Post image for Mobile apps are a waste of time for associations.

Mobile apps are a waste of time for associations.

[Editor’s note – this post originally appeared on November 11, 2010.  I thought it would be fun to repost it today, January 29, 2014 – and see if things have changed.  Rather than edit any of this post, I’ll hand it over to you.  What do you think?  Was Lindy right, 4 years ago?  The floor is yours.]


* deep breath * There. I said it. And I know I’m going to get a lot of grief over it, so let the debate begin.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and my thinking has been influenced by research, including the September Pew Internet report on “The Rise of App Culture,” and a report on global mobile statistics from MobiThinking. I believe that associations need to get mobile right, and fast. I disagree that apps are the answer. Here are five reasons why.

1.) There are too many barriers to using your app
So, first someone has to have a phone that works with native apps–for the most part, that’s an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and maybe a Windows phone or other smartphone. Then, assuming your app works on all of those phones, they have to download the app. Then they have to USE the app. See? That’s three significant barriers right there.

2.) Popular app types don’t favor association apps
App users heavily favor games, followed by news/weather, maps, social networking (inflated by successful Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter apps), and music. To me, these are lifestyle apps, and each of these categories will be dominated by the big players in those spaces. I could never advise an association to try to compete for mobile app users in any of these niches.

3.) Association members are not ready yet
According to Pew, only 29 percent of adults with cell phones use apps on their phone, compared with 72 percent who use SMS (text messaging) and 38 percent who access the internet. App users skew younger and male, too. If we’re fishing where our fish are, apps are a miss this year.

4.) By the time association members are ready, mobile apps will be on the decline.
According to ABI Research, mobile app downloads are expected to peak in 2013, then start a slow decline. According to their senior analyst, Mark Beccue,

“We see two emerging trends: first, many applications (increasingly built on web standards) will migrate from app stores to regular websites, and for some sites you won’t need an app at all. In addition, more and more popular applications will be preloaded on mobile devices. Social networking apps in particular will be pre-loaded on new products.â€

This is important. The first thing people think of when we talk apps is native apps–the ones you download from the App Stores, or the ones that come pre-loaded on your new phone (and pre-loading partnership deals are probably not an option for associations.) But as mobile web browsers and the sites we design for them get more sophisticated, “web apps” will begin to take the place of native apps. If you used from your mobile phone, you used a web app. And you didn’t need to download anything–you just went to the URL in your mobile web browser. One less barrier. So to be clear in this post, [native app = bad]  and  [web app = good].

5.) There are better ways to invest in mobile this year.
A year from now, building mobile apps will be cheaper and easier. We’ll know more about the market, and there will likely be more of our fish in the sea, so to speak. There will also be more vendors with web app options, rather than native apps. So for this year, where should associations be spending money on mobile? I can think of a few things to invest in…

  • Optimizing website content and user experience for the mobile web
  • Researching member use of mobile (including iPad/tablet),
  • Optimizing email for mobile web
  • Continuing to optimize presence in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, which have the most popular social networking mobile apps that people are already using.
  • Experiment with opt-in text messaging (especially for event registrants, volunteers, and grassroots advocacy use). Remember, the adoption rate for SMS is 2.5 times the adoption rate for mobile apps.

Think I’m wrong? (Maddie might.) Then at least test the concept before you commit big dollars to it. Don’t rush in to building apps, and waste resources you need for other kinds of mobile innovation.



(photo credit)


Garry Polmateer November 11, 2010 at 1:20 PM

I agree that spending a lot of time and money on mobile apps may not be the best use of an association’s resources. Thinking about the barriers and numbers discussed above reinforces this. I also thought a little bit about my usage of ASAE’s 2010 Annual application, and how little I actually used it and instead pulled my information from the website directly or, mostly… Twitter. It also begs the question, what is exactly a mobile app, and are the folks most likely to use them going to end up getting iPads or Macbook Airs instead and do their mobile stuff from those platforms instead? And if that’s the case, then the argument about loading the features into your website makes sense.

On the other hand, I am seeing some new AMS systems and other applications that are fully mobile enabled and ready to go, so instead of these mobile apps being something an association has to budget for, they just become a “Yes And…” to their other compliment of software, which is not a bad thing since mobile still remains an option for those that choose.

Thanks for the great post!


