For an Effective Mobile Content Strategy, First Understand Your Users

Any good CMS system worth its salt should be able to support proper mobile devices through the platform specific targeting of content and style elements. However, simply making your page layouts and stylesheets mobile friendly may not be enough to satisfy your users.

Different Ways of Providing Mobile Content

There are different ways of supporting your users on the move, including*:

  • RSS News feeds
  • Mobile friendly web pages – navigation as per your current site structure
  • Downloadable eBook/pdf – for Kindle/Tablet users
  • Mobile friendly site – both pages and content structure optimised for mobile
  • Mobile friendly site in an app – installed like a mobile app, works like a website (normally HTML5)
  • Framework based mobile app – e.g. PhoneGap – makes native phone/tablet functionality (e.g. GeoLocation, local storage) available to mobile web app (normally HTML5)
  • Native mobile app – implemented in native language for each device – e.g. iOS, Android

* (you can find out more from my previous post Mobile Apps for the Uninitiated)

Broadly speaking, this list gets more expensive as you go down it, but with a potentially much richer and deeper ongoing engagement with your users.

None of these approaches covers all eventualities – there is a cost/benefit for each. For example, RSS feeds provide users with easy access to news items from your web presence, typically with very little extra setup cost. At the other end, native apps provide the smoothest experience, and the possibility of an excellent push content channel. However, you can’t push content to users unless they download the app, and they will only download an app if it supports an activity they want or need to do.

Different Users, Different Uses

Users may fill their time with research type activities when commuting to and from work on the train, using their smart phone or tablet. They may wish to get access to material relevant to their job at their desktop, to your contact details on the move, check their user account, or outstanding orders at lunchtime at their desktop…and so on. If you hope to have a clear idea of how to service their requirements, then you need to clearly model the key user journeys you want to support, otherwise you are not making their lives easier. Different kinds of users engage with different kinds of content, on different platforms, for different reasons, in different situations.

There is no one size fits all approach to reusing content on mobile platforms, beyond the basic exercise of providing content. Whilst this basic exercise is better than nothing, this is unlikely to make all, or even any, of your groups of users engage more deeply with your content.

The Right Approach for Your Users

It may be that you have something to offer your users that means they are keen to engage on an ongoing basis – for example, if they order your goods regularly, or if they use real-time information, or if there is a professional or interest based reason for frequent two way communication. In such cases, you will most likely have a strong case for developing a mobile app.

If you find that your users just want your news on an occasional basis – in which case, a mobile friendly news page, or an RSS feed may well suffice. If your users tend to check you out on the move, then your entire site navigation, along with the page content, will need reconsidering in light of issues such as:

  • how do and should people access your content
  • how should you signpost the most important activities in the limited screen space of a mobile device
  • how should you keep the sequence of activities short and easy to manage on a mobile keypad

Reuse of Content

Only when you understand the likely patterns of engagement of your users will you be in a position to judge how you may be able to reuse your content. Although the challenge of how you will push that content out technically is not to be underestimated, that is just a side issue compared to the organisational and human complexity of establishing and appropriate authoring process.

Reuse may require Rewriting

You cannot expect content designed for the written page to be a good fit for mobile devices and vice-versa. You may be able to give much more concise, interactive and context-sensitive content on a mobile device, which can be made aware of its environment to some degree, as compared with a desktop browser. If you are considering reuse, then you need to set up an appropriate workflow that will segment your content into elements that are appropriate for each platform. In your CMS, this may mean that you have separate précis, body and imagery for each distinct platform. You will no doubt wish to flag which content may be permitted for use, or blocked from use for each platform as well. You may want the structure as well as the content to be pushed into the mobile device.

Mobile Apps as a Content Delivery Platform

If you are in the fortunate position of having a compelling reason for deep two-way engagement with your users – perhaps as a membership or professional body, or as a charity – then it may make sense to consider developing a mobile app as a content delivery platform. The advantage of this is that you can give a bespoke engagement with content which can, if implemented correctly, be updated regularly without distributing a new app. Users can then engage with content on the move and then access it subsequently without having an internet application. In effect, you can have a targeted push channel into your user base, as well as an effective platform for two way communication.

Creating an effective mobile content strategy is complex, though it offers great opportunities. Only by understanding the needs and behaviour of your users can you hope to succeed in achieving your organisational aims.

Mobile Apps for the Uninitiated

Last week I gave a presentation at the Web Managers group in London, giving a general overview of what is involved in getting into mobile apps, and some of the key considerations involved. I was a little surprised that of those who were not agency-side, none had yet created an app. Whilst this might be interpreted as a lack of appreciation of the importance of mobile, talking to the web managers it was also clear that this could be seen as a sensible caution over getting into a new platform just for the sake of it.

