by Michael Shapiro | September 2, 2016

The event-app developer Guidebook, which first launched in 2011, has been growing steadily of late, both in client base and employee numbers. The Bay Area mobile company recently consolidated its outposts into one San Francisco South-of-Market headquarters (it was originally based in Palo Alto), and has been rolling out regular updates to its platform. Over the past 12 months more than 60,000 guides (individual event apps) have been published, accounting for more than one million attendee downloads over that same period.

But what's particularly interesting and unique are some of the features the company has rolled out recently. In July, Guidebook introduced Mobile Admin, which grants event organizers the luxury of making quick updates to the app from a mobile device. That's a unique feature in the marketplace, and one that Guidebook says its customers have been requesting for a long time. When app administrators log in to the app from their mobile devices, they now see a "mobile admin" link, through which they can make last-minute schedule changes or send important updates to attendees using push notifications.

And just this week the company unveiled Interact, which likewise has the potential to be a game changer in event-app use. It's a very Facebook-like social feed within the app, designed to drive higher use and deeper engagement. Attendees must check in to the event in order to access it, but once they do they’ve essentially signed on to a private Facebook-like network built entirely around the event. They can post photos or status updates that comment on the session they've just attended -- or even the session they are currently in. Other attendees, including presenters, exhibitors and sponsors, can like posts and comment as well. Among the feature highlights:

• Tagging people. The app admin or any attendee can tag another in a post in order to start a discussion, ask a question or simply grab someone’s attention. Any attendee who has checked in to the event may be tagged, so if someone wishes to remain under the radar, they simply don’t check in.

• Tagging sessions. Any attendee can post a question, comment or give feedback about a specific session, simply by tagging that session. That can facilitate a discussion about the topic long after the session has ended, and allows attendees to connect with others who share that common interest.

• Discussion tab. A discussion tab is available for every session, a home for commentary during that session. The discussion is viewable afterward, so attendees who couldn't attend a given session in person can still read comments and connect with others.

• Tracking likes and comments. It's easy to see who liked or commented on any photo, text or sponsor post. Attendees can more easily make connections as a result, and sponsoring organizations are provided with what amount to instant leads.

• Sponsorship cards. Tailored and timely posts can be created for sponsors, scheduled in advance and containing links and/or calls to action. The cards (i.e., sponsored posts) are designed to integrate into the Interact feed, so attendees don't feel like they're being spammed.

Interact iOS screen shot

At first glance, Interact very closely resembles the kind of everyday social media feed attendees are accustomed to checking on their phones — which, in turn, has the potential to really jump-start communication and engagement at an event. It all depends on how attendees choose to use it, of course, so I'm eager to see how that pans out. During a preview period in August, Guidebook saw more than 350,000 Interact views across more than 180 guides that were using the new feature, according to Guidebook's vice president of demand gen and marketing, Matt Keowen.

Guidebook's pricing model makes it among the most accessible event apps in the marketplace: There's a free version (with a 200-download limit) and paid versions for $1,750 or $3,500, with the latter offering the full feature set. More customized branded versions are priced on spec. Note that the new features are available to anyone using any paid version of the app.

Guidebook's platform is very much a self-service model and includes an intuitive online interface for building each app. Tech support is included with any paid version. While the vast majority of customers embrace the self-service model, according to Keowen, it is possible to pay for more handholding and assistance in populating the guides with attendee and program information.

Despite the restrictions one might assume from a self-service model, Keowen says Guidebook is scalable for events of any size. Most commonly, he says, they work with events of 100 to 5,000 attendees.