Steve Briggs November 11, 2010 at 1:24 PM

I agree – if you want to go mobile, then mobile web apps are definitely the way to go as opposed to native apps. MUCH less expensive to deploy, more widely accessible, only one version required, improvements can be made instantly without app store approval, etc. There’s very little you can do with a native app that you can’t do with a mobile web app these days.

Matt Baehr November 11, 2010 at 2:02 PM

That’s why we are slowly dipping our toe in. We are creating one app, on BB and iPhone and see what it does. I think the biggest opportunity will be for associations with buyers guides or member directories that are HEAVILY used to create an app, perhaps using geolocation. But other than that, I agree there are not going to be a lot of solid opportunities to use apps.

Dave Lutz November 11, 2010 at 2:16 PM

Lindy, great post oh wise one! I’m with you on mobile web over app. I wrote a similar post on the TSNN blog a few weeks back.

There are some interesting comments including the evolution and adoption of HTML5 and recent changes from the FCC that will have long term impact. Mobile Web = must have, App = nice to have for now…but will cost $ and not be a long term play.

Lindy Dreyer November 11, 2010 at 4:01 PM

@darthgarry – This post has been percolating for awhile, partly because there are so many vendors out there who are touting mobile apps as a great way (maybe even the best way) to engage members using mobile technology. And that’s just wrong, IMHO. We can do better, and it’s time we started really talking about what better looks like.

@steve @dave – Thanks to you both for your good analysis. Realistically, it’s going to take a while for associations to figure out how mobile technology plugs into their business. I say, start on optimizing your mobile web presence now, because that’s the best bet for the future.

@matt – All for dipping a toe. Keep us looped in on how your experiment goes. I’m glad you brought up geolocation. I was very bullish on Foursquare and Gowalla, but Pew Internet says only 1% of Internet users are using these services on any given day. The technology is still very young, so we’ll keep an eye out, but I think privacy concerns are a big deal, even for super-connected people.

Michael Long November 11, 2010 at 6:30 PM

Excellent blog.

Don’t know if association members are ready for apps yet, but as I talk about in my blog,, the associations who aren’t embracing social media and mobile are probably the ones scratching their heads in board meetings “why don’t we have younger members?” With the average age of an association member being in the mid 50s, I could see why mobile apps might not catch fire.

But there needs to be a real value reason for having a mobile app, versus, let’s create a mobile app cause that’s the thing to do. I suggest a mobile website should be their first step, as well as figuring out how to engage their members on their mobile phone.

Jeff De Cagna November 11, 2010 at 7:23 PM

Provocative post Lindy, but I completely disagree with your take. Mobile app development is not at all a waste of time for associations. On the contrary, I think it is a critical element of 21st century association strategic thinking and business model innovation. Let me briefly respond to each of your points above:

1. This summer, the Apple App Store reached 5 billion downloads and the current count of app downloads from the Android Market is more than 2 billion. So I guess I don’t see any actual evidence of barriers to use.

2. There is a long tail marketplace for mobile apps, and associations don’t really need to be concerned about competing with “lifestyle” or gaming app developers who want to be at the head of the tail. The goal of mobile app development for associations is to create a meaningful mobile presence that delivers unique and enduring value to its stakeholders. Association apps will always be niche offerings, and that’s not a problem as long as they are well done, useful and serve a strategic purpose.

3. We cannot say with any degree of certainty that association members aren’t using apps, but we can say that there have been fewer smart phones in use than feature phones. According to comScore, as of this summer, more than 50 million smart phones were in use in the United States, and while feature phone use is on the decline, smart phone use is growing dramatically. As the number of smart phones in the marketplace increases over the next few years, I would expect to see significant increases in app use (see below), which makes this exactly the right time for associations to create apps that serve their stakeholders.

In addition, while texting is a convenient and very popular communications tool, it does not offer a rich experience to users. It is the pure mobile equivalent of e-mail and listservers. It’s ubiquitous because it is simple, but it is clearly insufficient for building deeper relationships.

4. It is premature to declare that native mobile apps will be in decline in the next few years. This summer, Juniper Research reported that mobile downloads should reach 25 billion per year by 2015. The arrival of app-based tablets in the marketplace is likely to spur new growth in apps as well, and thus new opportunities for associations. Web app development with HTML5 is definitely a promising direction to explore, but the experience with apps developed in this way is not as seamless and rich as native apps. The technology will improve in the years ahead, but during that time, the native app marketplace will continue to grow.

