News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Strategy

March 24, 2011

Wireless duopoly coming: What news organizations have at stake

AT&T’s recent bid to buy T-Mobile could radically transform the US mobile landscape by creating a virtual duopoly. This means the mostly-mobile future of digital media would be primarily in the hands of Verizon and AT&T.

This situation, coupled with gaping loopholes in FCC regulations that largely exempt wireless carriers from net neutrality requirements, offers potential good news and bad news for the news business…

By Amy Gahran

There’s ample debate about whether the FCC or Dept. of Justice will eventually approve this particular merger. But in the long run the wireless industry will almost certainly consolidate further. Ultimately, a duopoly of some kind is the most likely outcome, since that would provide at least a pretense of competition.

Here’s why that might be good news for the media/news business:

High-speed wireless broadband rollouts would probably accelerate. In order to continue to meet booming consumer demand for data-intensive mobile services (such as streaming video to cell phones and tablets), carriers need to upgrade their networks to faster “4G” technologies (LTE, Wimax, HSPA+, etc.).

This is a costly undertaking, but it’s likely to happen faster and more comprehensively if carriers can leverage economies of scale. Bigger carriers with more customers are in the best position to get this job done.

US carriers have no choice but to massively upgrade their networks. Their existing systems are already creaking under the weight of current demand—and that situation will only get worse. Overburdened wireless networks hurt the quality and speed of service for all mobile customers, not just the data hogs. So it’s good news for consumers if 4G networks can be rolled out more quickly across the US.

This, in turn, is good news for organizations (including news organizations) that provide content and services to mobile users. Serving your mobile audience is becoming paramount, since in the next few years most US web access is expected to happen from mobile devices, according to Gartner. Ultimately, media is only as good as its delivery. If wireless networks can manage to keep pace with consumer demand, that opens more markets and opportunities for media companies and advertisers.

Then, there’s the bad news…

Wireless carriers effectively can control what your mobile audience can access. The FCC’s Open Internet Order passed last December exempted wireless broadband providers from most net neutrality requirements.

The rules prohibit “paid prioritization” (carriers requiring content providers to pay a fee to ensure that their content gets delivered at an acceptable speed). But the rules do leave the door open for carriers to charge their customers (mobile users) to receive acceptable network speed—either for all content, or perhaps to access specific types of services, or for specific sites.

Which means that if your news organization is offering a rich digital media experience, carrier decisions could effectively render your content unappealing, or even unusable.

This wouldn’t even necessarily just affect smartphones and tablets. Over the coming years, as next-generation wireless broadband technology gets rolled out, it’s possible that many consumers might decide to ditch their wired cable modem and DSL home broadband connections with all-wireless service. So a company like AT&T could, and probably will, be streaming movies over the air that people will watch on their TVs, not just on their iPads. And increasingly wireless carriers will also be providing internet/web access to laptop computers. (They already are, via Mifi devices, USB sticks, and tethering plans.)

Think it can’t happen? Look at what’s been happening to landline phones.

If consumers could save money by going with one wireless provider, rather than a wireless phone service plus a wired broadband connection, they’d probably do it—if the service was reliable and good enough, and if today’s TV channels morph into tomorrow’s wireless channels, which seems likely.

Furthermore, Verizon is already suing the FCC to get the new “net neutrality lite” rules overturned in court. So it’s possible that the current scant requirements for wireless carriers—including the ban on paid prioritization—might evaporate.

In this case, carriers would almost certainly implement new fees to content providers. And, based on how hard AT&T was pushing for paid prioritization last summer, they’d probably be leading that charge.

These issues are all moving targets, but it’s important for news organizations to follow the interplay between wireless industry consolidation, 4G network rollouts, and the effects of net neutrality rules.

Like it or not, wireless carriers wield increasing power over the media business. Knowledge of that shifting landscape should inform your strategy for what kinds of content and experiences you offer in the coming years.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 05, 2011

Relying on Facebook for engagement: Risky for news organizations and journalists?

Last week I attended an event for journalists at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters featuring a panel of journalists discussing how they use Facebook. Founding Salon.com editor Scott Rosenberg also was there, and this week he wrote a blog post exploring whether journalists and news organizations should be wary about depending too heavily on Facebook for their public engagement…

By Amy Gahran

In his post, Why journalists should think twice about Facebook, Rosenberg noted that many journalists and news orgs are engaging with their audiences, or at least have a presence on, Facebook.

