A mobile app for your event (trade show, convention, meeting, festival, etc) can be useful, valuable, and fun for attendees. It can provide you with a source of revenue and sponsorship. It can reflect well on your brand.

But, only if it is actually used.

Four things must be true if a user is to download and use your mobile app:

  1. Users must know the app exist
  2. Users must want to use the app
  3. The app must be easy to find
  4. The app must be easy to download

1. Users Must Know the App Exists

Release the App WELL Before Your Event

Give yourself plenty of time to promote the app along with the event itself. It’s easier for users to download at their leisure rather than when they arrive at your show with a million other priorities competing for their attention.

Market and Promote Your App

Mention your app on your website, newsletter, and blog. Use social media – announce the app through Twitter and Facebook.

Help it Go Viral

Give your exhibitors and sponsors a reason to spread the word by giving them the link to “their” page within the mobile web app. If your app includes “rating”, “like”, “favoriting” or “my schedule” functionality, suggest that exhibitors encourage their fans to download the app in order to bring them show-wide accolades.

Give your attendees an easy mechanism to spread the word. Your app should include integrated social media allowing attendees to check-in or tweet about your event using the hash tags that you define.

Encourage attendees to spread the word with a simple raffle entry in exchange for a tweet or a “like” with a link to the app.

2. Users Must Want to Use the App

A Better Guide

Perhaps it goes without saying, but, the best way to encourage downloads of your app is to provide an app that users find valuable. The best advertisement is other attendees visibly using the app. Make sure the attendees not only know an app is available; make sure they understand the benefits.

More than Just a Guide

A mobile app provides intrinsic value by replacing paper guides with always-up-to-date searchable interactive location-aware mobile versions. A mobile app can also go beyond that standard value.

You can offer benefits and rewards that are only available through the app. Fun games and scavenger hunts can entertain your attendees and drive traffic to your exhibitors and vendors. A map of the surrounding city can lead attendees to restaurants and tourist attractions after hours (and provide you with another source of sponsorship revenue). Weather information and flight status can help attendees plan their arrival and departure. The options are limited only by your imagination.

After the Event

The best way to ensure an attendee has your app on their phone at your event is to make sure it’s there before they arrive.

After the show, an app should still be a useful resource – a directory of key information about exhibitors and sessions, a collection of notes taken during the show, a contact list of networking connections, and more.

For you, the show organizer, it can remain a connection to your attendees – a way to stay in touch with them, deliver relevant news to them, and encourage them to return next year. And, there’s no better way to get an app on an attendees phone than if it’s already there from the previous year.

3. Users Must be Able to Find the App

Make Your App Easy to Find in the App Stores

Increasingly people simply expect an app to exist for every large event and venue. Before they even look at your website they are likely to search in their app store. If yours isn’t a native app, they won’t find anything in the app stores. Similarly, if you use a generic event guide rather than a custom branded app for your event, users won’t find your app in the app stores by searching for the name of your event.

Make Your App Easy to Find Online

The other likely first step for users is a Google search. Create a webpage describing and explaining the benefits of the app. If someone searches for “YOUR EVENT NAME mobile app”, there should be something to find. More lead time before the show means more time for Google to find and index your page. App developers will often provide this “landing page” as part of their service.

Make Your App Easy to Find On-Site

Provide signage on site promoting the app. Good locations for signage include the entrance, your show information booth, at your interactive kiosk version of the app.

Have an interactive kiosk version of your app on site. It can include a simple “take it with you” feature.

Include an “up sell” of the app right in the printed guide. Pitch the additional benefits over paper – search, sort, interactivity, social media integration, calendar integration, contact list integration, etc. Most of all, paper is out-of-date almost as soon as it is printed.

If you greet attendees at the door with a welcoming committee or have an on-site information booth, make sure they promote the app and are ready to answer any questions about it. A little face-to-face advice can go a long way.

4. The App Must be Easy to Download

Include a link on Your Website

Installing the app should be accomplished with a simple link from the webpage about your app or directly from your website.

Use QR Codes

Accurately typing a URL on a mobile device can be error prone. QR codes make it easy to get exactly the intended URL easily. Your app developer should provide you with a QRC that helps users install your app.

Don’t use JUST QR Codes

QR codes provide easy access to a URL – IF the user has a QR code scanner. If they don’t, then they now have two apps to download instead of just one. Always include a text version of the URL below the QR code – let the user choose which is easier for them.

Use Shortened URLs

Don’t expect a user type a long URL on a mobile device. If your app developer doesn’t provide you with short URLs, use one of the many free services to make and track them yourself.

Use SMS to Install App

Most people have now heard of QR codes, but not everyone has a QRC scanner on their phone ready to go. But, everyone has SMS / text messaging. On your website you can include an option to “send app to my phone” when the user enters their phone number. A simple “Text ‘ShowName’ to 5551234 to get mobile app” on your printed material and signage will provide an easy alternative to searching or QRC scanning.

Deploy a Native and Mobile Web App

There are pros and cons with native apps vs. mobile web apps. One con of a native app is the extra step required to download the app. We want to remove any barriers that might discourage users. When choosing between a native app and a mobile web app, the best choice is “all of the above”. The mobile web version provides quick easy-to-access content and a single click to install the native app.

QR Code to Install App

Create QR codes leading to an introduction page that includes a link to download the native app. Your app provider often creates these for you. Include them on your website, on on-site signage, in newsletters – anywhere you promote your event.

QR Codes for Data Within the App

In addition to a QRC for installing your app, also ask your mobile app provider for QR codes for each exhibitor, each scheduled session, and each session room or venue. The QR codes should lead the user to a mobile web version of the app providing information about each exhibitor and session. Post a QRC at each room to show the schedule of events within that room. The mobile website will provide immediate value and also provide another opportunity to download the native app with a single click at the very moment they need it most.

Per-exhibitor QR codes can also be used to drive traffic with a scavenger hunt, as a mechanism for attendees to request more information from the exhibitor, or for the exhibitor to collect lead information.