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by Jordan Schwartz | June 24, 2014

Jordan SchwartzThis may sound like heresy, but if your conference attendees are looking intently at your mobile event app, if they're "checking in," if they're competing for points in your gamification feature by posting photos of the conference center, well, you're doing it wrong.

Wait, what?! Don't you want people using your app? Don't you want them checking in? Isn't the whole point of gamification to encourage engagement? The answer is yes and no.

Let's start by asking why you're holding your event in the first place. Some common reasons:
• Provide educational opportunities to attendees
• Provide networking and relationship-building opportunities to attendees
• Provide revenue-earning opportunities to exhibitors and/or sponsors

Crowd of businesspeople looking at their phonesSo let me ask you a question: Do these people look like they're learning? Networking? Earning? No, they're staring at their phones. Reading someone's status update isn't learning. Posting a photo of the escalator at the airport isn't networking. And checking in at an exhibitor booth doesn't lead to revenue if the only reason the person did it was to earn points in a mobile game.

Tweeting a quote from a speaker can be easier than thinking hard about what the speaker is saying. Checking in can be more comfortable than striking up a conversation with a stranger. Playing a game can be fun. But that doesn't mean it's serving the real goals of your attendees, your exhibitors or you.

The modern mobile phone is a fantastic consumption device: It's perfect for quickly pulling up a conference agenda to see where I should go next, searching for someone's profile and photo to prepare myself for a meeting or reviewing a trade show floor map to plan my route. It's even great for scanning a badge at an exhibitor booth.

What it's not good for is deep engagement and learning. Can your attendees carry on a deep conversation about the topics that are challenging your industry using only their thumbs? Do you think business relationships are built on LOLs and ROFLs?

That's why Pathable has invested so heavily in a pre- and post-event experience. A good mobile event app should enhance an event, it should assist in education, it should facilitate networking, but it should not distract from the immensely valuable, face-to-face engagement you're investing so much in creating. Your mobile event app should make attendees more successful at being at your event, not draw their attention away from it.

A mobile app should integrate tightly with a desktop web-based interface, to help people prepare for their time at your conference or event. Attendees can pre-select their sessions from their office, they can browse and search the attendee and exhibitor directory, they can engage in deep conversations from their office. They can even pre-book meetings with other attendees or exhibitors, with the luxury of having a full conference agenda and knowledge of their colleagues free/busy time to help coordinate.

When attendees arrive at the event itself, all that homework they've done should be available to them on their mobile event app for quick reference. Open the app, and all they've set up the previous week is visible on the mobile home screen. The desktop web experience allows attendees to prepare for the meeting ahead of time, so that the integrated mobile event app can serve as a tool to navigate and succeed at the event. But it should never distract.

And when the event is over, the desktop web experience should remain active, which can extend the value and impact of an event long after the banners have been pulled down, the carpets rolled up and the app uninstalled.

So yes: You do want people using your app, but it should be for checking out your event, not "checking in." And you do want engagement — but you want meaningful human and brand engagement, not simply engagement with an app.

Jordan Schwartz is the chief executive officer of Pathable. Photograph from Shutterstock.