According to Rosenberg: “Everything that journalists are doing on Facebook today… is stuff they could just as easily do on their own websites. So why are they doing it on Facebook? One answer is obvious: That’s where the people are!

“But there are other answers to the question, too. Many publications find that their interactions with their readers on Facebook are more civil and valuable than those that take place on their own websites. That, they typically believe, is because Facebook makes users log in with their real names and identities. Finally, individual journalists increasingly find it valuable to build their social-media networks as a hedge against the collapse of the institutions they work for.”

So what’s the problem?

Rosenberg continued: “Today Facebook is a private company that is almost certainly going to sell stock to the public before long. ...For the moment it appears to be trying hard to operate as a neutral and open public platform.

“...That won’t last forever. There are plenty of people waiting to cash in on Facebook’s success, ...They will expect the company to fulfill its inevitable destiny—and ‘monetize’ the hell out of all the relationship-building we’re doing on its pages. This is the landscape onto which today’s journalists are blithely dancing.

“By moving so much of the conversation away from their own websites and out to Facebook, media companies are basically saying, ‘We did a lousy job of engaging readers under our own roof, so we’re going to encourage it to happen on someone else’s turf.’”

With the exploding and near-universal popularity of social media services, news organizations can no longer afford to appear uninterested in engagement. Having some sort of social media presence has become a benchmark of credibility.

For that reason, I do think news orgs should have a strong presence in the social media that are popular with their communities. But don’t make this an excuse to slack off on adapting your own tools, culture, and systems to engage more effectively on your own digital “turf.”

As Rosenberg noted in a response to a comment: “To the extent that news organizations invest in making their own websites great environments for their journalists and users to interact, they are adding value to their sites… To the extent that news organizations invest in turning Facebook into the place where they connect with their readers, they are adding value to Facebook.”


Other possible Facebook risks

The architecture of Facebook is also still mostly a “walled garden”—much of the content and interaction is not easily or universally findable or linkable. This is appropriate for interpersonal social networking, but it makes less sense from a publisher’s perspective. It can make valuable content associated with your brand harder to find, track, and keep.

Also, as Peter Evans-Greenwood commented on Rosenberg’s article: “At what point will Facebook decide that anyone ‘doing business’ on Facebook should pay, and not just the people transacting? One day you might wake up (probably not long after Facebook goes public) and find that you need a ‘Professional Account’ if you, as a professional journalist, want to continue interacting your community. And remember, Facebook gets to define what ‘professional journalist’ means.”

...Which means that the issue of who “owns” a journalist’s Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or other social media connections isn’t necessarily just a matter of agreements between news orgs and their staff (another contentious issue which arose that evening). Facebook, Twitter, and other services could change those rules as well.


Pulling Facebook into your site

Some news organizations are using Facebook in a different way: Replacing their own commenting systems with the Facebook Comments plugin. This may improve the user experience. But this approach means all comments now “live” on Facebook’s servers—where that content may or may not be archived and indexed effectively.

Also, Facebook can modify its distributed commenting experience at any time—by, say, inserting its own ads into the comment streams that appear on news sites.

Six months ago, Facebook commenting was fully implemented on three San Francisco Bay Area papers owned by MediaNews Group: MercuryNews.com, ContraCostaTimes.com, and SiliconValley.com. (See their Reader FAQ and Commenting tools and tips.)

George Kelly, online coordinator for the Contra Costa Times, notes that the switch to Facebook comments on those sites hasn’t yielded a huge overall improvement in the quality of public discourse.

“It’s surprising,” said Kelly. “I’d thought that using Facebook comments would make people less likely to pop off, provide less incentive to say rude or cruel things. And quality has gone up slightly on some stories, ones that give people more pause. But on higher-traffic stories (like crime briefs and sports or politics and government) quality’s wobbly.”

He did notice one intriguing change with the switch to Facebook comments: Grieving friends and relatives are now speaking up more often in the comments to news stories about deaths or crime.

“They’re less inclined to share their feelings with reporters, but they’ll show up there to post their wishes or sentiments—or hit back at people speaking off-the-cuff,” said Kelly. “They did this before we switched to Facebook comments, but it feels different now. It’s part of a space where people feel more comfortable being social, sharing more of themselves publicly.”

If Facebook were to start inserting its own ads into comment threads on news sites, “Our marketing and editorial staff would want to talk about it—but I don’t know that there’d be a rush to switch away to another third-party commenting tool like Disqus or Topix,” said Kelly.

Switching third-party commenting services also poses a risk: You might lose comments that were made via the original service. “That would be something to figure out, a hurdle to leap,” said Kelly. “You don’t want to just wipe the slate clean.”


