Impacting today’s marketplace is a new era in communications and a completely new type of business. Rapid change is even faster today than it was a few years ago. I recently spoke with a chamber executive who mentioned she was one of the first owners of the bag phone. This “transportable” cellular phone, the size of a carry-on bag, was cutting edge technology. But today’s smart phones pack the power of mini computers.
There is much debate about the future of mobile technology. Experts continually adjust strategic plans to accommodate predictions of the changing course of this technology. The field is split between investing marketing dollars toward mobile applications or “apps” (software written for mobile devices that performs a specific task) vs. investing in mobile advertising on the web. You may be having this same discussion with a technology committee or board, trying to discern which train you should catch before it leaves the station.
Since Apple released the first version of the iPhone in June of 2007, it has cornered the market on apps and driven other phone makers to adopt similar programs to stay competitive. Skyler Sutton, president and CEO of MyChamberApp, Inc., says, “As the use of smart phones grows faster than any other media in history, it is fun to predict where the market will go. Apps offer the fastest and richest user experiences, while mobile websites [optimized for access from portable/wireless devices] are much easier and faster to develop.” However, Sutton’s experience with clients over the past two years has shown “that app users are 10 times more active than mobile Web visitors.”
To date, more than 400,000 apps have been offered for download on the iPhone alone. They are generally inexpensive and can do everything from locating the cheapest gas prices within a 5-mile radius of your car, to allowing users to locate and identify constellations in the night sky.
Initially, most apps were designed for one specific type of phone. Developers call these “native apps.” But many of today’s apps are designed for universal use, meaning they are developed for each major mobile operating system (Android, iPhone, Blackberry, etc.). Once developed, a major benefit to a native app is the immediacy of the technology. Users seek new uses for their phones as the technology evolves. Native apps offer tremendous benefits by allowing users to quickly access and utilize information. Thus, if your chamber can create an app that lets your members do something useful — like the MyChamberApp, which locates members via their phones’ internal GPS and synchronizes events and member discounts — you’ve got a terrific new way to increase member engagement and ultimately retention.
Michelle Merritt, vice president of communications and member relations for the Greater Fort Wayne (IN) Chamber of Commerce, says her Chamber will soon transition to a new mobile-optimized website. “We will start with this and evaluate later if we need an app,” she says. “The only way we’ll do an app in the future is if it’s customized and remains consistent with our branding. For chambers our size (1,700 members), it’s not cost-effective to use an app service, where the fee is based on the number of members you have. For this price, we can use our local web designer to create a custom app [as necessary].”
Kyle J. Sexton, author of REMEMBERSHIP — New Thinking for Tomorrow’s Membership Organization, founder of Fast Chamber, and director of member services for the Salem (OR) Area Chamber, agrees. “A mobile web site is a much simpler starting place for your chamber if you are going to do this yourself,” he says. “Linking your members’ five favorite destinations on your website in a simplified format helps people get to your content faster.”
In developing a mobile strategy, it is important to review your goals as a chamber. Determine how you can best help your members be discovered by future consumers. Creating a mobile-optimized platform is important, especially if you consider a recent forecast released by Cisco: “There will be 788 million mobile-only Internet users by 2015. The mobile-only Internet population will grow 56-fold, from 14 million at the end of 2010 to 788 million by the end of 2015.”
Like other chamber vehicles, your mobile-optimized site should not create more labor for your staff. Work with a web developer or a chamber database software provider that has the capabilities already built in. The technology is only as good as what it can deliver without changing your day-to-day operations. You may have embarrassing data discrepancies if you have to manually update the mobile calendar and your regular calendar. If you offer a mobile-optimized web page, Sexton believes it is important to dispel frustration by including a link to your normal website.
Devising a mobile strategy is crucial for chambers, yet difficult because of the changing face of the mobile market. As Sexton says: “Technology will likely be the biggest factor influencing the direction and capabilities of chambers in the next five years. Costs for existing technologies will continue to fall, but be on the lookout for innovative new products to provide value to businesses. The future holds too many options for most organizations to wade through. ”
Proper strategy should include implementation of a robust, easy-to-use system. A strong mobile plan will include a mobile-optimized site that utilizes the services of your data management program and integrates seamlessly with a native app. This allows your members and consumers to be driven to both your website and your members’ sites on various platforms. As native apps continue to grow, finding apps that will increase engagement will become ever more important. The average time a consumer will view your site is six seconds from their mobile device. By having a site that is appealing from a mobile standpoint, you may find ways to drive them to your members businesses and then offer ways to engage them through a native app.
Mobile technology is moving and changing at lightning speed. Your chamber has a responsibility to your membership to test the waters of this key communication tool. As Kyle Sexton says: “Selecting [whether to invest in native apps or mobileoptimized sites] is part art, part luck. As more and more people browse the web from their mobile device, I believe this is the area of greatest opportunity in the long term.”
Matthew Bugnacki is the east/northeast regional director of sales at ChamberMaster, the leading provider of software to chambers of commerce. ChamberMaster helps chambers by offering a powerful, yet simple cloud-based software platform that can improve many aspects of a chamber, including membership value. You can reach the author at (800) 825-9171, x 229, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Greater Kansas City (MO) Chamber of Commerce recently introduced a mobile app for iPhone, Android and other smart phones. KCChamber2Go features an interactive member directory, exclusive local area special offers and discounts, member and Chamber news feeds, event updates and notifications, Twitter feeds, and access to Chamber videos and podcasts. The app is available through iTunes to any user, not just Chamber members.
“We’re excited to bring a new level of technology and service to our members with our new mobile application,” says Jim Heeter, president and CEO of the Chamber. “And we appreciate the partnership with two local companies in creating it — MetroMedia and Moblico.”
The app was launched in early May. According to Pam Whiting, vice president, communications and media relations, after two weeks, there were 500 users. “What we’re hearing the most from members is ‘I love it!’ or ‘it’s great to find members nearby,’” she says.
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