Enhancing Attendee Engagement with the Mobile Channel

Oct 4, 2012

The following article by Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk, originally appeared on Hotel Executive on 10/2/12.

For traditional marketing and advertising promotions, the mobile channel is opening up a slew of new opportunities: everything from retail coupons to loyalty reward programs are being enhanced through mobile interactions. The immense convenience and “always connected” benefits of smartphones and other mobile devices (not to mention the intimate nature of these devices) make them a very appealing vehicle for consumer advertising, but what about the trade segments—specifically, what can the mobile channel do for trade shows and conventions? With mobile’s vast capabilities and ever-growing adoption, the channel can increase the effectiveness of conventions by becoming an integral tool for all phases of the event: pre-convention, during, and post-convention.

There’s no denying the reach of the mobile channel: by early 2012, nearly 90 percent of Americans owned mobile phones, with roughly 50 percent of these being smartphones. And by summer 2012 two out of three US mobile purchases were for smartphones. Of course, in most business professions, the concentration of these numbers is far higher, making mobile one of the most effective tools to communicate with on-the-go professionals. Considering the professional playing field these days, who isn’t on-the-go?

Logically, these factors extend into the convention and trade show environment. Whether convention planners are looking to create an event-specific app or utilize optimized mobile websites to communicate with attendees, there are a number of mobile techniques that can be applied to ensure a successful event—and provide more opportunities to create value for convention goers. The following are a number of approaches for organizers to engage more attendees and optimize the convention experience through the mobile channel.

The Mobile Channel: Pre-Convention

Let’s face it: the majority of convention-goers aren’t all that excited about attending an upcoming convention or trade show. While there’s nothing that can change this fact, planners can use the mobile channel to make preparations for these (rather unwilling) attendees much easier, thereby eliminating some of usual problems associated with RSVP “checkpoints” (hotel reservations, individual event reservations, etc.) prior to the convention.

• Notification – Before any major checkpoint is reached, convention planners can offer pre-registration (which, if applicable, could include downloading the convention’s app) that provides each attendee with a mobile notification that gives instant linkage to the specific RSVP site. Think of it as a direct landing page for each event, sent via text, mobile email, or app. For example, convention attendees can sign up at pre-registration to receive notification via a downloadable convention application. The result is that, prior to the RSVP deadline for each event, the attendee will receive a message:

Dear Mr. Smith, please find a link below that will either confirm or cancel your attendance of the workshop: “Using the Mobile Channel Effectively at Conventions.” Click on the link that represents your preference. We look forward to seeing you on July 23rd!

• Communication – Through mobile applications or devices that offer web communication (nearly 75 percent of business travellers’ own a smartphone), convention planners can provide a congregation/meeting forum for attendees. By providing “meet and greet” events through mobile devices, planners can eliminate and/or shorten the need and length of these events at the live convention. In addition, such forums can generate more excitement for the events, as long as each forum provides a moderator that gives detailed information about each event.

The Mobile Channel During the Convention

Convention planners grapple with the unexpected during convention execution, and it’s not unusual that a professional wonders “why didn’t someone just tell me?” when in attendance. With some smart moves, the mobile channel can be calibrated to enhance participation by offering immediate information, engagement, and connection with others on the floor, or even via social media. Issues that used to slip through the cracks can be addressed with smoother, simpler communication while on-site to ease immediate handling.

• Information – No longer do convention planners need to design, print, and distribute information packets and brochures. (Even virtual business cards can be exchanged wirelessly thanks to the latest generation apps and near field communication [NFC]-enabled phones.) Through mobile applications and optimized browsing, convention planners can offer maps and detailed event information such as exhibit locations, sponsor products, agenda items, and event location/times. In addition to its practicality, it helps provide an eco-friendly feel to events, and may even be used as an additional marketing tool.