5. We agree that associations should do a complete exploration of the mobile space to determine the best opportunities for meaningful value creation. I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of gaining more information on their members mobile behavior and I have created a list of 12 questions that associations can use to get this kind of information. Those questions can be found online at Until we build our understanding in this area, I don’t believe we should be rejecting mobile app development out of hand.

Let me add that we cannot overlook apps for tablets, the growing adoption of iPhones/iPads in the enterprise or the equally impressive growth of mobile outside of North America. All of these trends create new opportunities for associations willing to invest in mobile app development as part of their strategy for value creation.

Lindy, I can recall a time no so long ago that we were all looking at data showing the low adoption of social technologies, and yet we were rightly arguing to associations that they should embrace these tools because they were going gain more traction. Given the huge growth and innovation in the mobile space, I believe that associations will benefit by being more proactive now instead of playing it safe, which is the default setting of most organizations in our community. We need to encourage more disruptive innovation in associations, not less of it, and I am convinced that mobile app development is a important part of building a future in which associating is mobile.

Chris Hopkinson November 12, 2010 at 7:45 AM

What if your association app let you not only easily allowed you to connect, network and communicate with other members, but also:
– Register for upcoming events
– Post and reply to Member Discussions
– Read, follow and select the assoc & industry News and social networking feeds you want
– View video
– Included your annual Conference (register, add/view sessions, view floor plan, exhibitor directory, speaker directory, virtual collateral capture, host city info and more)
– Offered Online, Continuing Education/Certification courses
– Listed job openings
– Purchase items from assoc store
– Allowed you to renew your membership
– Send push notifications (free text) to other members or groups members)
– Respond to member/attendee polls and see instant results
– Only cost about $10k, but became an annual revenue center through sponsorship
– Was fully integrated to your AMS
This is what you’ll see associations launching early next year and is only the beginning of what these native apps will eventually offer.

Andy Steggles November 12, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Lindy, you’re definitely brave for posting this 😉

I think before you can decide if apps are good for associations, you need to decide if a particular app is useful. There are many apps which associations are providing that are useful, although some have not fully matured yet. The Texas Medical Association is a great example of this – they are doing a ton of great things with apps and are experiencing success.

Many apps are event focused which often happens just one time per year while others are focused on a particular objective (member directory). Many associations are already finding these types of apps extremely useful while others, not so much. The first thing that needs to happen is for the association to figure out what their members want. Do they want to facilitate education, networking or advocacy – or perhaps all of the above? Then they need to figure out if an app makes sense to push the objectives? For example, if your association’s core competency is benchmarking data, then it might make sense to build an app to cater for the core elements of what a member wants. Chris has given a great list of ideas/tools which apps could be used as examples and that is just the tip of the iceberg. They key is to figure out what members are likely to use.

Michael Long November 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM

I have one question, what can a mobile app do that mobile web cannot accomplish for associations?

I like the idea of mobile sites for annual meetings. Although many people are using European usage of mobile as a justification for domestic increase and trend analysis, they do not have the Internet infrastructure we do either.

I ask:

Do I really want to use my phone to register for a conference? Do I really want to fill out a 3 page membership application with my thumbs?

I think the answer may lie in who your members are, and what additional demographics you are trying to serve are.

For example: if your members are at a desk all day with access to Internet all day, when would they “want” to use mobile to connect with their association?

Now, say your members are home inspectors, who are mobile all day, and use their smart phones to run their business, there are probably more reasons for them to be engaged in mobile connectivity to your association.

It always goes back to, who are your members, what are their needs. Technology shouldn’t drive your ideas, your ideas should seek the technological solution for the best implementation. For instance, I recall not too long ago how a lot of associations wasted millions of dollars on asynchronous online learning programs because that was the thing to do.

Garry Polmateer November 12, 2010 at 12:45 PM

@Chris – I am currently involved in developing an AMS solution that will have a mobile app that does just that. It is very exciting stuff and may render a lot of this conversation moot because (as I said in a previous comment), if it just comes along for the ride with your AMS, then you have the ability to do all of those things with little or no additional investment. I’m sure there are other solutions that are already here or will be available in the near future to facilitate a lot of that, which is indeed a very awesome thing to look forward to.

