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Is an App Right for You? - 11/17/2016 -

Two associations share their lessons learned when it comes to app building for members.
By Lisa Lloyd 
Americans spend an average of more than two hours a day on mobile devices, and 80 percent of that time is spent on apps. So when associations look for new ways to provide value and relevance, a mobile app can appear to be an easy target. At a recent Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn, Ernie Halal of National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) and Adam Hostetter of American Technology Services (ATS) walked through the decision and app creation process, showing that while an app can be very valuable to members, it’s not an easy project.  
To put it nicely: If you build it, they may come. If your association is in it for non-dues revenue, you may want to look elsewhere, as the presenters note that less than 0.01 percent of consumer apps are considered a financial success by their developers. Instead, look for other ways to measure the return on investment. 
What about just having a responsive site instead? Halal and Hostetter highlighted this as a potential alternative to launching an app. After all, a user may delete your app but can’t delete your website. The pair noted that apps are most useful for the repetitive (frequent), bored (distraction-sharing functionality works well for this), and urgent (transaction-based) tasks. Halal found photo sharing especially helpful since "users love the attention and want us to see what they’re doing.” Picture sharing was integrated with his association’s content management system, which let them feature real members on their website, getting away from the ubiquitous stock photos.  
Hostetter has helped with his share of app builds and so is in a good position to explain some of the common pitfalls. He warned against "boardroom audience disorder.” Your board members are not necessarily the target audience, so education on the purpose of the app and the needs of the audience may help keep the project on track. He also stressed the need to choose a narrow focus and do it well, since scope creep can plague an app build. Finally, make sure to build in extra time since Apple has a much longer review process than Android. Case in point: A fluke error message in the approval process nearly derailed NAIFA’s launch plans. 
So should you take on an app build? It could be the right answer for your association if you have at least $5,000-$10,000 to spend (it can go up a lot from there depending on the bells and whistles) and want a way to keep your group engaged. Need more information about whether a mobile app is right for you? The presentation dovetailed well with the Signature magazine found in the AM&P attendee bag, featuring an article called "How Your Association Can Assess its Mobile App.” 
If your organization has decided an app is the right way to go, keep these few things in mind before you begin:
  • Do two or three things really well.
  • Remember that internal departments are a part of your audience. 
  • From a usability standpoint, nothing beats an app. 
  • Make your app easy to discover.
  • Consider how the app propels your organization’s objectives.  
Lisa Lloyd is a social media specialist at the American Nurses Association. Association Media & Publishing truly appreciates her writing up the highlights from this recent Lunch & Learn for members who were unable to attend.


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