Higher Logic Blog

New Mobile App Report Could Save Associations Money

Written by Joshua Paul | May 10, 2011 at 1:21 PM

Mobile apps are hot right now. Mobile technology sessions are full and our booth is buzzing at this year's conferences. Everybody wants one. However, few fully understand the strategic and functional facets of providing a mobile app that supports the missions of associations. A recent report from Forrester provides some important clarity to association executives around the reach, usage, and cost of mobile apps.

3 Kinds of Mobile Apps That Member-Based Organizations Use

1) Community Apps

These are apps provided to members by the association to interact with other members, participate in discussions, and stay connected to the latest news and ideas.

2) Event Apps

Event apps are mobile tools to connect attendees and organizers at local, regional, national, and international events.  Attendees can find one another, navigate the tradeshow floor, get directions to their hotel, manage their itinerary, and receive up-to-date information from meeting organizers and sponsors.

3) Membership Management Apps

Some associations provide elements of their membership database in a mobile format to allow event, membership, and fundraising staff to look up member information and enter notes on the go.

How to Engage Members on Mobile Devices Without Breaking Your Budget

With technology and mobile trends moving rapidly, how can associations make the most cost-effective decisions without ending up behind the technology curve? It is first important to understand the difference between native apps (apps you can get in an app store) and HTML5 apps (apps that work in any phone's web browser). Socious has covered the basics on mobile apps for associations previously. The following highlights the latest information membership organizations should know about the "mobile web app vs. app store app" debate.

The Debate Over Mobile Apps is Irrelevant From a Technology Perspective

Neither HTML5 apps nor "app store" apps are going to disappear. This is not like the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD debate of 2005 where one format is adopted and the other loses. For the foreseeable future, one type of app does not have to eventually win for them both to succeed. As the use of mobile devices grows worldwide, the usage of both types of app increases.

Where Should Associations Invest Their Mobile Strategy Budget?

HTML5 and Native Apps Serve Different Audiences and Provide Different Advantages

Without an unlimited budget, deciding how to approach your mobile strategy is critical. However, there is no "silver bullet" answer for associations and other membership organizations. Like most strategies involving technology, it depends on what the organization is trying to achieve.

"The mobile Web and apps offer different benefits and serve different audiences. For now, mobile apps make the most of smartphone features because they integrate more deeply and more widely with the unique features of smart mobile devices that use an operating system. However, mobile websites cost less to reach a wider audience." - Thomas Husson, Forrester

Reach of Mobile Apps

Most mobile members who download apps also use the mobile Internet daily and vice versa "“ people who use the mobile Internet daily are more likely to download apps. Though the number of association members with smart phone devices is growing, a majority of member access information on their mobile phones without apps.

Member Engagement Takeaway:

"App store" apps are great! However, unless a large majority of your audience is high tech, early adopters, you will be missing engagement opportunities with a significant percentage of your membership if you base your mobile strategy and event around a native app. If your audience is international or does not all have smart phones, an HTML5 app will reach more members.

Purpose Behind Your Mobile Strategy

While the core competencies of "app store" apps and HTML5 app are blurring, members use different kinds of apps for different reasons. "App store" apps are best for tasks that benefit from deep integration with the mobile hardware, such as location-based functions, accelerometers, and tasks needing tight integration with a camera. Association members use HTML5 apps, that run on any mobile Internet browser, to manage information and for looking things up on the go.

Member Engagement Takeaway:

If the goal of your mobile strategy is to help your members and attendees find the information they need quickly, an HTML5 app is better suited for those functions. In addition, HTML5 apps allow you to have separate apps for your community and multiple events without adding additional development costs.

Cost of Developing and Maintaining Mobile Apps

The cost differential between an "app store" app and an HTML5 app is going to be the deciding factor for many organizations. The cost to develop and enhance a native app over time is exponentially greater than an HTML5 app with similar usability and functionality.

Member Engagement Takeaway:

Based on the Forrester report which highlights the greater reach, functionality that aligned better with association's business models, and lower cost of HTML5 apps, associations are more likely to see a highly ROI with an HTML5 mobile platform.