With that said, I still think that one off mobile apps will have a difficult time generating ROI above and beyond polishing up your website to work well with mobile unless there is something unique and captivating about the application. If the mobile app is just another way to get the same information, success is questionable. If it offers something unique (social networking, event registration, special content portal, location tagging, etc.), then it becomes a very exciting thing to offer to the membership. Developing one from scratch may not be cost effective, but when it’s part of your AMS solution… now you’re cooking!


Chris Hopkinson November 12, 2010 at 12:55 PM

Great post Michael & blog Lindy. I love this debate. Some similar questions were asked 5 or so years ago:
Why would I need email on my phone?
Why should my phone have a camera?
I’d never buy anything from an over the air connection? (check eBay’s $400 million in mobile pp purchases last year)
I give a lot of credit to associations right now, because we’re seeing more who are envisioning mobile as their primary channel in the future and asking ‘what else can we do?’ rather than looking at limitations.
If anyone ever wants to meet or chat offline, feel free to ping me;

Chris Hopkinson November 12, 2010 at 1:22 PM

Hey Garry – agreed, we’re working with many of the AMS companies now and you’ll start to see their integrated mobile solutions at the ASAE Tech Conference. Texas Medical Association is one that’s already launched an app connected to iMIS.

Danny Mustafic November 12, 2010 at 2:32 PM

Unless you need to access specific hardware on the device you are targeting, building a native app is not needed.
Mobile web is the future of the www thru ever-so-expanding touch devices.

Just this year 2 new devices entered touch market – Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry 6 (torch).

More and more content is being optimized for mobile platforms, and most emerging companies build mobile version of their web entities simultaneously with classic websites. There is no limit to what the optimized-for-mobile website can deliver, and thru content delivery services such as Velocitude or Volantis you can tailor the user experince to target just about any device on the market.

With tools like Phonegap or Sencha you can still package your micro website (JavaScript/HTML/CSS) and run it locally like a native app, and have access to the device’s resources, such as Geo Location, Vibration, Accelerometer, Sound, Notifications, Camera, etc.

Why? All in effort to maintain one source code (app) and eliminate the need to make multiple instances of your app to serve various different platforms.
Also, updating as easy as rolling out new version to the server, instead of going thru app stores and markets…

Lindy Dreyer November 12, 2010 at 7:07 PM

Thanks for continuing the debate, Jeff, Chris, Andy, Michael, and Danny. I have more thoughts on your comments. Suffice it to say, I respectfully stand by my post. More to come, but in the meantime, here is an opinion post from back in January that I dug up today. I tweeted with @millsustwo to see if he thought what he wrote was still relevant (it has been nearly a year, afterall.) He tweeted back 1000% yes.

I’m not saying that this supports my post–it doesn’t. I just thought it was a pretty interesting perspective from someone who lives and breathes apps.

mobiThinking November 13, 2010 at 7:06 AM

Lindy, I’m glad our stats compendium came in useful. Our opinion on mobile apps:
Some native/download apps do very well. But if you look at successful apps from known organizations – I can’t think of an association app success story, so consider the news, weather, social networking sites or retailers with successful apps – they are all mobile veterans, often with 10 years of experience with both mobile messaging and mobile Web. Their mobile app is just the latest refinement in their all-encompassing mobile strategy. They got all the mass-market mobile channels right first, before targeting the niche smartphone platforms. How many known brands did mobile app first and had proven success with the long-term engagement that is required by an association?
This previous experience means organisations know exactly what their customers want, they have calculated that the extra functionality delivered by an app (NB there aren’t that many phone functions that can’t be used by a mobile Web site) is essential to the customer engagement and that the app is so essential that the customers will retain it as one of the handful on their handsets. Much of the functionality, data feeds, user experience etc in the app will already be in place from their mobile Web experience.
These organisations also have the deep pockets necessary to produce an app for each smartphone platform used by their customers and the channels (e.g. opt-in SMS list, mobile Web) and cash to market the app (e.g. billboard, print), which can be considerably more expensive than developing the app itself.
You will notice that the Apple App Store (the biggest) does not publish download figures for apps. And very few of the most successful apps ever boast about the download figures and no one ever talks about retention. Why do you think this might be?
There are some excellent success stories with mobile apps, but they are a small percentage of the total number of apps out there. If you do not have extensive mobile experience – which most associations do not – then developing a mobile app first is like trying to run, before you have learned to walk.
Andy, editor, mobiThinking

