Publishers who think mobile-first are missing the point of the mobile experience, ignoring users' needs and expectations, said John Wilpers, senior director of Innovation Media Consulting, and author of FIPP’s Innovation World Report, speaking today at the FIPP London conference.
Instead, "publishers must think ‘mobile-only’," he said.
"Mobile-first presumes that desktop is the ultimate - why would you say first if there isn't something second? Which means you are still thinking desktop and are just going to put it in mobile first."
He explained that in order for publishers to succeed in this mobile-dominant world, they need to devise a mobile-only strategy, where news organisations create stories uniquely tailored to the mobile experience as opposed to simply optimising their websites for smartphones.
"Publishers have not been ready for this, which has perpetuated mobile's relegation as just a portable version of the web – but that is not what people come for...
"It is still grossly under-funded and under-staffed," said Wilpers.
So how do news organisations go about creating a better mobile strategy?
Firstly, he explained, publishers must understand the two types of mobile audience engagement: micro-moments, which describe quick mobile usage when a person wants to know, do, or buy something; and me-moments, where users have more time to read longform content and do some deeper research.
Once they are comfortable with this, he advised news organisations to adhere to the following 10 rules:
1. Let mobile behaviours guide your content creation
"Find out what your users are doing, when they are doing it, how they treat it, and then build your content around that," said Wilpers.
He recommended hiring a chief data scientist in the publisher's editorial department, tasked with providing a new recommendation every day on how to change strategy.
2. Make mobile content expandable
Stories on mobile should expand to allow readers the option to read more or bookmark articles if they want, he said, allowing for micro-moments to turn in to me-moments later on.
3. Expand into apps
"App engagement beats web browsing by a factor of 10, so you should create your own apps around your niches while creating content for external apps like Facebook and Snapchat," said Wilpers.
4. Offer SMS alerts
"Emails are nice but they are scheduled events... Your people probably want to know it as it happens, so ask them to sign up for an SMS alert – and you can also sell advertising on these," he said.
5. Start engaging audiences with mobile video
Video is the fastest growing form of content, with audiences watching longform videos on mobile as well as short videos on social. "Match what your audiences want to watch with what you deliver," he said.
6. Segment your emails
"Most emails are opened on a smartphone," said Wilpers.
"Don't have them long and full of things that don't work well – make it really quick, less text heavy, and provide links to content."
7. Use data to inform your distribution
Wilpers advised publishers to examine what types of content their audiences are looking at at different times of the day, in order to understand how to deliver the right stories at the right time on the right device.
"You don't want your audience to be on mobile when your content is nowhere to be found," he said.
Your mobile-only strategy will eventually become part of the DNA of your news organisationJohn Wilpers, senior director, Innovation Media Consulting
8. Make mobile a part of planning
"If you don't plan it, it ain't going to happen," said Wilpers.
"You can't rely on your reporters to think mobile because they hang on to desktop the way they hung on to print – innovation starts at the top."
He explained that The New York Times blocked access to their homepage on desktop for a week last year in the newsroom, to prompt reporters to look at the site using a mobile device. "It forced them to see what other readers were looking at," he said.
9. Create goals to measure success
"We all have tools to measure how many page views we got, and how many return visits, but how often do we measure what we are creating against our goals for mobile?", Wilpers asked the delegates.
He suggested setting goals for the type and number of stories to publish at different times of the day – and using these as a way to stay on track with a mobile strategy.
10. Have a champion for mobile
"If you don't have a champion for mobile, nobody is going to take charge or feel it is their job to make sure it happens," he said.
"Your mobile-only strategy will eventually become part of the DNA of your news organisation."
But although Wilpers is pushing for publishers to develop a mobile strategy of their own, he noted that mobile-only does not mean only-mobile.
"You still have to cater for multiple platforms.
"Most people sit in front of a desktop screen all day, and that is not going to change anytime soon. Remember that although mobile is the primary screen it is not the only screen."
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