• Engagement – Mobile offers instant interaction and instant results. Speakers and event managers can keep the audience engaged in events by asking questions, taking polls, and displaying results in real-time. Not only will the audience maintain a closer connection with presenting professionals, but the event organization in general can be streamlined for the benefit of all parties. Relevant questions received after speakers’ presentations can be collected and answered to continue the interactive mindset.

• Connection – The mobile channel gives instant connection to event sponsors, planners, and fellow attendees. Implementation can also involve linking convention communications to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other popular social networking connections. With regular updates from attendees, event buzz can grow exponentially in real-time, and without increasing cost.

The Mobile Channel Post-Convention

Another essential convention component doesn’t even happen on location. When the presentations are over, business cards collected, and bags are packed, it’s all about the take-away benefits of a professional think-tank. On the attendees’ side, the mobile channel facilitates cross-communication and the forging of partnerships, but it also enhances future conventions in the following ways.

• Feedback – Because it can be used to gather immediate feedback, mobile takes advantage of “fresh” data (information and opinions that are gathered while impressions are fresh on attendees’ minds) that will give planners an edge for the next “big event.” In the case of closely-scheduled or even back-to-back events, this information is considered vital. With so many organizations joining forces at a convention, communication between these separate entities can become streamlined.

• Maintaining Connections – Like all forms of electronic communications, mobile provides an open link between all convention participants long after the event’s conclusion. However, unlike other forms, mobile gives instant connectivity regardless of the participant’s location—convention sponsors, advertisers, planners, and attendees can communicate on-the-go. As all too often, these communications might be shuffled to a “to-do” list, never to been seen again because there was no immediate access to a computer. Mobile ensures that such ideas and thoughts are communicated whenever, wherever.

Challenges for Mobile Channel App Adoption

Convention planners can’t move into the mobile channel without caveats. Participants can experience a streamlined event for networking and building their businesses, but only if provided with intuitive options for their needs, which can vary depending on industry. Building on app adoption in the first half of 2012 and 2011, current mobile channel incorporation can avoid the disappointments and pitfalls of earlier trial runs.

• Poor App Availability – Some early apps intended for conventions and trade shows this year were only available for iPhone users. Nielson Company’s March 2011 mobile survey indicated that 31.1 percent of respondents wanted to purchase an Android as their next phone, while 30 percent wanted an iPhone—a close split that wouldn’t be favored by an iPhone-only app offering. Apps also need to be planned for hybrids or mobile web to blanket the widest group of attendees as possible. Interestingly, in the time since that survey, Android adoption has eclipsed iPhones by a respectable margin: fully 68 percent of the smartphone-owning world owns one.

• Incomplete Offerings – There’s no point in offering an app for participants if it doesn’t have a draw. Instead of repackaged content or a series of maps, original content paired with event FAQs and directions is more likely to increase engagement. Some might argue that an inferior or “worthless” app could even damage the reputation of a convention or trade show, and the cost of development certainly wouldn’t be worth the investment.

• Skewed Intention – Every quality app has its place in a convention if it is marketed properly and, if highly specialized, offered in conjunction with complementary apps. If offering an app to aid social networking, for example, it might be advantageous to additionally offer help-based, information-focused apps.

• Poor Design – Poor usability can hurt convention app use. Anything from hard-to-find information due to layout to untested designs can weaken the reputation of those offering “bonus features” to participants. Since many convention-goers ask a series of location-based questions upon arrival, for example, it would be advantageous to have that information positioned accordingly.

It’s not just the traditional consumer target that benefits from the “always connected” feature of the mobile channel; trade segments can also be successfully targeted in the convention atmosphere. Since the mobile channel is based on two-way communication, apps that allow feedback and commentary can improve more than just an industry event, but issues and product development discussions in the following year. Throughout all phases, convention planners and participants can take advantage of the convenience and effectiveness of the mobile channel.

Who knows? By making it easier to attend and participate (and even have fun) via the mobile channel, maybe everyone could even have a good enough time to enjoy it. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate type of engagement with convention attendees?

The following article by Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk, originally appeared on Hotel Executive on 10/2/12.

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