Keep your engagement options open

In general, social media is a valuable complement to news sites, and it can even make sense to integrate that experience directly into your site. The trick is to not rely too heavily on any one social media service to provide, or host, most of your online engagement for you.

Expect that public tastes in social media will evolve, as will individual social media services. Fostering useful engagement directly on your own site is a good way to hedge against possible future vagaries in social media trends.

After all, it’s still possible that Facebook and Twitter might someday go the route of Friendster.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

July 26, 2011

How YouTube can help the news biz: Insights from Pew, Old Spice Guy

With great difficulty, I’m tearing myself away from today’s YouTube competition, Mano a Mano in El Baño (a face-off between “Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa and male supermodel Fabio) to read over the latest Pew report on video sharing sites.

According to Pew, 71% of U.S. adult internet users now watch videos via a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo. Furthermore on any given day, 28% of U.S. internet users said they had used such sites within the last day.

It’s yet another reason why news organizations should be using popular video sharing services to engage audiences and drive traffic. Here are some out-of-the ordinary ideas for making this work, ideally without creating too much extra work…

By Amy Gahran

First, some highlights from the Pew report:

  • Gender. While 71% of both men and women reported using video sharing sites, men may be using them more frequently.
  • Age. A whopping 92% of Americans aged 18-29 (a demographic most news organizations would love to attract) use video sharing sites, and 47% of this age group used such a site “yesterday.” If you’d like increase your brand awareness and market share with younger adults, that makes video sharing a good bet.
  • Ethnicity. Hispanic and African Americans (79%) lead whites (69%) in their use of video sharing services. This tracks with earlier Pew findings that these ethnic groups appear most enthusiastic about adopting mobile technology. It may help explain the strong role that YouTube played in sparking outrage in the African American community over the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland, Calif., and similar events.
  • Income is not a strong predictor of video sharing site use. For instance, 81% of U.S. internet users earning $75,000 or more per year visit such sites—but that’s a mere 10 percentage points above the rate for those earning $30,000 per year or less. The most likely frequent users come from households earning $30,000-$49,999 per year.
  • Rural is catching up. In the past year, 68% of rural internet users visited video sharing sites—a 21% increase over the previous year, significantly outpacing the growth from urbanites and suburbanites.
  • Parents (81%) are far more likely than non-parents (61%) to use video sharing sites.
  • Amateur-produced content is a key driver of the growth of video sharing sites.


Earlier I explained how news organizations that produce online video can prepare to capitalize on viral video potential by introducing some standard steps for cross-promotion between produced videos and their web site. This includes setting up your own branded YouTube channel, as well as displaying visible short URLs (permanent redirects) in your video, supporting those links with access to updates or related coverage on your site, and keeping an eye on your YouTube statistics.

Those are the basics from a publishing perspective. But here are a few additional content strategy ideas geared toward using video sharing for audience engagement.

1. More video, more often. Increasingly news organizations have branded channels on YouTube, Vimeo, and similar services—but many only publish there once or twice a month, if that. Video sharing sites (especially YouTube) are excellent channels for discoverability: the more you post there, the more people will find you there.

So consider how to make shared video a regular part of your publishing process, so you can post at least once or twice a week. This is especially useful for your most popular stories, or for topics of special interest to the demographics that Pew noted as being particularly into video sharing sites.

2. Use simple, engaging formats. When news organizations create video, typically it’s in a narrative story format, like this recent video from InsideBayArea on a Bhutanese immigrant community celebration. That’s great—but it’s perhaps the most labor- and time-intensive kind of video to make.

Consider short formats that require few cuts and little editing: Clips from an interview with a single subject, commentaries, teasers from a longer video project in process, and more.

Also consider partnerships with popular or prolific local videobloggers. For instance, SFgate.com regularly features the work of Zennie Abraham, a master of videoblogging in the Bay Area.

3. Frame for the small screen. Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are a big driver in the popularity of online video. This is especially true for YouTube, which has an app that works well on the iPhone and iPad even though Apple’s iOS mobile operating system does not natively accommodate Flash video.

So when shooting video, go for closeups more than long shots. Make the audio a bit louder and crisper than you would for TV, to compensate for tinny little phone speakers. Also, bumping up the contrast a bit can help for viewing video on small mobile screens in daylight.

4. Showcase videos from the audience and elsewhere. Video sharing services are mainly about sharing. People embed shared videos on their own sites, post comments, shoot and upload their own video responses, post them to Facebook and other social media, and more.