Reggie Henry November 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM

Wow! What a great, provocative post and great discussion. My post here will be simple. We continue to use innovative technologies to do things the same old way! When I look at most of today’s “association†apps, they are either content specific or meetings specific regenerations of what we have now. They don’t take advantage of the rich convergence of technologies that is today’s mobile device.

A couple of responses to points you raised.

1.) The platform issue will soon be a non-issue. Not because devices are different, but because development tools are in place that generate device specific instances for their apps. And downloading apps just doesn’t seem to be an issue for folks (see Jeff’s post above). From a “getting them to use it†perspective, apps aren’t different than any other technology, if it’s useful, people will use it. If it’s not, they won’t.

2.) I agree with you that associations should not try to compete with “lifestyle†apps, but it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. When I look at how Flipboard reimagined social content delivery, and how Roambi displays complex business intelligence, and how Corkulous allows me to just think better, and !!

3.) I look at the data you provide in point number 3 with a different lens. If I can get 29% of our members to do something, that’s a success. As a comparison, we have about ¼ of our members attend the annual meeting. I also wonder how these numbers breakdown in terms of other demographics. Hmmm!

4.) While I agree with you that is a very useful tool (smile), it or any other web-based solution cannot take advantage of the native capabilities of devices. Simple things like notifications of how many updates have been made, before I have to “go†somewhere, can’t happen. To me, this is a subtle, but very important issue. I’m looking at my iPad right now and before I have to go anywhere, I know that I have 50 new messages, 2 new meeting requests, 2 critical tasks to accomplish, etc. We keep treating information as a destination. We keep forcing members to have to go somewhere to participate. My perception (and maybe it’s just MY perception) is that native apps brings things to me. I matter. What would our tools/apps look like if the focus was to “make members matter†?

5.) I’m not sure if there is a single answer to what associations should be doing in the mobile space today, but I am sure that the answer is not just about the technology. As with anything else, it somewhat depends on where your members are or want/need to be. I’m also sure that the breakthroughs will not necessarily come from mimicking the consumer-based marketplace and the data that it generates.

Two final thoughts.

The first weekend I had my iPad, I was sitting at my kitchen table, head in hands, frustrated beyond belief! It was bad enough that my wife took a picture, showed it to me, and said “I’ve never seen you look this way with one of your new toys, what’s up?†I said to her “I can’t get this thing to work like I work!†Her reply was, “Why don’t you try working like it works?†All I’ll say is that from that point on this mobile device has increased my productivity ten-fold.

Last week I participated in a discussion focusing on technology innovation in associations. For some part of the meeting, we got dragged down into a rant about all the ways associations are unique, how that prism should be applied to every little thing we do. Arrgggghhh! Enough already! This is a big world and we are a small part of it. I’m not saying we aren’t an important part of it, that’s not my point. My point is that the “association prism†is often used as either a crutch or a barrier to move forward in ways we refuse to imagine. Social media has proven that the world is a more me-centered place. Associations are an us-centered place. We’ve got to reconcile that somehow. Is there an app for that? Look at any two peoples mobile devices and you will not see the same apps/tools on them. They have been customized to work like they work. Apps aren’t a panacea, but they certainly hold the promise that we can create a more member-centered, customizable experience than we have now.

Kathleen Gilroy November 15, 2010 at 11:53 AM

There are two things that this discussion completely overlooks when comparing mobile web to native apps:

1. Cost. One of our customers told us about a large medical association that created an inexpensive mobile web for its event and sold a fairly large sponsorship for the app. But due to poor connectivity at the venue, no one was able to access the content on the app. A purely mobile web app has no content when there is no Internet connection, and very few venues serve up free Internet. A mobile-web approach to apps will require the event planner to pay for access to high-speed wireless Internet access throughout the venue. At most convention centers and hotels, Internet access will be a costly additional line item. Many meeting and event planners have begun to question the value of providing access when large numbers of attendees are using phones instead of lugging around laptops. People can access 95% of the content on our native apps without any connection to the Internet. And for those things that do require a connection — Twitter updates and real time transportation information, the cellular broadband connection is adequate. So while the set up charges may be higher for native apps, the performance is more reliable and the costs are a wash when you consider the cost of wifi.

