Are whiz-bang association apps elusive?

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Last week, I attended Association Palooza IV, sponsored by Results Direct and DelCor, and featuring a number of association executives who came to share their experiences, advice, and lessons learned. One of the hottest topics was mobile apps. Here are a few perspectives from that conversation.

Do you need an app?

While there’s been “an app for that” for a while, the association community is still behind on developing valuable mobile experiences, to the point of stifling members, said DelCor’s Dave Coriale.

Too many associations are still figuring out the best use for apps and developing strategies for rolling apps out to members (and sometimes the public). Events are an obvious choice. But there’s still a learning curve—including figuring out what your members really want to know/do with your conference app.

One question to consider: where are your members? Are they in meetings, in a retail environment, making patient rounds, or on the road? Do they carry devices with them, or do they plug into hoteling stations, or are they standing at a desk? Developing member personas can help, but so can data that you already collect.

Dive into the data before you build that app.

Bindu Mathew from the American Podiatric Medical Association noted that APMA makes data-based decisions when designing their apps and content, which I was extremely glad to hear! If you don’t have data—based on analytics or member surveys—your app may just be spaghetti on the wall. Nobody wants an app that won’t stick.

APMA started development in the iOS environment, because they knew from analytics that 60% of their existing mobile traffic came from Apple devices. Another data point you can use is your email open rate on mobile, advised Michael Jones of Results Direct; the national average, if you’re wondering, is 51%—we can no longer deny that people are reading emails on the go!

Make app development scalable.

Jill Ferguson from the Mortgage Bankers Association said that MBA initially started building apps for individual events. But they soon found out that wasn’t sustainable, because each new build consumes staff and financial resources—and they hold lots of events (which means lots of apps)! Lesson learned: make development scalable so you’re not duplicating effort and wasting dollars.

Make app development strategic.

Expanding on the above point, Leann Paradise from the National Association of Manufacturers was proud to state that NAM’s approach to apps is part of their 5-year strategic communications plan. I’d be proud, too! Willy-nilly apps might “succeed” in the moment, but do they advance your mission, vision, and business objectives? Answer that before you embark on this—or any—technology investment. Consider, too, this point raised by an attendee: data integration. A standalone or poorly integrated app won’t add much to member engagement—or retention.

What good is your app after the event?

Yes, events are natural the low-hanging fruit, but is your app discarded after the event? Panelists seemed eager to grow their apps for advocacy engagement. NAM uses push notifications about once a week when Congress is in session, to keep members engaged. But there are limitations to push notifications—users can turn them off when installing your app, or after becoming annoyed by one too many if not used judiciously and for meaningful communications. One audience member even posed the question, “When do push notifications become ignored like email?”

Push notification allows an app to notify you of new messages or events without the need to actually open the application, similar to how a text message will make a sound and pop up on your screen. Push notifications can be seen on the lock screen. They are also displayed in the notification center.—Daniel Nations, About.com

Connecting you—and your app—with progress.

If you want to know more about the strategy behind going mobile, well, we’ve got a free whitepaper for that. In it, you’ll learn more about the strategy behind your mobile endeavors, and how to determine whether an app is the right approach for your organization.

If you want to take a step beyond mobile and debate the future of association IT, well, we’ve got something for you, too! Join us for a free breakfast and panel discussion on October 1. You’ll hear from Reggie Henry, ASAE; Ed Beck, National Restaurant Association; Kara Freeman, American Council on Education; and others leading the charge for mature IT.

Flickr photo by Russell Trow