News organizations can—and should—embrace this by embedding great videos from others (especially people in your coverage area) on their site, with full credit and a link to the creator’s site or YouTube channel of course. Your community engagement manager (you do have one, right?) also can selectively “like” and comment on other videos, create and publish playlists, and use other strategies to engage and curate at the same time.

This kind of demonstration of interest in and goodwill towards other video publishers tends to pay off in more socially-driven traffic to your videos and your site.

5. Collaborative public storytelling projects. Most video sharing sites allow you to create contests or collaborative projects: People create and post their own videos and tag them so they can easily be discovered and added to a playlist or other aggregation mechanism.

The classic example of this is Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, where public figures and everyday people encourage LGBT youth who are enduring tough times to hang in there.

Pick a topic that your community cares about—especially one where people can act together to encourage each other, solve problems, or have fun—and try a similar project format.

6. Have fun. Most news videos are pretty serious and deadpan, even when they’re upbeat. But if we’ve learned anything from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it’s that fun is a powerful way to engage people’s interest in the news.

If you have a columnist or reporter with a gift for wit and a penchant for video, let them loose.

For instance, WSJ reporter Andy Jordan’s Tech Diary video podcast is a lot of fun. Alternatively, you might focus on simple animations rather than video—like Slate.com’s Dear Prudence advice column.

If you want to go whole hog in terms of YouTube sophistication, try having a contest where viewers choose winners by rating videos which in turn are responding in almost real time to what people are tweeting or commenting. Yeah, that’s terribly “meta,” but as Mano a Mano proves, it can be fun, addictive, and incredibly viral.

Hmmm… who might play your news organization’s equivalent of the Old Spice Guy?....


The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

April 17, 2012

Local news enthusiasts: Pew research hints at opportunities for ethnic, community media

By Amy Gahran

The vast majority of U.S. adults are really into local news, Pew research shows. How might ethnic and community media outlets capitalize on this as more media goes digital and mobile?...

Over a year ago, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 72% of U.S. adults say they follow local news closely most of the time, whether or not some important local news is happening. Today, a new Pew report takes a closer look at this group of “local news enthusiasts.”

According to Pew, local news enthusiasts are more likely to be female, age 65 or older, and retired. “Politically, they tend to be conservative in their outlook (although they do not differ from others in party identification) and they also attend religious services more frequently than others. They do not differ from other adults in terms of household income, but are less likely to be college graduates.”

In terms of ethnicity, the vast majority (69%) of local news enthusiasts are white, Pew found. Black and Hispanic adults each comprise 13% of local news enthusiasts—roughly equivalent to the representation of these ethnic groups among the U.S. population at large.

Interestingly, adults with the lowest annual household income ($30,000 or less) were by far most likely to be keen on local news: 32% describe themselves as local news enthusiasts, compared to 22% in the highest income bracket (over $75,000). People with $$50,000-$74,999 annual household income had the lowest representation among local news enthusiasts (12%).

This finding indicates that ethnic and community news and media might be especially likely to gain traction in poorer communities and low-income demographics within communities—a point that might interest local advertisers and sponsors wishing to reach those communities.

Local news enthusiasts don’t all have gray hair. Fully one fourth are age 18-24. However, according to Pew this is the only age group where “other adults” outnumber local news enthusiasts—by almost two to one. This hints that right now is probably a crucial time to engage younger people in local news and information.

Digital media, including mobile and social media, might be particularly valuable in engaging younger people in local news and information. Pew noted: “91% of younger local news followers are internet users, compared with 71% of local news followers age 40 and older, and 82% of adults who do not follow local news closely.”

For contrast, another recent Pew study found that 20% of U.S. adults—mostly those over age 50—still don’t use the internet at all.

Also according to Pew, 73% of younger local news enthusiasts use some kind of social networking service (such as Facebook), compared with 35% of older local news followers and 53% of adults who do not follow local news closely. Twitter is not quite as popular—only 16% of younger local news followers use Twitter, but that’s far more than older local news enthusiasts or other adults. This indicates that using social media to complement your local news and information offerings on the web and in other media might be an especially effective tool for engaging younger community members.

Mobile devices represent a huge opportunity for ethnic and community media. Overall, 84% of local news enthusiasts have a cell phone, and 7% have a tablet computer—slightly less than penetration among all other adults. Also, Pew found the highest penetration of both types of mobile devices is among the youngest local news enthusiasts (under age 40).

