Mobile Engagement Lessons From Socious’ Approach to Mobile Software
Quite a few people have reached out to us since posting about how a new report on mobile technology might save associations money. Many association executives are in the process of determining whether engaging their community through mobile devices will fit their value model and membership. People have asked us how Socious evaluated mobile technologies and the criteria we used in developing a product strategy for our mobile community and mobile event apps.
Here is a mini-interview with Socious Co-Founder, Paul Schneider, that might provide some guidance for nonprofit membership organizations thinking about engaging their community or attendees using a mobile platform.
After exploring native or “app store” apps, you ultimately choose to develop an HTML5 app for online communities and event software. Why?
Paul Schneider: We had identified several goals. First, we wanted to make this app feature rich so that our customer’s members would see the value in their organization’s app and stay engaged on their mobile devices. Along the same lines of getting and keeping as many members engaged as possible, the apps needed to be accessible to as many members as possible.
We also decided early on that charging associations or nonprofits an additional fee for the mobile versions of the online community or event platform that they already pay for (with our software) was the not the right thing to do. Lastly, we needed the app to be tailorable to the different association customers we have. Meaning, we need to change the icon and screen background and certain settings for every customer. If we did that in a native app, our support costs would be huge, we would have many different apps we would have to update every time we added new functionality, and organizations would have to develop a new app for all of their events.
How did input from your association and user group customers impact your approach?
Paul Schneider: Though membership organizations face a lot of the same challenges, they can be very different in terms of mission and membership. We did a lot of one-on-one interviews and surveys as we developed our mobile product strategy.We found that the majority of our customer’s members had access to the Internet on their devices and at conference, so access our community and event apps would be no problem.
The features customers and their members needed were not that big a factor. Many of the features only available in native apps, were flashy, but not functions that our customer’s members wanted in an mobile online community or event app. HTML5 is getting really great features. Even though we can’t access a few of the hardware features now, that won’t be the case for long. In fact, our next version is looking at some event functionality that will take advantage of additional hardware features.
Did your customers and their members use specific platforms, like iPhone or Android devices?
Paul Schneider: This was a big deal to our customers and other associations we spoke with. They said, “Why would we roll out an app that only a portion of our membership can use?” The Socious apps had to be accessible on many platforms to align with our goal of engaging members and because we have no idea what phones new customer’s members may be on. With HTML5 browsers being supported by a large percentage of existing devices and the new phones coming out, we were confidant our app would be able to be accessed by the most members possible.
What is the biggest benefit of an HTML5 app to membership organizations?
Paul Schneider: I’d have to say that it is the significant difference in cost over custom-developed apps. We wanted to offer this app at no additional cost to our customers that have our online community platform or event management software. An HTML5 web app gave us the features and the price point we needed to make this a real benefit to our customers and their members.
How would you advise association executives as they develop their mobile strategy?
Paul Schneider: This is an exciting decision and with HTML5 apps, it does not have to become a crippling investment. I’d start by asking the leadership at the association the following three questions.
- Which part of your value proposition are you going to be offering on a mobile device?
- Who is the audience you trying to keep engaged - all members or just early technology adopters?
- How soon do you need an app and what is your expected turnaround time for updates or new functionality?