By Rick O’Connor
According to Pew Research Center, (report here) 56 per cent of adults in the US own smartphones and can download an app, but only 50 per cent choose to do so. My math tells me that 50 per cent of 56 per cent is 28 per cent. That means about 28 per cent of your event attendees might download an event app. The same report states that 81 per cent of adults send and receive text messages daily. One might think that it’s a “slam-dunk” to use SMS with 81 per cent versus apps at 28 per cent, but there is much more to it. Realistically, it all depends on your event, the attendees and what type of user experience you wish to deliver to them.
There are two types of apps to consider, a web app or a native app. A web app is accessed through your mobile browser, downloaded onto your smartphone and requires periodic connectivity to the Internet to function (WI-FI or your own data plan). A native app is downloaded onto your smartphone and is most often self-contained, but possibly needing WI-FI/data for updates. Every smartphone can access the Internet for a web-app, but you need to build your native app for each type of device, develop one version for the iPhone and another for the Android platform, which together account for over 90 per cent of all smartphone platforms in the US. (That also drops that 28 per cent usage rate to about net 25 per cent.) Platform penetration depends upon many factors, but building for the “big two” will take care of most users, most of the time.
Both apps are interactive and can offer an excellent user experience. A web-app is usually much less expensive to build and is good for every smartphone. A native app is usually more costly, may take longer to build, has to be approved for distribution and has a decreased number of users because of the limited platforms. However, the user experience and functionality tend to be more comprehensive with a native app. Fortunately there are many companies that do both, and your pricing can range from $1,000 to $7,500 or more. There are more and more off-the-shelf apps available that are easily personalized to your event. Shop around but be leery of pushing advertising at your attendees. They may have paid to be at your event and may not agree with watching ads as a way to pay for the app.
Simple SMS does not deliver the interactive and potentially cool experience that an app can, but if you need to communicate with staff, volunteers, attendees, exhibitors and more, text messaging does the job fast and extremely efficiently. Using text messaging, you can send event updates, session reminders, live links to speakers’ bios, any social media links and hashtags, direct visitors to a specific booth at a specific time, invite attendees to sign up for email and more. The functions are similar to an app, but without the fancy user interface.
SMS does not require downloading anything and works on every phone. If there is no WI-FI available and you do not want attendees to use their own data plans, SMS may be a better alternative. This is especially true for festivals and outdoor events where there is no data and only “one bar” or less worth of cell connectivity; SMS messages will still get delivered.
A good SMS service provider will deliver a platform that enables attendees to subscribe online as well as via their mobile device and will provide as many information feeds for users as required, i.e. attendees, staff, volunteers, marketplace, media, etc. A professional SMS supplier pays for every text message that is sent and either is or will use an aggregator which will deliver every text message immediately and directly to every wireless carrier. This also means that text messaging is a variable cost and increases with every text message sent, but is still usually far less expensive than an app.
Some SMS companies will use email-to-text technology which is free, but your texts can take two minutes to two hours or longer for delivery.
Before you choose an app versus SMS, think about your event and your attendees. Does your event need an app? Does your attendee socio-demographics suggest that all your attendees have smartphones and those users regularly download apps? Will the app be easily downloadable, and will there be free WI-FI that can handle your volume of attendees all going online at the same time? If all you need is guaranteed information delivery to every user group, you might want to consider SMS.
About the author
Rick O’Connor is founder of SMSnet and SportsSMS, a cloud-based text messaging platform enabling event clients to have visitors subscribe and allows the event organizer to send text messages directly to their cell phones. And because simple text messaging is used, every cell phone can receive texts, no smart phone, app or WI-FI required.