This Pew report did not explore how many local news enthusiasts currently use smartphones. However, this year marks the tipping point when smartphones take over as the majority of U.S. handsets in use. Also, most simpler, cheaper “feature phones” are capable of browsing the web and accessing e-mail—and virtually all cell phones can send and receive text messages.

This means that a robust, inclusive mobile strategy (ideally one that includes text messaging alerts or interactivity) can help any local or niche news outlet connect with its community via the devices that most people already carry with them everywhere they go. Also, since social media is one of the most popular things that younger people do on their cell phones, social media can help jumpstart your mobile strategy.

Online media is definitely not the leading source of local news for local news enthusiasts—which may put online-only ethnic or community news and info outlets at a bit of a comparative disadvantage. According to Pew, enthusiasts’ most popular sources of local news are broadcast TV (80%), word of mouth (57%), radio (52%) and print (48%). In contrast, 41% of local news enthusiasts use search engines to find local news, 23% turn to the websites of local newspapers (TV stations sites, 20%), and 12% get their local news from social networking sites.

This points out an opportunity to leverage partnerships for cross-media promotion. For instance, online-only ethnic or community news outlets might provide some articles or other content to run in local newspapers, in exchange for the print outlet providing information about how to find the ethnic/community news site or do other cross-promotion. Similarly, providing simple, short, broadcast-quality audio or video news segments or community updates to local radio or TV stations could help broaden your audience. Many local stations are eager to run such content.

Finally, ethnic and community news sites with a strong mission to improve local communities may be encouraged by this Pew finding: “Slightly more local news enthusiasts than others think they can have a big impact on making their community a better place to live (33% vs. 27%).”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

April 24, 2012

Why the mobile web is slow, and your mobile site must be FAST!

By Amy Gahran

Take out your cell phone, look at it and count to nine. That’s just slightly less time than it takes the average web page to load on a mobile web browser over a U.S. wireless carrier’s data network. It feels painfully slow. And unfortunately, the widespread rollout of carriers’ faster “4G” networks probably won’t help that situation much.

Which means that if your news or community site isn’t optimized to load very quickly on cell phone web browsers, and be easy and fast for mobile users to navigate, you’re facing a major and growing disadvantage to building your digital audience and business…

For lots of reasons, a mobile-optimized website should form the core of any news or community site’s mobile presence. Even NPR recommends that in order to grow their mobile audience, news sites should focus resources on the mobile web, rather than on building platform-specific mobile apps.

Last week Olga Kharif of Bloomberg reported that “twice as many mobile-phone users abandon a website for reasons such as sluggishness than their desktop counterparts.”

The Bloomberg article was focused mostly on e-commerce sites, which lose sales when mobile users get frustrated and leave. However, the same principle can apply to any type of website.

According to Kharif, the typical webpage currently takes 9.2 seconds to load on a mobile browser over a U.S. carrier’s data network. (Wifi load times are usually faster, but carrier networks are far more ubiquitous than wifi connections.) Also, “Almost half of mobile users are unlikely to return to a website at all if they had trouble accessing it from their phone.”

Kharif reported on new efforts by Google, Microsoft, Akamai Technologies, and other major internet companies to improve mobile web browsers, offer new mobile performance optimization tools for website owners, and to change how some basic internet technologies function.

Google’s goal is to make the overall mobile web experience twice as fast as it is today.

...OK, take out your cell phone again, look at it, and count to four-and-a-half. That’s better—but compared to the desktop experience it still feels a bit long to wait for a webpage to load.

Why is the mobile web so slow? Sometimes it’s a combination of where the mobile user is and how strong or congested the carriers’ network is in that location. But the servers where websites resides, browser technology, and other internet software also play a role in slowing down the mobile web experience, despite faster carrier networks. All of this is beyond the control of web publishers.

But Kharif notes: “Often it’s because the webpage wasn’t designed to load quickly on a wireless device.”

That’s where news and community site owners can take action to turn mobile media to their advantage.

Where’s your mobile site?

Many news and community sites lack a simple mobile-optimized layout. Instead, they display a miniature version of the full website in the mobile browser—which then requires more time and effort to pinch, zoom, and scroll merely to see what’s on the page.

For instance, the Bay Citizen (a nonprofit, well-staffed local news site in the San Francisco Bay Area that has attracted millions of dollars in funding) apparently lacks a mobile-optimized version. Try loading BayCitizen.org in your phone’s web browser and see what happens. (Note: On Apr. 25 The Bay Citizen tweeted: “We’re working on a mobile site as we speak!” Stay tuned.)