2. Fun. It is also important to note that mobile-web approaches don’t always provide a consistent or speedy experience for every platform. Users must wait as each page loads from the Internet and wi-fi may not work everywhere in the venue. Mobile web also doesn’t typically integrate with the on-board hardware and software features that make phones themselves distinctive and interesting devices. These include GPS chips, accelerometers, gyroscopes, Flash, text messaging, cover-flow, “Bump,†bluetooth, cameras, etc. Without these, the app experience is slower and less interesting. While new technologies and standards are closing this gap as well and giving mobile web some access to these features, mobile-web apps will always lag compared to native apps in this respect.

While many association members may not have downloaded apps yet, they may not have been offered apps that they find worthwhile to download. Our experience has been that it takes three years to fully integrate mobile apps into an association’s meetings. The first year is about raising awareness. Year two is about building participation and new revenue from sponsors. Year 3 is when you can expect to fully realize the value of the apps for your members and advertisers. While most associations are in the first year of raising awareness, we have clients who are entering year 2 and are doubling the price of their sponsorships, tripling the number of users, and fully integrating mobile into their meeting operations.

Volker Hirsch November 17, 2010 at 11:07 AM

The question web (app or not) vs (native) apps is as if you would ask if you should have a website or invest in print ads. The answer is – quite simply – that it depends. It depends on what you want to do, what you want to achieve, what your target market is, etc.

If you sell stair-lifts to older people, a super-duper web 2.0 site might be a waste of time, money and resource. If you look to educate people in emerging or developing countries in, say, Africa, don’t waste your time on the web, don’t waste your time on iPhone, go SMS.

However, if you want to hit affluent people in Western markets, smartphones are the way to go. HTML5 web apps still have a couple of flaws, which might make native ones more appropriate but, again, there is no black and white: you can build native apps with browser windows for dynamic content updates, offline caching, etc, and these do not need to cost you the world at all. Smartphones grow much (!) faster than any other in affluent markets and will actually overtake the global PC penetration next year.

So, Lindy, I appreciate the seemingly combative call to arms, and it is a good thing to make people aware there is more than one option for them. But to simply condemn native apps does not cut it either.

Thanks in any event though for writing something that spurned a great discussion!


Fusedmind November 18, 2010 at 1:10 PM

Great and timely discussion. You may want to join the FB Group #hotelmobichat which is a forum for all mobile technology/apps for the hotel and meetings industries.

Bryan Bruce November 19, 2010 at 12:33 AM

It boggles my mind that people continue to say that mobile web is better than native apps. Mobile web is not the experience you want your attendees to have. there is nothing, fast, intuative or dynamic about a mobile web. I think everyone would agree, cost aside, native apps are the way to go. They can be built on all devices and through a Quickstart platform that uses on CMS to update them all. A mobile web solution is always deployed as backup. The costs are not as extrodinary as some would have you believe. As a matter of fact, we are helping corporations and associations mobilize not only their meeting, but their entire business. The meeting app transforms. I challenge someone to show me a mobile web based app that impresses me.

Now, in response to the intial post. The writer lost me after the first paragraph.

“Then, assuming your app works on all of those phones, they have to download the app. Then they have to USE the app. See? That’s three significant barriers right there.”

So getting an app to work dowloading and using is is a barrier. I couldn’t disagree more. Carrying my ipad on a convention show floor makes me dangerous. It ensures that I am going to get maximum ROI from that conference because I know I am not missing anything.

Bryan Bruce
Founder Your Brand Voice

Joe Rominiecki November 23, 2010 at 10:16 AM

I’m going to take a “why can’t we be friends” approach here.

My interpretation of what Lindy, aka “the writer,” is saying here is not that native apps are a bad idea for associations in any and all cases (but she does know how to stir the pot). Rather, associations need to carefully examine their members’ needs and behaviors (and mobile users’ behaviors) first and avoid rushing into developing an app, because doing so is a large investment of time and money.

