by Becky Hansen | September 25, 2017
I attend many of our show-management client events and often work at the registration help desk. At each event I talk to attendees and answer questions. First-timers and even veteran attendees often ask how to find the sessions they signed up for and the corresponding room number, how to get the speakers' bios and abstracts, and where activities are taking place onsite. Additionally, everyone has questions and needs advice on where to begin in the expo hall in order to make the most of their experience and take advantage of the event from day one.

Without exception, my recommendation to these attendees is to download the show's event-guide app. Once they do and after I give them a quick tour of the information that is at their fingertips, their response is, "Oh, this is so easy!"

With fewer events offering attendees a printed event guide, the app is a vital resource for attendees to connect with everything at the event: maps, educational sessions, their individual itinerary and the tools to create a plan for choosing which exhibitors to visit. Additionally, the event app is a more efficient and timely way for attendees to receive notifications of changes to the schedule. We've all been in the situation of needing to change a room for a popular session, which leads to frustrated attendees and late starts. When changes are communicated via the app directly to the attendee, there is a much smoother transition.

Promoting the app and including the right content and message are essential for increasing downloads and turning the event-guide app into a valuable tool. The highest download rates come when show managers actively promote the app.

As is the case with anything new, attendees may be hesitant at first to try the app, especially your technology-resistant demographic. The first-year adoption rate for the app is usually low, but as your attendees grow used to the app, this rate will increase in years two and three. Promoting the app and providing assistance is the key to success.

How can show managers make the most of their event guide app and get more of their attendees to download it and rely on it?

1. Decide which event guide app is right for you

First, select an event-guide app that includes a content management system for real-time updates and one that integrates with your registration system.

Work with your event app creator to help you customize your information for your attendees and exhibitors. Having the app in the stores early gives your attendees the opportunity to begin interacting with your event content and builds their reliance on the app as the trusted source of information before, during, and after your event.

2. Create content early

Information in the app should be finalized and submitted months before the event. Having content available early means attendees rely on your event-guide app for all event information.

Updates can be made in real time as changes happen. Develop preliminary copy and don't hesitate to add copy as soon as details are finalized. An app with a content management system will allow you to easily update and change information as the event evolves.

3. Build your marketing materials

Include your event guide information and instructions for downloading the app on your registration pages, event website, and in your regular communications, such as promotional emails, newsletters, and signage.

Create a strategy to use social media to promote the event-guide app before and during the show. Encourage attendees to download your event guide app via your social media sites before your event and include a picture of the app home screen to capture attention.

Design dedicated email blasts with links to the app in the stores to give your event guide app the prominence that drives usage.

4. Promote, promote, promote

Place a QR code on all materials that lead to all platform versions whenever you promote the app.

Begin promoting the event-guide app as soon as it is available in the stores to build pre-event downloads.

In your marketing materials, encourage attendees to download the app before the show and start planning.

Use the notification feature of the app before the event to build onsite communication.

Write a compelling message that attendees can post and share with their colleagues using the social media icon within the app. For example: Exploring, Learning, and Networking at [show name and year]!

5. Onsite

Promote the app on signage in the registration area and around the exhibit hall to encourage everyone onsite to download and use the app. Posters, digital signage and onsite brand advocates are all avenues for spreading the word.

Designate a help desk station to assist attendees with downloading and questions. This is critical. If you have no designated help desk for the app, attendees will not know where to start.

Instruct attendees on how to access their itinerary in the app and set-up session alerts and reminders.

Give attendees the ability to download a speaker's abstract, bio, and session handouts. Your event guide should be a 365-day app for relationship building, so don't forget to communicate year-round with your attendees. Periodically send out notifications with information on your upcoming show or news about your organization's ongoing activities. These tips will help to enhance the show experience for your attendees, create value, and build their reliance on your event guide app as the trusted source of information.

Becky Hansen has 36 years of experience in the tradeshow industry and is executive vice president of Event Services at Convention Data Services, the trusted registration and lead capture partner for driving global event connections for businesses and associations worldwide. Headquartered in Bourne, MA, CDS has built multi-faceted solutions to engage attendees, deliver exhibitor ROI and provide actionable analytics for the events industry since 1986.