For contrast, try loading MinnPost.com (a smaller nonprofit news site) in your phone’s browser. That’s how a mobile-optimized site can look and perform. See the difference?

I’ve heard some smaller digital news publishers say they don’t offer a mobile-optimized layout for revenue reasons: the ads they run on their full site won’t display well or at all in a single-column layout on a small touchscreen.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that the mobile versions of mainstream daily news sites often offer few ads, and these are generally supplied through mobile ad networks—which typically provide relatively lower quality, less relevant ads and less revenue per ad. This, combined with a “shovelware” approach to the mobile web (which replicates the worst digital missteps of the news business from the 1990s), signals to users and advertisers alike that the mobile site is a less-valued, lower-priority product.

That’s just plain bad for business.

However, since mobile devices are fast becoming the most common way for people to access the internet in the U.S., failing to figure out how to place and sell relevant mobile-optimized ads because you believe this might undercut the ads on your desktop site seems shortsighted, to say the least.

So far, many news publishers have developed mobile apps which deliver ads as well as content. Since apps store many design elements on the phone, they have to download relatively less data each time they’re used compared to a mobile webpage. So news venue apps often perform faster and display ads and content more uniformly and reliably than the mobile web.

...Which is really nice—except that apps don’t always support inbound links that people encounter on search engines, around the web, in social media, or in e-mails or text messages. Plus you need to build and maintain separate versions of your app for each mobile platform (Apple’s iOS, Android, etc.). And finally users must download, install, and remember to launch your app. (According to research by Localytics, over 75% of mobile apps don’t get used more than 10 times.)

So until typical U.S. mobile web pageload times improve substantially, the best strategy to grow your digital audience and build your business is to offer a mobile-optimized version of your website. Today.

How to make your site mobile-friendly and fast

This can be accomplished by offering a separate mobile layout (“theme”) that gets served when a mobile visitor is detected by your server—you can use cookies to give individuals the option to display the full site on return visits if they prefer.

Or, if you’re building a new site or doing a total site redesign, you might adopt more advanced web design strategies—notably responsive web design, which reflows and changes dynamically to best suit the type of device a user happens to have, from a large computer monitor to a tiny mobile web browser.

Smaller and newer sites often have an advantage on this front—their websites typically rely on newer content management system technology that makes it easier to deploy mobile themes and responsive design.

Regardless of how you deploy your mobile web presence, if your site is ad supported it’s crucial to learn about, and to educate your advertisers about, mobile advertising. The Mobile Marketing Association has compiled detailed, useful mobile advertising guidelines.

Eventually mobile web speeds will catch up with the desktop web experience—but when? Lelah Manz, chief strategist for e-commerce at Akamai, told Bloomberg this could happen by 2014.

That might be true for the average e-commerce site focused on direct sales, since they have the strongest motivation to optimize. But for content-focused sites, including news and community sites, I’ll bet mobile users will still be waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for a while past that.

Which means that publishers who start taking their mobile web performance seriously right now have a window of opportunity to gain a competitive advantage not only with the fastest-growing part of the digital audience, but also with advertisers.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 10, 2012

Mobile for building the ethnic/community news business

By Amy Gahran

Next week the Knight Digital Media Center at USC is partnering with the City University of New York to offer a two-day workshop on mobile strategies and opportunities for ethnic and community media organizations in the New York City area.

One of our instructors, Arturo Duran of Digital First Media, will be explaining how mobile can enhance the business model and community engagement efforts of these news outlets. Here’s a preview of his advice…

Arturo Duran is the Chief Innovation Officer for Digital First Media—a spinoff from Journal Register Co. which last year took over operations management for all MediaNews Group and JRC newspapers. He also was a 2010-11 fellow in the Knight-McCormick Leadership Institute at KDMC. In the upcoming workshop, he’ll discuss the business considerations and opportunities for community and ethnic news outlets that embrace mobile.

Duran has considerable experience on this front. He was part of the team that created AOL Latino in U.S., and also served as CEO of Intermedia Digital (the largest Spanish-language newspaper company in the U.S.). He’s also led digital and mobile initiatives for small and large news outlets, and has even experimented with early augmented reality efforts.

Most ethnic and community news outlets are fairly small and local, but some (such as Little India magazine and China Daily) are quite large—spanning several states, or the nation, or the globe. Outlets from all points alone this spectrum will be represented among the workshop’s participants. What should they keep in mind about mobile?

“We need to stop thinking of what we—people in the media business—want, and listen to what our users are doing,” said Duran. He noted that in the U.S., African Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups tend to be especially advanced in their use of mobile devices.