Meanwhile, as Lindy lists in her final point, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit that most associations aren’t paying attention to. Yes, it’s true that mobile web and SMS aren’t as dynamic as potential apps, but in most ways they’re not meant to be. They’re meant to provide a simple, baseline utility. If your association hasn’t taken the (comparably short) time to develop a mobile-friendly template for its website, what confidence would your members have in your ability to develop something far more advanced like an app?

There is, of course, huge potential in mobile apps, but simpler mobile web efforts can be a place for an association to cut its teeth while it investigates the potential of an app. Given the type of apps that people use most (games, lifestyle apps, etc.), if you’re going to build an app for your association’s members, as Jeff says above, it has to be “meaningful,” “unique,” and “useful” and “serve a strategic purpose.” Otherwise, don’t bother.

Peter Turner November 25, 2010 at 9:31 AM

Lindy, wanted to offer a caution at least for those associations who are eager to establish and grow markets outside the US for their products and services.

In emerging markets, the PC or laptop as a primary platform seriously lags the mobile phone. Today only 7% of the Indian population regularly use the internet, but 507m own mobile phones. In Brazil, India, China and Indonesia, there are 610m regular internet users but a staggering 1.8 billion mobile-phone connections. And by 2015 there will be 1.2 billion internet users in these countries—dwarfing the total in America and Japan.

Over 60% of these users are under the age of 35 years old. As they earn even higher incomes as the middle class continues to expand, they will require more complex needs that will offer massive business potential of consumer electronics, Internet, and mobile communication. But still, the platform of choice will be the smartphone outside of a business office.

Bryan Bruce December 2, 2010 at 2:13 PM

What if, we removed the cost barrier of mobile apps? would this argument be different? of course it would be…..

what if we provided a mobile native app on every mobile device as well as a mobile web backup solution at zero expense to the association.

What if the mobile app was viewed as mobilizing your business 365 days a year versus 4 day uses during a show.

Bottom line folks, mobilizing your association is critical and the fact we can integrate with online reg, hotel space, and all social networks is huge. the fact we can provide this at no cost to the association removes all barriers. this argument is silly.

would a sponsor rather pay to be on a column wrap for 3 days or inside a mobile application for 365 days? even in only 20% of the audience accessed the information in year one. this number will consistently grow- fact.

mobilize your event, you mobilize your business and the associations that compete will be smart to be there first.

would you like to chat?

Bryan Bruce

I will respond in one hour.

Jill Baker December 2, 2010 at 6:31 PM

We’re always interested to read perspectives on the changing information environment, but we’re surprised how negative you are about the future of mobile apps for Associations.

As a digital and mobile publishing provider with more than 60 magazine-branded apps in the iTunes Store, we find that Association publishers are among our most enthusiastic clients. When they see how Texterity’s mobile magazine apps can brand their association, be updated with live feeds, enriched with video, and downloaded for enjoyment “in airplane mode,†they are quick to recognize the potential in member acquisition, retention, and service. Additionally, mobile apps produced by Texterity are far more affordable than independent pursuits and can build on existing digital edition files.

As for “mobile barriers,†please note that subscribers with any modern, web-enabled device can access streamlined “mobile editions†of their favorite magazines – no download required.

With regard to your assessment about “app types,†we have to disagree. When the nation’s largest publisher — (AARP) — comes to us to create 3 magazine apps, it’s hard to ignore the trend. They are not only using apps to better serve their members but to dispel stereotypes about “senior citizens.†

As for the prospect of rev gen, Media Post’s Research Center has just offered some exciting information. They estimate the United States has a mobile population exceeding 300 million and a mobile internet user base about to surpass 100 million. They report:
“A nationally-representative survey of US mobile phone users conducted by Lightspeed Research for mobileSQUARED, revealed that 49 million of US mobile users have engaged with an advertisement of some description on their mobile phone.
• 12.3 million mobile users ‘have clicked on the advertisement and went on to purchase an item’
• 7.82 million mobile users have ‘clicked on the advertisement and looked at the item advertised on their mobile phone and ended up buying it online’ “
In the Association world, this “advertisement†could promote membership, a trade show, an annual meeting, whitepaper, professional development, or even branded merchandise.

