people feel good about having selected your event. If you have good testimonials from previous events or endorsements from previous keynote speaks, it would be good to include them.

I know that a lot of planning goes into putting together a major conference or event. I hope my advice will make the job of planning your mobile website or mobile application a little bit easier. Without too much difficulty, I can almost guarantee that 100% of your attendees have a cell phone and are expecting to get information on it while they are at your event, if not before. Make it easy for them by having a mobile-ready website or application for them to get information. It will increase their satisfaction with the event and that will translate into more sales.

If you would like help putting together a mobile website or application, please contact me using our contact form at — or directly at — and I will guide you through the process.  Check out the Portfolio here.  You can also find Joseph on Google+.

And if you haven’t downloaded my FREE REPORT that explains more about mobile websites VS. mobile applications, you can do that here.