For instance, recent Nielsen Co. research found that U.S. Hispanics are 28% more likely to own a smartphone than non-Hispanic whites, and they also consume more mobile data than all ethnic groups. U.S. Hispanics also are three times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have internet access via a mobile device, but not have internet at home. And their average mobile bill is 8% higher than the overall U.S. average.

Similarly, as of last summer Nielsen found that 33% of all African Americans own a smartphone, significantly higher than the national average. Also, 44% of all new mobile phone purchased by African Americans were smartphones—and among younger people in this group, that was over 50%.

And least year research from Rebtel (an internet telephony provider) showed that tablet computers are especially popular in several immigrant communities in the U.S.

“Ethic communities are more advanced not just in terms of how they use text messaging and smartphone apps, but also the mobile web,” said Duran. “For many ethnic groups, their mobile devices are the primary way they access the web. Since they’re using that platform, we should be giving them news and information that suits the platform they use. That makes what we offer more valuable, because it’s easier for them to find and use.”

What emerging business opportunities can mobile yield for ethnic and community news sites?

“Mobile delivers better data about your users, which helps you become even more relevant to them,” said Duran. “First of all, analytics for your mobile traffic can deliver more accurate info on where your users are. You also learn more about who they are. Unlike computers, a mobile device tends to be used by only one person. The more relevant you can be, the more engaging you can be—and so can your advertisers. Advertisers pay more to reach more engaged audiences.”

Mobile-optimized advertising is the natural place to start when looking to earn revenue from mobile offerings, said Duran. This includes ads that run on a mobile-optimized website or app, which can be served directly by the news venue or from a digital ad network. In fact, some ad networks offer tools to make it easy for news venues to create ad-supported apps.

“Using an ad network will help you get some initial information about your mobile audience,” Duran said. “They’ll give your statistics on your clickthroughs, engagement, etc. So you know what your mobile audience is doing. They can’t give you as much data as you’ll probably get from measuring your regular website traffic, but that’s still a lot of very useful information.”

And then: “Once you gain more experience with mobile and get more data about your mobile users, you can actually start segmenting your mobile audience and creating more tailored offerings that can be sold directly,” said Duran. “So if you’re already serving a niche market like a specific ethnic community, you might have even more of an edge in the mobile market.”

Duran recommends offering options in all mobile channels—from text alerts and mobile-optimized e-mail to the mobile web and apps. But strategy and moderation are crucial.

“You don’t want to overuse these tools. Especially with texts and e-mail,” he said. “You want to drive people from text or e-mail alerts to your mobile site. So don’t sent them lots of alerts; send them a few and show them where to click to learn more on their phone.”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 22, 2012

10-step mobile strategy for community publishers

By Amy Gahran

Last weekend [email protected] held an invitation-only workshop on mobile strategy for community and ethnic media at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. The attendees included many top editorial, business, and digital managers for large and small publishers in the NYC metro area.

At this workshop I suggested 10 steps these publishers could take to start developing a viable, revenue-producing mobile strategy right now, even with modest resources. Here’s the plan…

1. Start using your phone for everything. Many people in the news business aren’t yet fully accomplished at using their own phones as everyday tools to access media, services, and interaction. Without this personal experience, it’s hard to recognize mobile opportunities and develop well-targeted mobile offerings.

So stretch beyond your comfort zone. For a few days or a week, try relying solely on your phone for media, news, information, entertainment, social media, services (like banking, shopping or getting directions) and interaction (texting, instant messaging, photo messages, e-mail, etc.). See how much you can do—and learn what you don’t already know.

2. Make your website mobile-friendly. For most cell phone users, a full website loaded in a small phone browser is a big hassle. If you’re standing on the street or sitting on a crowded bus, too much pinching, zooming, and scrolling are serious obstacles.

So create a fast-loading, simplified version of your site that automatically displays for cell phone visitors. Read Luke Wroblewski’s book Mobile First for advice on what works well with mobile web and app design and usability.

Your mobile-friendly site should be the core of your mobile strategy, since inbound links to any page of your site should load on any device, and most of what you do via mobile channels will ultimately drive traffic to your website.

Integrate mobile-friendly advertising into your mobile web layout. Ads displayed on your mobile site should link to mobile-optimized sites or landing pages. Educate your advertisers, offer analytics, and help the advertiser create ads and link destinations that will work well for your mobile audience.