You can get the content of my presentation from here.

How mobile fits into a broader content strategy is a difficult question to answer – it depends on  the nature of the content that an organisation is providing. In order to have any kind of ongoing usefulness, a mobile app needs to be focussed on making commonly undertaken tasks more convenient to complete or on providing rich and entertaining interaction that has some possibility for progression. Given the propensity of users to offer feedback freely, creating an app with a contrived need runs the risk of negative reviews and damage to the corporate brand.

  • If your audience have a frequent engagement with your services, such as maintaining an account, ordering, obtaining guidelines or updated materials, or engaging in communication, then there is probably a case for creating an app.
  • If you provide regular content updates to your audience, but only in small volumes, then an RSS feed, or a mobile friendly site is more likely to be a good means of engaging your mobile users.
  • If you do not have regularly updated content, or news about your services or events, then a mobile friendly site is probably the answer.

Depending on the precise needs of your audience and your business, there are a whole range of options available for reaching out into the mobile space:

  • RSS feed
    not mobile specific, but can be consumed easily by smart phone users
  • Mobile friendly site
    a good starting place, but remember, just creating a mobile-skin for your site is not enough – your content and navigation must reflect the specific needs of mobile consumption – your content must be bite-sized and succinct
  • Site in an app
    brochure ware for the mobile – effectively a website wrapped up as an app – quick to produce, you can say it’s an app, but if you don’t do it well, your audience will be disappointed
  • Cross-platform HTML5 hybrid app
    implemented using a cross-mobile framework such as PhoneGap, AppCelerator, RhoMobile, AppMobi (and many more) – good for multi-platform, provides access to some of the phone’s underlying functionality, allows reuse of code – these frameworks keep getting better, but they are still not as slick as a native app
  • Native app
    created separately in the native language for each platform – provides the slickest experience, but at a price

There is no one-size fits all approach to success in mobile. The mobile space is fast changing, and there are lots of options for getting involved – mobile apps being only one form of engagement. The important thing is to be clear about your aims and your audience – reach out to them early, get user groups involved in appraising prototypes and get plenty of feedback before launching.

 

Roundup of the Week (w/e 06/02/2011)

Web

  • Microsoft and Google trade blows over the ownership of search results after Google leave a “honey trap” for Microsoft
    but was this a smokescreen to draw attention from Google’s legal proceedings in Europe over the alleged manipulation of search results? http://www.techmeme.com/110201/p22#a110201p22
  • Hotmail Add Alternative Emails – up to five aliases
    A relief for those who use hotmail addresses for testing, or junkmail, or just for specific sign-up purposes
  • RSS central to easy-access Cloud Data?
    Cloud hosting and data is a hot topic, but does it concern the everyman? Dave Winer – creator of RSS introduces thinks it does. He introduces his vision of a more accessible paradigm for backend storage and functionality on the web, glued together using RSS – enticingly named EC2 for Poets project – http://www.webmonkey.com/2011/02/take-back-the-tubes/
  • IPv4 addresses running out
    For all you geeks out there (and me too) – a significant milestone is the allotment of the last available IPv4 blocks – with IPv6 to receive a publicised promotional day of its own in June.

Android

  • Google displaces Nokia as number 1 seller of smartphones (by OS on phones sold)
    For anyone, particularly in the corporate sector, who has been trying to ignore it – Android is now officially impossible to ignore – as number one OS on new smartphones. This very success, however, is the main challenge to Google – the sheer diversity of suppliers and device formats involved means that Google will have to work very hard to avoid the obvious danger of fragmentation of its market – a problem that Apple clearly does not face.
  • Android 2.1 and above now on 90% of Android devices
    Which means that developers are unlikely to be losing too much sleep over older versions, focussing on the capabilities of the newer OS versions.

iPhone / iPad

  • Apple Enforcing Rules on e-Book Publishers
    Hard to avoid the big Apple story of the week – namely its enforcement of its policy that if you sell items used in an app outside of the app, they must allow them to purchase through app as well. This seemed focussed at eBook providers like Sony, and could well be a key mechanism for ensuring Apple’s dominance over the iOS platform as a commercial money maker. However, I wonder how long it is likely to be before we see a case brought in the European Court on the basis of anti-trust legislation – as Microsoft faced a while ago over its packaging of Internet Explorer with windows.

