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.

What should you expect from your CMS?

Content is key to raising your profile on the web, and having good quality, relevant, accessible content is essential to attract good search ratings. Good quality content is time consuming to author and approve – so being able to reuse it is important for increasing the returns, in terms of visits, revenue and long term interaction, that it can help to generate.

Implementing a web site using a Content Management System (CMS) is a major undertaking. The end result should be a platform that will facilitate the growth of relevant services and channels of communication for your key target audiences. A good CMS should make it both quick & easy to author content and to reuse it.

Adapting to new online behaviour

In the digital age, users expect content to be up-to-date and relevant to their needs. What is relevant at one point in time may not be relevant at another. Patterns of engaging with content are also changing rapidly with the explosion of mobile internet. The market for smartphones and tablets has already surpassed the sales of PCs[1]. Already 90% of mobile phone subscribers have phones that can browse the web[2] – but the actual use of mobile internet will eclipse that of the fixed internet within the next couple of years[3].

With mobile internet rapidly becoming the primary means of accessing the web, users will naturally expect content to be provided in a form that is appropriate for mobile devices. More and more users will be accessing your content directly from search, or from links in recommendations in social media.

In order to maximize the returns from your online presence, your strategy will need to adapt to accommodate these changing patterns of usage. Your online strategy will need to support these changes in patterns of usage and your CMS platform should enable you to easily adapt your existing content, with little modification, to use in these new channels.

The end result of a successful CMS implementation is a platform that enables you to keep up with your users by providing these key benefits:

  • Easy to author and maintain content
  • Easy to reuse and repackage content across different site areas and web browsing platforms
  • Easy to re-theme content where required, keeping content but changing its appearance
  • Easy to make content searchable and findable
  • Easy to set up new data captures and communication channels with your users
  • Clear APIs extending CMS and storing data within CMS structures
  • Easy to upgrade your platform and take advantage of new features

There are no doubt many CMS systems that can offer these benefits – but the best ones are those created by a development team that are focussed on their clients with a clear roadmap and vision for the future. Fortunately for my agency, these are things that have been abundantly provided by our chosen CMS supplier – Kentico.

KISS with CMS!

KISS – “Keep It Simple Stupid” – is often mentioned in relation to technology, but not very often observed. User Experience may be well established now as a discipline, but many systems are still woefully lacking in due consideration for users, requiring them to jump through lots of hoops to achieve their everyday goals.

Content management systems (CMS), including intranets, are an increasingly important kind of technology, one that more and more corporate staff are expected to deal with. Given its expanded role, it is vital that users should feel comfortable using their company’s system whenever they need to. For some users this will be an every day experience, and for others once a week, perhaps. Some users may access the content over the web on their PCs, others on their tablets or mobiles.

However frequently it is used, and on whatever platform, it is vital that users find their system intuitive and engaging – they should only be presented with the minimum level of complexity required to complete the task at hand, any extra complexity should be accessible in the background, but neatly tucked away. The tasks that take up 80% of your time as a user shouldn’t be slowed down by the ones that take up 20% of your time.

Being Useful Means Being Usable
It may be a tautology, but it is still one that is worth spelling out: a system is only useful if it is used, and it will only used if it is usable – hence careful interface design has a major role to play in the effectiveness of information systems. In an age when organisations are expected to produce a constant stream of timely and appropriate content, it is in their interests to decentralise the creation of content and the sharing of knowledge, to avoid the ever present problem of content bottlenecks. It is thus also in the interests of organisations to make their systems as easy to use as possible.

I have witnessed many different CMS systems in use, of all shapes and sizes, and some of them prove to be difficult to use because they employ inconsistent or unclear metaphors for interacting with content. I have sat through training sessions on some of the market leading CMS systems, where most of the time seemed to be spent explaining away idiosyncracies of the interface. The success of such systems often reflects the fact that sales are sometimes made purely in the boardroom, rather than with reference to everyday users.

A CMS system may in itself be excellent, but if the agency implementing a website or intranet is lacking a deep understanding of its inner workings, and best practices, you can be sure that users will have a hard time getting to grips with the implementation. On a number of occasions I have had to pick up projects where an agency has thought that a CMS just means editable text, rather than structured content, meaning that users were expected to user HTML in their editing process, when properly implemented the users should only need to worry about their own content.

