Should you download an ‘event app’?

They're useful and give a platform for the organizers to connect with delegates, but is it always a good idea?
29 June 2018

These days everything has an app, as in software ‘application’, obviously.

But now we have large-scale enterprise apps (such as those dedicated to finance, marketing or e-commerce etc), more standard consumer level apps or games, and we even have so-called ‘micro apps’ that might ship as a standard part of a computer’s operating system such as a basic calculator, a weather app or a world clock.

There are online web apps too that cover all of these bases, but that is not our focus here.

Smaller, inherently more ephemeral but no less interconnected (in the online sense) are ‘event’ apps.

Sometimes also known as temporary apps, the event app is a software application designed to work primarily on mobile devices (although HTML desktop versions are often also offered) so that attendees can be fed with information relating to the event in question.

Event apps proliferate in the conference and exhibition space where they are designed to interconnect attendees, provide a discussion forum and offer services including agendas, maps, time-based alerts and special offers.

They also exist outside of the corporate arena for large-scale music concerts and may even be employed for rallies and marches or perhaps for carnivals and festivals. Most city marathon events have their own app – you get the idea.

The upside to event apps

In terms of use, event apps are a great way of getting a more detailed idea of speaker sessions if you are a professional symposium in any industry.

They typically hold additional information such as speaker bios and often offer interactive surveys and other means of collaborating with like-minded individuals.

Of course, the best part of all is that it’s all there in your pocket — and versions are usually always available for both Apple iOS and Android.

Some of best functionality from event apps comes from other users who can upload local pictures of the event as it plays out.

Not sure what’s for lunch after the plenary sessions?

Check out the in-app social stream – someone is bound to have posted pictures of the buffet tables?

Don’t know how to get to one of the more obscure sessions?

Post a help request and you can bet that someone online already knows the way.

This isn’t stuff that you could download off the web or script beforehand, this is local in-context knowledge share that relates to a time and a place that won’t matter or be relevant in a week’s time.

Alena Lapukhova, country manager of Binary District, a collaborative technology community that hosts major events on emerging technology thinks that, when executed well, events apps are a great way to improve an attendees experience at a conference.

However, she says, too often, these apps suffer from poor functionality, bad design or, if used in a small scale conference, offer nothing beyond a basic paper programme.

“In most cases, an event app is a ‘nice to have’, so little thought can go into how it compliments an event.

The best apps focus on an alleviating one or two potential pain points, for example, if it is a conference where attendees will want to do a lot of networking, an app with a chat and meeting booking function is perfect.

If it’s a large event with multiple stages and speakers, an app that pushes alerts for when a talk you’re interested in is going to start is ideal,” said Lapukhova.

Fundamentally, event organizers need to ask themselves if an event app is worth the time or money.

If they deploy a substandard app they run the risk of annoying their customers and damaging their brand.

There’s nothing worse than going to a cutting-edge tech event and finding that the accompanying app looks like it was designed in Microsoft Paint.

“For our events, we understand that our community is highly tech-savvy and will use all of their own tools, apps, and platforms to get the most out of the event.

We just need to focus on ensuring the speakers, venue and infrastructure are perfect to support what they want to do,” added Lapukhova.

The downside to event apps

It’s not always rosy in event land. One major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and database vendor that shall remain nameless held its major customer and user event in Orlando this Spring and did so offering a comparatively sophisticated ‘all bells and whistles’ event app.

So popular was the app among the 10,000 attendees plus audience that most people appeared to have downloaded it to their mobile devices.

Consequently, although the IT vendor in question had provisioned well for WiFi coverage at the show, the amount of bandwidth the ‘collaboration and uploads’ element offered absolutely killed the systems put in place.

Nice idea, but a little rough in practice.

Alyssa Smrekar, is director of customer events at Okta. Smrekar reminds us that as mobile becomes more ingrained within every aspect of the business, event apps are something of a ‘natural progression’.

But, she says, creating an engaging mobile app for your event doesn’t come without its challenges.

“Nearly all event apps today include the basics of agenda, speaker profiles and conference map. But the basics aren’t enough to engage an audience or entice people to download yet another app, especially considering the short shelf life. Despite the cloud and mobile world that consumers are used to, at every event (regardless of how technical the audience), attendees will ask for a printed agenda where they can pick their sessions and go on their way,” said Smrekar.

Oktane, Okta’s flagship event, used the Oktane18 app this year. Source: Okta

Smrekar explains that, in the Okta events team’s experience, the most adopted and loved apps capture feedback from attendees, encourage attendee networking and facilitate connections that can extend beyond the event.

Integrating event apps into other key marketing systems such as Marketo and Salesforce or social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can further boost the experience for both attendees and the host organizations, resulting in a positive association with a firm’s brand.

“If you aren’t going to take advantage of those capabilities, you might as well save the money and invest in other experiences to make your event stand out,” said Smrekar.

Also on the downside is the question of how much data users share with these applications.

Nikolaos Chrysaidos, head of mobile threat intelligence and security at Avast says that event apps are convenient for the consumer but they can also be a security risk.

He points to cases like the RSA app leaking attendee data through an open API and says that this should be a prompt for all event organizers to choose their app developers more carefully.

“It’s important that penetration testing in the backend and in the app itself is offered as standard by these service providers,” said Chrysaidos.

“For consumers, it’s often hard to check the security of an application and detect if something suspicious is happening in the background. Instead, they’re forced to trust the developer. But an app’s rating on Google Play or the Apple Store is often a good indication of reliability and quality, so it’s always worth checking this and some of the comments left by users before downloading,” added Avast’s Chrysaidos.

Concluding thoughts

So, should you download an event app? The answer is yes, sometimes, occasionally, but like a Pokémon Go! or an Angry Birds, exercise caution, some skepticism and a healthy degree of self restraint.

Successful event app developers will build software with inherent usability, compelling functionality, tangible user benefits and just a little magic sprinkle of addictiveness and perhaps even a little humor.

Successful event app users will keep the app at arm’s length and dip in and out of the information pool offered with the same restrained interest and casual curiosity they use when faced with the conference ‘hog trough’ lunch buffets.

They look tasty, but they usually have too much salt and saturated fat to pad them out.