Tablets

  • Android takes 22% of Tablet Market
    So far, with the exception of the Galaxy Tab, there has yet been a compelling Android based rival to the iPad – despite this, Android already has a 22% share of the tablet market – which is sure to rocket when the next generation of Android pads, like the Motorola Zoom, become widely available – see http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.co.uk/content/android-takes-22-cent-tablet-market
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab – disputes over reliability and sales
    Over the last week there have been stories claiming that the return rate on the Galaxy Tab has been 13% (according to ITG Investment Research), whilst Samsung have claimed only 2% – comparable to the return rate of the iPad. At the same time, Samsung claimed a massive rise in sales of the Galaxy Tab whilst then later ‘clarifying’ that the sales quoted were to distributors rather than end-users. A case of lies, damned lies and statistics?

Blackberry

  • RIM release BlackBerry AppWorld 2.1
    Which features in-app payments, allowing developers to create ‘lite’  versions with in-App upgrades. Could this provide a significant stimulus to the BlackBerry app market?
  • RIM India Ban Unlikely
    India still wants access to messages through Blackberry platform but now look unlikely to introduce a ban. Interesting to see how the issue of privacy is shaping up not just in developing economies, but around the world more generally.

Mobile Market

  • Mobile Web Traffic doubled in 2010
    According to Mobile Marketing Magazine, although a Cisco’s study suggested a massive 150% increase over the same period. There is no doubt about it, mobile is likely to be the preferred option for accessing the web outside of work, where the choice of platform is likely to be out of the users’ hands. Over the same period, the consumer expenditure on online entertainment was up 23% – which only goes to show that early adopters must be disproportionately high consumers compared to later adopters.  See http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.co.uk/content/mobile-web-traffic-doubles-2010
  • Nokia and Microsoft Up a Tree?
    Now deposed as top seller of smartphones, and with Symbian effectively being declared dead, though on temporary life support, Nokia is realigning strategy apparently, with an announcement due regarding a tie up with Microsoft next week, possibly involving Windows 7. Could be a good tie-up for Microsoft who have had quite poor initial market share – Q4 2010 only 2%.
  • Marie Curie and Salvation Army with firsts for Charities in mobile
    Whilst Marie Curie were the first to release a virtual collection tin,  allowing their volunteers to encourage donations via SMS to contacts. The Salvation Army enjoyed 190,000 downloads of its Virtual Cup app, highlighting issues of health and social inequality. Interestingly, for the iPhone, the Virtual Cup has been implemented as an advanced web app to get around Apple’s ban on in-app donations – although it is available as a native app on other platforms.

Social Media

Social networks for corporates seems to be flavour of the week, if not the entire year. A lot of action to be seen in this area over the coming year, both as add-ons for Enterprise platforms, and for third-party SAAS providers:

  • Salesforce release Chatter.com
    a free social network that can be used by anyone with a business address
  • Microsoft Dyamics CRM acquires Vibe as Option in Market Place
    Enterprises implementing Dynamics now have social networking option
  • BranchOut Grew 2500% In January
    The LinkedIn style corporate networking Facebook app is experiencing a meteoric rise in traffic,  going From 10K To 250K Monthly Users

Web Standards

  • Microsoft offers H.264 plug-in for Chrome
    interesting Microsoft play which undermines Google’s own choice to not adopt H.264. Could plugins and add-ons provide a useful mechanism for platform providers to wrong-foot each other’s strategic plays on standards adoption?
  • W3C addresses touch screens and semantic web
    The consortium release a rough draft of specs targeting touch screens and tables, and announce the formation of a working group to update the foundations of the semantic web

What I got Excited About this Week

In no particular order:

  • Yahoo Pipes (Feed Aggregation and Filtering on Steroids)
    if you like to use the web as an active research tool, then you’ve got to see this to believe this – an easy online interface for clever aggregating, filtering, translation and coding of feeds and web content, which you can then publish as another feed!http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/
  • Yojimbo – Personal Knowledge Manager
    I’m trying out this personal knowledge management app for the Mac – I’ve tried PersonalBrain, but I wanted something quick and easier – which it seems to be http://www.barebones.com/products/yojimbo/
  • Ubuntu – OS OS (Open Source Operating System)
    having been mainly PC and Mac based, I thought it high time that I tried out Ubuntu properly – given one of my colleagues is a bit of an evangelist. Now I have Ubuntu, Windows 7 and Mac Snow Leopard on one box – the world is my oyster! Ubuntu is great – once past the apprehension about geeky command lines, it is actually a breeze to use and fantastically easy to set up new software! www.ubuntu.com

Roundup of the Week (w/e 30/01/2011)

I have decided to try to do a weekly round-up of key themes across mobile, desktop apps, software, design, project management and anything else that affects my working life.