The Influence of Software as a Service (SAAS)
If there is something that the explosion of Software as a Service has demonstrated, it is that given the right kind of intuitive interface, users can be up and running in moments with doing what they need to do, even if the more complex side of their activities may require some extra training or research. It should be just the same with a CMS system – get up and running in minutes, while you find out more about the advanced features as and when you need to. A good CMS system should be effectively invisible to users – if it is working, it should not draw attention to itself, the focus should be the creation, the curation and the consumption of content.

Kentico CMS – Easy and Effective
There are no doubt many CMS systems that could be used to achieve the appropriate mix of simplicity, engagement and sophistication for users, but my own personal preference is Kentico. Ever since I chose this as my agency’s preferred CMS platform, I have been consistently impressed with its mix of features and simplicity – when properly implemented, users find it so easy to get to grips with that they hardly need any training. At the same time, it can do anything it needs to, as well as being easy for developers to extend in any way required. Whichever tool you use to manage your organisation’s content – don’t forget to keep it simple!

Roundup of the week (w/e 13/02/2011)

Last week’s most significant news must surely have been that smart phone sales are now outstripping those of PCs . The explosion in tablets and mobile more generally is already proving to be a profound game-changer for the way we interact with both content and software. On the content side, people gather their intelligence in entirely new ways, and consume it in much smaller packages. On the software side, people expect to make choices about smaller aspects of functionality, installed and fulfilled with almost no effort – it can only be a matter of time before the app market model becomes the main model for consumer software on all platforms.

Market News

  • Smartphone Market now Bigger than PC Market
    Anyone in any doubt of the importance of mobile must surely have had their minds changed by the official announcement that smartphone sales are now outstripping those of PCs. Mobile is exploding, and the way we access information, the web and even software has changed for good. http://www.businessinsider.com/smartphone-bigger-than-pc-market-2011-2
  • Leading Industry Analyst Mary Meeker Predicts Future of Tech
    Anyone with slightest interest in the future shape of the mobile, PC and tablet markets simply must read the presentation delivered by Mary Meeker at a major Google event last week. http://www.businessinsider.com/mary-meeker-matt-murphy-2011-2
  • Microsoft Trades HP for Nokia
    Is it a case of one-in one-out for Microsoft – as Hewlett Packard departs its embrace for the enticements of webOS, Nokia recognised the increasing precariousness of its position post-Symbian and hooked up with Microsoft. Seems funny how yesterdays all-powerful-giants come to be portrayed as underdogs or has beens in relation to Google, despite their massive ongoing market share. Yet, this deal isn’t necessarily bad news for Google – Nokia’s shares have slumped and it may be that existing Microsoft phone partners (Dell, LG, Samsung, HTC) may be questioning their long-term allegiance now that Nokia is set to receive special treatment. On the other hand, the guarantee of a large market going forwards is bound to attract the more active interest of developers in Windows as a mobile platform. http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/02/11/microsoft-nokia-deal-might-be-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-android/
  • Sony may Abandon iTunes
    After accusations of Apple effectively holding it and other content producers to ransom, Sony may be one of the first to entirely abandon iTunes, in favour of alternatives. I sense that this is the first of many major battles ahead for Apple – whose past history is littered with examples of it attempting to keep very tight control over all activities related to its brand and platforms, and which nearly led to its demise in the 90s. http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/mp3s/war-looms-as-sony-hints-that-it-will-abandon-itunes-20110210-1aonn.html

CMS / Knowledge Management

  • SharePoint 2010 Deployment Reaches 44%
    The proportion of SharePoint installations on 2010 is now equal to that on 2007, which marks a turning point in how developers are likely to be focussing on making use of the extra features available in 2010. As with any such version turning point, it is difficult to wholeheartedly pursue development of brand new functionality for as long as backwards compatibility is a key driver. http://www.cmswire.com/cms/enterprise-cms/sharepoint-deployment-reaches-44-but-faces-challenges-010143.php
  • Pen.io allows ad-hoc micro-content-management
    Task.fm found Anthony Feint has created Pen.io as a platform for creating ad-hoc content management for individual pages or page sections, without having to set up hosting accounts – only a URL and a password is required. As an agency, we often get situations where a static site is too difficult to update, but a full CMS seems overkill – I think this may well catch fire! http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/10/techcrunch-pen-io

