Questions to Ask When Going Mobile

So your organization has decided to create a mobile application. What's next? Find out what you should ask an app developer before going mobile.

As association members change the way they handle communications, organizations continue to evaluate new ways of providing their meetings' content and making the delivery more timely, personalized, and useful. The mobile app is the most recent addition to any organization's arsenal of communications tools. But there's more to developing a mobile app than meets the eye. By asking your prospective developers the right questions, you ensure that your mobile app will go from good to great in terms of content delivery, brand enhancement, and revenue generation.

To help associations think through what they need from an app developer, here are questions to ask or include in your RFP:

Company Background

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How long you have been developing mobile applications?
  • How many staff members do you have?
  • Do you have the capability to provide the technology, write the content, provide graphic design, and sell and collect payment for the ads?
  • Provide client references,


  • Do you have the ability to work with our association to develop a digital strategy, including an analysis of our existing publications and convention communications to determine what best fits in a mobile app and what opportunities exist for advertising and sponsorship with the app?
  • Are you willing to provide a full capabilities presentation online or face-to-face to help us understand the process and options?
  • Can you help us analyze the cost efficiencies or expense of mobile apps with and without the printed materials? How will this help us achieve our green initiatives?
Six Questions to Ask Before Developing A Mobile Application

By Dave Fellers, CAE

Mobile applications are no longer a "nice-to-have" offering for your next meeting; they are a "must have." But before committing, you should ask your prospective developer the following pertinent questions:

  1. How will you strategize with our staff to develop the app?
  2. Will the app be web based (requiring cell phone coverage at all times to be operational), or will it be a native, downloadable app on the smartphone?
  3. Will the mobile app be developed for all platforms, and will a WAP (wireless application protocol) version be available for non-smartphone users? 
  4. Will international carrier platforms be able to use the app?
  5. How can you help with the app's revenue potential?
  6. What analytics will you provide?

Dave Fellers, CAE, is an association consultant. Email: [email protected]


  • Do you have a team that will work with our organization to determine what is appropriate and necessary on a mobile app (for example, convention program, sessions, daily highlights, daily news, exhibitor guide, floor plan, appointment scheduling, social media integration, up to 20 images, local news and weather, opportunities to connect members to our website, journal, membership directory, etc.)?
  • Will the app be web-based (requiring cell phone coverage at all times to be operational) or will it be a native, downloadable app on the smartphone?
  • Will the mobile app be developed for ALL platforms, including the Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Microsoft and Palm, and will a WAP version be available for non-smartphone users?
  • Will international carrier platforms be able to use the app?
  • Does the mobile app offer word search capabilities?
  • Can a mobile app be developed for our publication content or other member-only areas? Do you have the capability to require a user ID and password as a security measure on the mobile app?
  • Will GPS be available on the floor map to allow attendees to obtain walking directions?
  • Will the mobile app reside on your server or our organization's server?
  • Can the mobile app include an instant survey and/or audience response system?
  • Will there be sufficient capacity on platforms for posters and abstracts?
  • Where can members download the app? If it is available through the iPhone App Store, will you prepare the description and coordinate with the store?
  • How will the mobile app integrate with our association website, including the layout and graphics?
  • Who will own the proprietary rights to the app?
  • What training and assistance will be provided?

Social Media

  • Will the app have the ability to integrate with social media? If so, which media can be integrated (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)?
  • Will it seamlessly link to and update our social networking sites or do you need to update each separately?


  • How many banner ad opportunities are available? What other advertising opportunities (electronic messaging, exhibitor text marketing, etc.) will the mobile app provide?
  • Will the mobile app have the capability to link an individual exhibitor to its website or special information site as part of the app or will that cost an additional fee?


  • Do you have the ability to write content (i.e., staff that can take existing content and redevelop it for the mobile app)? Describe your expertise and experience in this area.
  • Is your content static or dynamic? Will you provide content updates throughout the day, month, or year? What does this include and when?


  • Will in-depth analytics (number of headlines viewed, number of active users, clickthrough rate, number of stories shared, etc.) be provided to help prove ROI to exhibitors? How frequently will this be provided?
  • If you sell the advertising, what types of reports will we receive and with what frequency?


  • How will you handle the branding of our mobile app? Will our brand's logo appear only on the splash page or throughout the app?
  • Will any of the developer's branding be included on the application? What will that look like?
  • What assistance/expertise can you provide in developing a full audience marketing plan that addresses our mix of print, digital, and online marketing?
  • What assistance will you provide in delivering marketing at the event (signage, inserts in attendee bags or at registration, information printed on the backs of badges, stickers, etc.) to promote the mobile app and instruct attendees how to download the app?


  • What is your required timeframe for developing and implementing the mobile app?
  • When would you start marketing/promoting the mobile app to the membership?

Revenue and Expense

  • What is the estimated cost range for a mobile app with the following: convention program, session information, daily highlights, daily news, exhibitor guide, floor plan, appointment scheduling, social media integration, up to 20 images, and local news and weather?
  • Do application development fees include design, production, and distribution of a custom mobile app from concept through final approval, including all necessary software development, formatting, coordination, editing, design, layout, production coordination/supervision, distribution, hosting, and final reports on usage?
  • What is the revenue potential from sale of banner ads? Can you provide suggested prices for banner ads and advertising?
  • Does your company have the capability to sell advertisements/sponsorships, collect revenue, and provide progress reports?

Just as social media and networking have become a part of every organization, mobile apps are doing the same. Meeting industry leaders recognize the fast growing trend of mobile applications. They stress the need for association professionals and show organizers to be ready to adapt.

"Mobile communications has taken over as the fundamental way for people to share information, network and interact," stresses Cameron Bishop, CEO of Ascend Integrated Media.

"Because of that, there are thousands of ‘mobile developers' springing up and claiming they can develop an association or event mobile app. Unfortunately, their view of a mobile app often turns out to be radically different than the mobile app that attendees need." He says that the mission of a mobile developer must be to enhance the brand of the association, maximize their valuable content, and provide ROI to their exhibitors.

By working with the right mobile developer, an association ensures that their mobile app works from year one. Getting the mobile app right out of the gate automatically increases their effectiveness and value and improves the revenue an organization can ultimately drive.

Michelle Bruno of the Bruno Group notes the potential for revenue streams is an important aspect of developing your mobile application.

"Event organizers are very interested in what kind of revenue can be generated and how, to offset the costs of the app and maybe earn a little for the ‘kitty,'" says Bruno.

Associations today are actively pursuing ways to make their meetings and expos more environmentally conscious. This includes printing products on recycled paper, recycling badges and other convention elements, and eliminating lanyards. For many, this strong commitment to "going green" is driving them to mobile apps for their events.

Ron Engelbreit, CPA, deputy executive director of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), coordinated his association's efforts of going entirely paperless for its 2010 meeting. All of the meeting's content was provided on an iPod Touch. [Find out more about this initiative in "MP3 Players Help Meeting Attendees Store Information" from the August 2010 issue of Associations Now.] "Changing member behavior from a reliance on paper to a small electronic device was a project in itself," he says. AANS used marketing initiatives and tutorials for members to learn how to use the applications.

For some associations, the mobile app serves as an alternative to providing printed content for everyone attending. While they still print programs and exhibitor guides, associations can reduce the final numbers on the print runs, knowing they are still serving their audience with the mobile app.

Marlys Arnold, known as the "ImageSpecialist" and author of "Building a Better Trade Show Image," recommends that the tradeshow portion of the app be interactive.

"Apps can help save money and trees by reducing the amount of paper show guides printed," she points out. "But unlike a paper guide, the app can also function like an online shopping cart, allowing attendees to custom-design their own shopping list and view an interactive map of the show floor."

Now that mobile apps have become the go-to communications tool for convention and tradeshow attendees, associations need to make sure they have the information and facts to make a good decision. Associations and show organizers should not hesitate to obtain guidance of professionals who can help them to address the questions above.

Dave Fellers, CAE, is president of Dave Fellers Consulting, Prairie Village, Kansas. He is the former CEO of the Radiological Society of North America and former president of ethnoMetrics, a leading consulting firm for conventions and tradeshows. He currently specializes in helping associations to evaluate and improve their organization, annual meeting/tradeshow and communications. Email: [email protected]