I used to think that the best thing an events app could do is not crash. Believe me, I've been to at least one big tech conference this year where that's all the app did. I'd deleted it from my phone before the end of day one.
DoubleDutch, the San Francisco-based vendor of mobile apps for events and conferences, is setting its sights much higher, promoting engagement among attendees, adding value for sponsors, and extending the life-span of events-based conversations. Its new release, announced today, adds options for direct messaging, topic channels, and real-time session channels.
When I spoke to recently appointed CMO Emily He last week, I had no idea--and neither, I'm sure did she--that I'd soon be giving DoubleDutch a real-world trial. But first, the basics. He told me that Double Dutch is looking to "redefine the category" when it comes to mobile events apps. We're all familiar with the standard package: an agenda; maybe a personalized schedule; directions; feedback options; and in some cases (for example, the Dreamforce app), some opportunities for engagement with other attendees.
DoubleDutch sees opportunities to expand that model. He discovered the company as a customer. As Saba's SVP for marketing, she was "completely blown away, not only by the way DoubleDutch really elevated engagement" for conferences, but by being able "to get a lot more information about the attendees."
"I've always secretly loved events," she said. "For all this talk about digital marketing, companies are still doing live events--especially some of the most prominent tech companies. Events can be 30 to 40 percent of a marketing budget." But there's still a lack of visibility into how events perform. DoubleDutch started out as a way of aggregating richer information than sessions attended and booths visited. "The initial focus was on attendee engagement," He said. "It was socially oriented. But now we want to leverage the information for event organizers." The DoubleDutch app helps identify key influencers, track conversations, and pick out key questions, comments or concerns. Integration with Salesforce and Marketo helps feed this all back into a continuum of marketing data.
Exhibitors can embed portals in the app to attract attendees to booths--perhaps with promotional offers. Attendees can use a Twitter-like social platform to engage with their peers or with event representatives. "A lot of thought goes into event ambience," said He. Meanwhile, "the way attendees engage with the world has changed. They'll take (their experience) to their own social channels."
That's one part of DoubleDutch's proffer I immediately queried. After all, attendees want to reach their established social media followings. Will people use DoubleDutch's in-app platform in addition to Twitter? He had two answers. First, organizers have incentives to bring the social conversation home. "The fact that people are using Twitter is a lost opportunity for the event organizers. The conversation isn't centralized. They want to channel the energy into a container."
Second, and realistically, the DoubleDutch app can be set up so that users can share their in-app updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (there's even an option to import your LinkedIn profile as your in-app profile).
Unexpectedly, I'm using the DoubleDutch app right now at Ascend '15, a conference hosted in Las Vegas by the digital experience platform vendor EpiServer (more about that soon). Let's say right away that the app hasn't crashed. The social interface is easy to use, and has proved very popular with the crowd at this event: a mix of serious commentary, selfies, backchat and food photos. Each time I log in, I find thirty or more updates.
On the menu, there's a series of promotional offers and competitions ("Selfie Superstar"), as well as a continuously updated leader board showing the most active participants. There's also a key element of DoubleDutch's proffer: a "switch event" tab. Rather than create standalone iterations of the app for each client event, the aim is to build it out as a single portal for all events. "We used to sell apps for individual events," He said, "but we want to be a platform which can be used year round." Which also means, of course, an opportunity to profile frequent event attendees year round.
I asked attendees how they felt about the app. The most frequent complaint was a delay between posting an update and seeing it displayed--which, of course, is a reminder that an app of this kind demands a robust WiFi system to be effectively used. One EpiServer executive told me that he was impressed by the way last-minute changes to the schedule could be rolled out immediately as a real-time update for users.
DoubleDutch's new release fleshed out some of the plans He had outlined for me:
- Direct messaging not only puts attendees in touch with each other, but helps organizers and exhibitors direct rapid follow-ups with possible leads.
- Topic channels allow engagement around specific subjects, and help organizers track not only attendees' interests, but their connections with other attendees.
- Session channels encourage audiences to engage online during live sessions.
I'm not sure much more distraction a conference audience needs, but as we all know, people are texting and tweeting anyway. Promising ROI for organizers and attendees, it's going to be interesting to see the impact DoubleDutch has on proprietary single-event apps. I don't suppose the Dreamforce '15 or Oracle Openworld apps are going away any time soon, but that leaves a substantial market of medium to large events.