Alex Beall is a contributing writer for Associations Now.
People use their mobile devices for communicating, reading, learning, and just about everything else—and apps make much of that activity possible. Associations have increasingly embraced consumers’ affinity for apps, using them to put resources and benefits at members’ fingertips.
It’s been almost a decade since Apple released the iPhone commercial that coined the phrase, “There’s an app for that.” And for each year that passes, that phrase rings truer and truer. Currently, there are 2.8 million apps available in Google Play and 2.2 million in the Apple App Store.
Among these millions of apps are those offered by associations, which have increasingly turned to apps as a way not only to engage their members, but also to share relevant and timely information and knowledge with them. Here are three different ways associations are using apps to make their products, services, and other benefits more accessible and valuable to members.
With members asking for access to the organization’s tools and resources through their mobile phones, the National Association of Letter Carriers released its organizational app in summer 2016. Since then, the app has proven to be a helpful communication, government relations, and work-support tool for NALC members.
“We wanted to do two things: number one, deliver our content that we publish … in another way for those that prefer to receive their information through their smartphone,” says Executive Vice President Brian Renfroe. “The second was to put as many resources as we possibly could at our members’ fingertips as easily and accessibly as possible.”
The NALC Member App houses various association resources, including an interactive work-planning calendar designed especially for letter carriers—the first electronic calendar tool of its kind—and a bill tracker, which shares NALC’s position on relevant legislation. NALC personalizes the user experience by providing political and legislative news and connecting members with their representatives in Congress based on their ZIP code.
One of the main benefits of the free app has been the ability to send out push notifications, which can be personalized based on location, Renfroe explains. Previously, NALC sent blast messages to 70,000 email addresses when it needed to share information quickly. But, once the app was released, almost all users opted into receiving push notifications. Today, less than 1 percent of users still receive emails.
The app has been downloaded 75,000 times, and updating it regularly remains a priority—a lesson that came after the app was down for a day when a necessary revision wasn’t made in time for an operating system update. “We learned very quickly that it’s very important to be ahead of operating system updates,” Renfroe says. “We’ve taken the steps to make sure we’re out in front of that, because having [the app] up and going is the most important thing.”
In addition to preparing for operating system maintenance, NALC updates its app in response to member feedback. Currently, staffers are building an archive of past push notifications and developing a new members-only app to help letter carriers track their time worked.
For other associations that might develop an app, Renfroe offers this advice: “I would encourage people to certainly look into the possibility of using it to not only provide information as a resource, but as a communication piece.”
Thanks to an app, the greater Toronto chapter of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, has been running a successful mentorship program for about eight years.
Instead of a traditional program in which a designated mentor and mentee meet up multiple times over a certain period and often need to complete assignments, the Toronto chapter has used a cloud-based platform to build a micro-mentoring program in which mentees make single one-hour appointments with participating mentors, lowering the commitment on both sides.
To facilitate the program, the free app features a list of mentors who have volunteered to participate, along with their bios and their availability. When the program opens each year, young professionals can browse those mentors’ bios by sector and book a given number of appointments with them. Through the app, mentees then can contact the mentors they’ve picked to narrow the focus of the meeting and decide where to meet.
I think the main benefit is that the app keeps track of your progress, whether you’ve answered questions correctly, and helps you identify where you need to study more.
— Suzanne Kitts, American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators
While this program has helped the chapter increase its membership, the app’s accessibility and ease of use have also generated greater participation among existing members, says Staff Communications Manager John Thomas. Mentors like it because they don’t need to commit to recurring activities, assignments, or meetings, and mentees prefer it because they can choose their own mentors and meet with multiple professional leaders.
“Every year it’s grown with the new members joining, with more people wanting to participate, with mentors actually approaching a chapter to be mentors. We no longer have to work very hard to find senior people in the industry to be mentors,” Thomas says. In fact, the program grew from 20 mentors and 20 mentees in the first year to 50 and 70, respectively, in the second year. This past year, 104 mentors and 220 mentees participated.
In addition, the app has reduced staff time dedicated to the program because no one needs to manually match up mentors and mentees. And staff can use back-end tools to monitor activity and assess the app’s performance using data.
“It’s very easy, very scalable,” Thomas says. “It’ll take minimal work for the mentors, the mentees, and the administrators, and when you’re able to make it easy for everybody, you’ll get everybody at all levels engaged. And I think that’s one of the keys of success.”
The Certified Ophthalmic Executive exam is the only test that certifies ophthalmic practice managers. To help prospective COEs prepare for the exam, the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators provides various study guides, tools, and resources.
Most recently, ASOA repurposed one of its popular study tools—a print flashcard deck—into a mobile application. “Because everybody’s got a smartphone in their hand, they can carry it with them and study for their exam anywhere they are, anytime,” says Project Manager Suzanne Kitts.
The app organizes the exam material into six knowledge domain buckets. While studying questions in the knowledge domains, users can sort them based on how well they know the answers and access scores and stats that indicate which domains and subjects they need to study further. Banner ads within the app also guide users to other study resources and encourage them to sign up for the exam, attend study sessions during ASOA meetings, and become association members.
“I think the main benefit is that the app keeps track of your progress, whether you’ve answered questions correctly, and helps you identify where you need to study more,” Kitts says. “Best of all, [users] can just open the app whenever they have a few minutes and get some studying in without having to carry around a heavy box of 300-plus flashcards.”
Another attractive feature: Users can download a complimentary version of the COE Prep app that lets them work through 12 flashcards with full app functionality to see how the tool works and what kind of content the exam covers. They can then determine whether they want to purchase the full resource.
ASOA released the app in February 2018, and within the first two weeks, 75 people downloaded the free version and 15 purchased the premium version for $99 after testing it—a relatively large number, considering that only about 300 people have earned the COE designation.
In addition, ASOA staff benefit because they can easily update the flashcard deck and have a direct way to boost marketing efforts around the exam, ASOA meetings, and membership.
“Having an app makes it much easier to update and add new content,” Kitts says. “When we need to revise the exam again or just update questions, it’s so much easier to add them than to go to the printer and have them print a whole entire new deck.”