To think that this powerful base of mobile users does not include association leaders and members seems rather short-sighted. Perhaps your colleagues will be encouraged by association peers who have embraced digital solutions and are now looking toward mobile delivery. Check out

Our own BPA-certified research, available free at, shows a strong interest among digital readers for mobile delivery and social media integration. In tracking the performance of our first iPhone app (though granted, produced for a guitar magazine, not an association), early metrics support the efficacy of mobile magazine apps. Flurry Analytics (April, 2010) revealed:
• The mobile app reader spends an average 21 minutes per session, compared to 6 minutes spent in a typical B2B web edition or 4 minutes on a B2B website.â€
• Mobile app readers typically enjoy 5 sessions compared to 1.2 for B2B web edition readers or 2 sessions for B2B website visitors.
• Mobile app engagement impact was more than 13 times the investment made in typical web sites or web editions.

But don’t take our word for it. Please see what FOLIO: has to say in their comprehensive Association report: Rebecca Rolfes, founder and EVP of Imagination Publishing is quoted as saying, “My personal feeling is that the mobile space is where it will go for associations.â€

Sounds good to us.

Tom Morrison December 3, 2010 at 9:36 AM

Hello to everyone consulting to associations from a CEO who runs an association. As with most technology vendors, everyone is caught up in the technology and the excitement of creating it and who will not use it and the barriers to using it…. Here are five simple questions any associations needs to ask to determine if mobile apps or any social media for that matter is worthwhile:

1) What problem are you trying to solve with the new technology
2) What purpose will the new technology play in solving the problem
3) How big of audience will it engage in your membership
4) Is the investment to solve the problem worth it to reach the audience and be ready when the rest of the audience catches on
5) What measurement will be used to gauge the success of the investment

I’m telling you from an association executive who has to solve the daily problems, I’ve already outlined several issues within our association that a mobile app could readily solve and make our members more efficient for connection and resource access. Would I invest to make life easier for 38% of my membership? You bet. Its the same philosophy we used to invest to make 38% of our member’s life easier with social media. The deal is, we are prepared now when the other 62% catch on….. And they are each week.

If you cannot answer the 5 questions above, you should never move forward with any investment in any technology no matter what type it is.


Mark Benjamin December 8, 2010 at 10:36 AM

Interesting article. The problem with predictions, such as apps will peak in 2013, is that we have no idea whether they’ll come true. That said, we have a prediction of our own – that HTML5 (i.e. technology that facilitates improved web apps) will eventually become more popular. However, we need to focus on today…

Today HTML5 isn’t an agreed ‘standard’ – though it looks promising with caching of data on the phone. Also, native apps work now – mobile web browsers capable of ‘full’ HTML5 won’t be common-place for some time. It’s good to prepare for the future, but we have to serve the needs of today – and so for maximum usability and functionality, for the time being, native apps rule.

On that point, we agree that it should be all about the problems technology will solve. Apps for associations have to serve a purpose. If there is no purpose, then there’s little point in developing a mobile app or a native app. If you agree there is a purpose, then it’s worth developing both.

I happened to write an article going in to the differences between native and mobile apps (and the consequences of using each). I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Sarah Lawler October 12, 2011 at 8:28 AM

A year later, how do you all feel about mobile apps for associations now? Would like to hear how your thinking may have changed, or not.

Jeff De Cagna January 29, 2014 at 10:26 AM

From Gartner:

“By 2017, mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times, generating revenue of more than $77 billion and making apps ‘one of the most popular computing tools for users across the globe.’”

Mark Sedgley January 29, 2014 at 11:25 AM


Would you care to expand on your factoid as to how you think it will actually impact the Association Space? Of course when I refer to the Association Space I am referring to the overwhelming majority of Associations that are less than 1000 members and under 250k in terms of annual budget.

I definitely think the impact of technology, specifically mobile application utilization, is a true game changer and has been for quite some time in the broader market. The data, however, clearly indicates that it’s a stretch at best as to the application/impact in the near term to small to mid-sized associations.

It’s seems inevitable to me that in the coming years that our behavior will lead us to technology consumption via applications. I am eager to see how that actually plays out in our marketplace as we continue to position ourselves to support that very marketplace!

I would enjoy hearing your perspective on this……

Kira February 6, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Things have certainly changed since 2010, but what to choose depends on what you need – i think this publication gives a more up-to-date view on the subject

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 15 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: