Mobile Apps for Small Events – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The article ‘Mobile Apps for Small Events – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ was written by a guest writer, Dan McCarthy. More information on the writer can be found at the end of this article.

Mobile Apps for Small Events – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Event apps rose to prominence in 2008. Since then, companies and event planners have developed a love affair with them. They provide a whole new way of connecting with an audience that was unheard of just a decade ago. While event apps are indeed lucrative, they are typically only relegated to large enterprises and corporations. The apps, after all, cost time and even more importantly, money, to make. Smaller and local businesses tend to leave them out of the equation because they are simply too cost-prohibitive.

Are event apps really worth the trouble? Find out about their pros and cons as well as the cost factor and why that’s such a huge issue. You can be the judge whether they are worth incorporating into your next seminar or conference.

How Much Do Event Apps Cost?

Each individual company will need to assess their blueprint when planning an event and make an educated decision whether using an app warrants the cost. Yes, it’s one of those cost vs. benefits type of thing. Price is obviously the major factor here.

So just how expensive is it to have an event app created and personalized for your specific seminar? There really is no average price. A ballpark estimate, though, ranges anywhere from free to USD20,000. The price range at the high end of the spectrum is what scares most small companies. However, don’t automatically discount the idea just yet.

Why so Expensive?

The reason event apps tend to cost an arm and a leg is because of the expenses and time commitment required. Apps have to be programmed for compatibility on specific platforms, such as Android and Apple devices. The app also has to undergo a tedious and cumbersome coding and testing process.

The typical development time runs anywhere from four to six weeks. Once it gets the greenlight, it has to be made available for public distribution through a reputable site like Amazon or the Apple Store.

Nowadays, Though, Event Apps Are More Affordable Than Ever

Some developers have sought to make their apps more affordable or even free. A few developers have, for instance, provided an off-the-shelf app free for users. The drawback? The event is listed along with many others also using the app. In other words, the app is designed for general use with no option for personalization. Plus, users will have to actively search for your event and sort through a slosh of others once the app is downloaded.

Free apps also have major limitations. For one, they may not be available on all platforms. The number of permitted downloads may also be restricted to a few hundred or so. If you are anticipating a large turnout, some of the guests may be lucked out.

If you want to acquire a personalized app without having to pay for it out of your children’s college tuition, then see if you can find a reputable supplier. Some established app developers may already have a previous event app and can build one for you using the existing platform and framework. This should dramatically slash the cost as most of the coding and testing has already been done.

Event Apps Are “Recyclable” Technology

Contrary to what some believe, event apps are not necessarily disposable technology. While event apps are typically only designed for one-time use, they can be – for the lack of a better term – recycled. In other words, they only have to be built from scratch once; most others that come after that can be built on the same platform.

The amount of customization ultimately determines the amount of the original framework that can be reused. This is good news for the end consumers because it usually means they can acquire a personal app at a lower cost. This opens the door for smaller companies that would otherwise be unable to afford a customized event app.

Are Event Apps Worth It? The Pros and Cons

Some businesses have had major success with event apps. One success story comes from the Public Relations Society of America. At its annual international conference with over 1,700 guests, the organization utilized an event app for its seminar that lasted three days. By the end of the event, 72% of guests that downloaded the app were deemed active users, meaning that they took some form of in-app action 10 or more times.

PRSA’s success is not entirely unique. In any case, though, you have to weigh the pros and cons in order to make an informed decision whether an event app is right for your business and industry.

The Pros:

Instant Sign Up – Attendees can easily confirm or edit their RSVP. You, in turn, get real time results about the attendance numbers.

Increase Engagement – There are all sorts of extras you can add to the event app that would not be possible with offline methods. You can, for example:

  • Incorporate a survey as the event is coming to a close
  • Add information about an upcoming guest speaker
  • Add a quick reminder for guests to comment about your event on social media
  • Take a quick poll, such as the type of refreshments they would like during intermission
  • Show an event-specific video or trailer during intermission to hype up what’s about to come
  • Allow sponsors to send personalized messages to select attendees that indicated an interest of the sponsor’s products during registration.

Digital Event Schedule – Create a customized event schedule that can be updated to accommodate last minute changes. This cuts down on printing cost; imagine having to throw away hundreds of paper event schedules due to a change or typo. Not only does that cost money but it’s also not very green.


What about those without a smartphone?  It is estimated that about 50% of adults own a smartphone. The figure may be higher or lower depending on the attendee demographic. How are you going to accommodate those that lack a smartphone? How will they participate in the aforementioned engagement activities? Relying too much on an event app could alienate those that lack a mobile.

The Final Verdict About Event Apps

Event apps hold enormous potential if used strategically. They are becoming more commonplace and are far more affordable now than they were just five years ago. Small businesses are definitely encouraged to give them a try. While success isn’t guaranteed, they are at least worth a consideration if increased engagement is your main goal for your upcoming conference.


Dan McCarthy is an Event Manager at Ultimate Experience, an event management company based in the UK. Dan has 5 years of event project management under his belt. He has worked on many successful events, and currently he shares his knowledge by writing on the company blog. Follow him on Twitter @DanCarthy2.


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