Key themes from last week that caught my eye:

CONTACTLESS MOBILE PAYMENTS – people will soon be able to pay for things direct from their mobile, eventually including things like tube fairs – Orange and T-Mobile to release tariffs to support this in summer. The next generation of iPhones and iPads will natively support mobile payments. This could be a small yet profound change to the lives of anyone who, like me, finds it easier to keep hold of their mobile than their wallet when out and about.
 
DESKTOP APP STORES– looks like we will soon have the mobile apps model on desktops – first to go looks like it will be Linux, can’t imagine we won’t have a Windows one soon though. Lets face it – the whole mobile app experience is so much better than going through a whole series of installation stages on a laptop or desktop – what will be interesting to see is whether the low-cost high-volume pricing model will spread into personal computing. Will the convergence in devices be matched by a convergence in methods of purchasing?
 
ENTERPRISE CMS – this year’s big themes in enterprise CMS likely to be social media and cloud-computing – EU will be laying down guidelines for provision of cloud computing.  Some larger corporates are moving their testing and approval platforms into the cloud – but questions still remain about privacy and security. At the same time, being able to keep up with the latest software and hardware as soon as it is available without fear of compatibility issues and expensive rollouts is surely attractive. A key issue here might be the way that legal developments in the US and other places may require Cloud Hosting providers to disclose sensitive personal or corporate information for legal or political reasons.
 
IPAD – use of iPads by corporates is growing rapidly. Appointment of new security chief at Apple seems aimed at RIM (Blackberry), much of whose success is based on secure communications. The snapping of Apple at RIM’s heels in the corporate market seems set to become more and more insistent. In a symbolic, and commercially significant development, last week saw Apple announce the release of the iPad in India even while political developments are making it look pretty certain that RIM will have to abandon the Indian market.
  
BLACKBERRY BIGGEST IN UK 2010 – The Blackberry range was the biggest selling smart phone platform in the UK in 2010! Everybody is focussing on the iOS and Android as key platforms for consumer development, but the Blackberry remains hugely popular amongst corporates. Who knows what impact the RIM Playbook will have on the tablet market when it is in the next couple of months. On the other hand, Apple have decided to release the iPad2 at roughly the same time (no coincidence of course).
  
MOBILE LOCATION SERVICES  – location based services that permit use of services / advertising / offers based on  user’s location will take off massively this year, although issues of personal privacy will be a major issue. Most of us are probably used to enjoying the benefits of map related location services on iOS or Android. However, the key concern here is that we may start to be tracked in space and time generally and not just through our buying habits or points of contact with corporates on the net. It seems almost inevitably that information, once collected, ends up being used for purposes other than those first proposed…caution will need to be the watchword here, along with clear opt-ins.
 
ANDROID HONEYCOMB – new tablet-OS emulator released (to Ben’s delight) last week – pundits have also found traces of mobile phone specific functionality – so maybe for phones as well as tablets – functionality warmly received despite emulator being very slow. Our Android guru is almost beside himself with excitement over Honeycomb – especially now that it seems it has been designed for phones as well as tablets. Whilst they seem to be hitting all the right notes with Android itself, even Google have admitted disappointment with the growth of the market for Android apps – they need to spend a significant fraction of this development time on tidying up the wild-west feel of their marketplace. 
 
SEARCH / SEO – Google will be cracking down on content farms (providers of content for SEO purposes), and auto-complete results for P2P. Google exists in an ongoing cat and mouse game with SEO specialists. Content farming in general seeks to use relatively reputable content for the specific aim of promoting SEO – Google will have its work cut out differentiating between content farming and legitimate corporate on-line marketing – and they seem set to involve some kind of content rating or qualitative feedback from users in order to improve the quality of its search results.
  
SOCIAL MEDIA – Malware controllers are using social network apps to coordinate malware attacks. US courts granting lots of orders for opening up private Facebook areas – reminder of how software as a service (SAAS) generally may be affected by local legislation. It comes as no surprise really that social media is the focus of malware creators, as much as it has become the focus of legitimate corporate interest. We can see a simultaneous encroachment on the ‘public space’ of social media from hackers, organised crime, marketeers and legislators alike. I guess that simply means that these virtual spaces are becoming as contested as real public spaces. Just like in real public spaces, our actions, our disclosure of information and our relationships are beginning to have potentially unintended consequences. The problem is that for many users, this reality is not clear…but it needs to be.
  
  More next week…
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