Web

  • IE9 Release Candidate Available
    The first official release candidate for IE9 is now available. This will apparently make Microsoft’s browser much more standards-compliant with almost full support for CSS3, as well as adding a considerable amount of HTML5 support, as well as geolocation, privayc controls, hardware acceleration improvements and a whole bunch of other goodies. From an agency point of view, if IE9 really is as compliant as promised, there will be a lot of happy faces from designers and developers alike. http://www.webmonkey.com/2011/02/new-ie-9-offers-geolocation-privacy-controls-and-more-speed/
  • Bing Growing, more Accurate than Google Search
    After last week’s tussle between Google and Microsoft over the ownership of search results, figures show that Bing is continuing to grow at Google’s expense, whilst apparently offering more accurate results. The increasing amount of spam afflicting Google’s results is opening up a space not just for Bing, but also for others such as Blekko who are focussing heavily on the quality of search. It is not inconceivable that Google may be outflanked soon by someone in the way that it outflanked Yahoo on its own rise to fame and glory. http://www.businessinsider.com/bing-more-accurate-than-google-and-gaining-share-2011-2

Social Media

  • Cultural Dimensions of Social Media – The Facebooks of China
    The so-called Great Firewall of China has ensured that much of the social media so dominant elsewhere, such as Facebook, is simply not available, which has led to the creation of sites that first cloned, and then altered these key social media experiences. Whilst it may be marked in the case of China, there is a more general point to be absorbed about the crucial nature of social. cultural and demographic context in the use of social media. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/152/the-socialist-networks.html

Tablets

  • HP webOS preview
    Clearly HP want to be taken seriously as a software company as well as a hardware provider. What do they expect to bring to the tablet market that isn’t already there, other than a strong association with B2B. This roundup from the Cocoia Blog summarises some of the interface elements we can expect – webOS looks quite promising on this view. According to Silicon Valley Insider, the US launch may be as soon as June, at a price of $699 – $100 cheaper than the Xoom. From a developer’s point of view, webOS sounds like a dream, based as it is on javascript and HTML5 – one enterprising 14 year old has already built a successful company developing for webOS. http://blog.cocoia.com/2011/hp-webos-event-roundup

Mobile

  • BBC iPlayer Released for iPad and Android but not iPhone
    The decision of the BBC to release the iPlayer only for iPad and Android 2.2, and only allowing streaming over wifi, kicked off a predictable storm of protest – which would have been expected for anything much short of universal access. The combination of a commitment to Flash on the part of the BBC, and Apple’s rejection of Flash has certainly left the corporation in a difficult position. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2011/feb/09/bbc-iplayer-app-ipad-android
  • Haptics Platform Released for Mobiles – Engagement of more than just the Visual
    One of the great boons of mobile devices, I have long thought, is the possibility for different kinds of physical engagement, above and beyond the visual domain that we habitually use – most notably in the haptic (touch) sensory modality. Thus the announcement by Immersion of their MOTIVE platform for Android caught my attention. This platform will allow companies to use an amazing range of haptic effects on nearly any Android phone. My bet is that over time muti-modal sensory interfaces will help us navigate not just games, but also tasks, with greater speed and efficiency – once a suitable shared haptics vocubulary has evolved. http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/10/buzz-editor-immersion-releases-motiv-haptics

This Week I got Excited About:

  • Kentico CMS 5.5 R2 Intranet Portal
    The new version of Kentico comes with an out-the-box Intranet portal template – which we have started using to implement our new company intranet – first impressions are very positive, though the real proof will come when we start using it in anger. http://www.kentico.com
  • Rapid-I Rapid Miner
    Very easy to get this data mining framework up and running in terms of getting it to function – but obviously you need to know exactly what you are doing – working on a hobby project with this to do textual analysis of RSS and Twitter feeds – bit of a learning curve. http://rapid-i.com/content/view/181/190/
  • CrunchBase
    Free database on technology companies, people and investors – a kind of corporate & financial wikipedia. Good for doing research on Social Media and technology start-ups, as well as the Silicon Valley big-boys. http://www.crunchbase.com/
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