Think your association can wait to start using mobile apps to engage your members? Think again. Both consumer and enterprise mobile technology is quickly overtaking traditional online channels for certain types of member engagement.
The 2011 Digital Now conference, which is focusing on mobility for associations and nonprofits this year, reminds us that membership organizations are well suited to engage their constituents through mobile devices. For this reason, many are not waiting years - as they have historically - for the technology to be tested in the for-profit arena, before bringing this benefit to their members.
Here are 10 things that association leaders should know about engaging members through member and community apps on mobile devices.
Members who use an association's mobile app are just as interested in the news and business of an association as members who are do not follow their association on a mobile device. However, members who engage an association on a mobile device are more active in their organization than their non-mobile connected counterparts.
Members who get news and information on mobile devices are more likely than others to feel they can have an impact on their communities. Understanding this data allows associations leaders to increase engagement in other areas such as building their volunteer corp.
Members who use mobile apps to connect to their association feel more strongly that it is easy to keep up with information about their association community "“ leading to higher levels of engagement and satisfaction.
Many associations are looking for ways to build strong programs to engage young professionals. Research tells us that the members who will engage your organization on mobile devices trend younger than your average member.
All apps are not created equal. We are not talking about the style and graphic design. We are talking about app design. This is the way that the features, flow, and navigation scheme use intuitive mobile conventions to make an easy-to-use app that your members will adopt and use readily.
Members want to use an association's mobile apps for certain types of functionally and an association's website to accomplish certain other tasks. Apps are great for "time filling" activities - connecting with friends or colleagues, posting to discussions or replying to content, and reading the latest news updates.
Duplicating your website in a mobile format is not a successful model. Most members would not use your association's mobile app to renew their membership or conduct extensive research. Interview and survey your members before adding a mobile membership app to you membership marketing plan.
If you are going to create an app for an event or conference, why not use the same app for your ongoing mobile member engagement? You choices are these:
Have new apps developed for all of your meetings and conferences and one more for your ongoing mobile platform for your members.
Have one app that keeps your members engaged throughout the year that also serves as a full mobile event app for each of your meetings and conferences.
The one app approach is more attractive to a lot of associations and nonprofits for the following reasons:
A mobile membership app that does not integrate with your online community and membership data has a dramatically lower impact and ROI than one that does connect to your member information. Some online community platforms even have apps built into their software. When selecting a mobile membership platform, be sure to understand the one-time and ongoing costs for integrating with your online member community and back end membership database.
Different types of apps come with different costs to maintain as your organization's goals, programs, and membership strategies evolve. These range from $0 for an HTML 5 app to thousands of dollars for an "app store" app. Imagine this scenario, you pay $10,000 - $30,000 for a custom mobile community app for your association. Then, you add an initiative, change your slogan, or discontinue a program.
With a traditional "app store" app, you would have to have your app development firm update your app, republish it to the different app stores, and launch campaigns to your members to have them download the updated app from the app stores. Be sure to think through long-term maintenance cost before deciding on the type of app that is right for your organizations.
Do your members use a single mobile platform (e.g. Android)? Or is your app going to have to work on an iPhone, Blackberry, WebOS, Android, and Microsoft's Windows Phone? Depending on the type of mobile community app you implement, you may have to create an app for each platform (though many app development software programs allow developers to publish across platforms fairly easily).
The challenge comes in allocating the time and manpower (or woman-power) to manage the submission, approval, and update process in each app store. Next, you have the marketing dollars it takes to direct members to the right app store to download, set up, and update their app.
The type of app you select matters "“ "app store" app vs. HTML 5 apps. Be sure to fully consider the implications of developing a mobile app for your membership that entails managing multiple app store relationships and distribution processes for your members.
What has your experience been with considering or implementing a mobile app at your association, nonprofit, or society?