Make sure your have a mobile-friendly website even if you offer one or more apps for smartphone platforms. The web is not a walled garden—it doesn’t require mobile users to download, install, and remember to launch anything. It’s inherently cross-platform. And many news venue-specific apps don’t automatically launch when a the user clicks a link to one of your stories received via, say, text or e-mail. You want your inbound links to always, always work.

Most likely for now you’ll have to implement “auto detection” code on your web servers to serve mobile users your mobile-friendly page layout. But if you’re starting from scratch with a new site, or when you do a complete overhaul of your current site,  incorporating responsive web design principles is a more elegant and robust solution that could simplify your future needs and increase your mobile options.

Some third-party services like MoFuse will repackage your content in a mobile-optimized template for a monthly fee, and run their own network ads in a revenue-sharing arrangement. That’s also a viable initial strategy, but probably not your most lucrative long-range plan.

3. Start experimenting with Tumblr. This free social blogging platform is highly popular—but more importantly it’s directly accessible via the web and extremely mobile-friendly. Tumblr can be your mobile sandbox and much more.

If at this point it’s beyond your means to implement a mobile theme with auto-detection for your main website, then you can use Tumblr to build a mobile-friendly web presence which complements your main site. For instance, you can post to your Tumblr blog “teasers” which promote and link to your most important or compelling content—then promote links to those Tumblr teasers via social media. The vast majority of people who use social media access it regularly on a mobile device, so you probably already have a large mobile audience in social media.

Tumblr is also a great venue to highlight individual photos, videos, or other multimedia that you’ve published. And it’s a great place to engage people with tidbits from your “cutting room floor,” or to share content created by your community.

And even if you already have mobile-friendly website, you can set up special Tumblr blogs for special projects or campaigns, including crowdsourcing.

4. Consider mobile users in your editorial style. Mobile users often are accessing content a few moments at a time, so they need context. Work to emphasize context and action in your content. One contextual editorial strategy is to begin each story with 2-3 short bullet-point highlights at top of each story, instead of a traditional “deck” and before a traditional story-style lede.

Include action-oriented links wherever possible, which allow mobile users to do useful things like register for an event. Also, where appropriate include full street addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers in your content—these become actionable (clickable) links on mobile devices.

And if possible, adapt your content management system to allow you to geocode your content by specifying latitude/longitude coordinates. The major search engines weight this in providing search results to mobile users, so geocoding will increase your mobile search visibility.

5. Use social media for community engagement. Again, this is where you probably already have a considerable mobile audience. Make sure when you post links to Twitter, Facebook, etc., the destination of those links are mobile-friendly whenever possible. Not sure? Look up the link first on your phone to check.

Use social media on your phone when out and about as a radar screen for a large part of your community, and to share engaging observations and photos from around town. If you use popular mobile-only services like Instagram, or geo-social services like Foursquare, make sure you connect them to your other social media accounts so you can selectively cross-post easily as warranted.

Video links are hugely popular on social media. So if you post video, set up a branded YouTube channel and post your video there—then link to your YouTube videos from social media. YouTube is probably the most mobile-friendly video sharing service online, and it’s owned by Google. Posting your video on YouTube makes it both very findable and very mobile friendly.

6. Conduct periodic mobile market research. Mobile changes fast, and each community has unique preferences. Knowing what’s currently popular in your community regarding mobile devices, cost considerations, and other preferences will steer your decisions for further mobile offerings.

I’ve created a simple mobile market research survey. This can be conducted in person (you’ll want to see how people use their phones) every 6-12 months. Even a couple dozen responses from typical community members can provide actionable guidance.

Also, the mobile user experience is only as good as the quality of local wireless service. If a locally popular carrier’s service suddenly degrades (which can happen), your mobile offerings might perform poorly. So periodically check Rootmetrics.com’s maps for your community to understand current coverage conditions. Is there poor or spotty data coverage? Then take it easy on the video! Or if large numbers of your users sign up for 4G service and local coverage is good, consider richer mobile media offerings.

7. Offer text alerts and polls. SMS text messaging is a huge overlooked opportunity, but it’s valuable because it’s ubiquitous: it works on almost any mobile phone. Text alerts are obviously useful to share breaking news, event reminders, and even offer interactive services like polling.

Your text offerings can be either general or special-purpose. Just make sure users know exactly what to expect from each service. It’s best to only send 1-2 messages per week or less, and never spam people! Users must opt-in to each service individually, and they must be able to unsubscribe immediately simply by replying “stop.”

You must use a common shortcode to offer any text-message services. That’s not free, but using a shared shortcode from a vendor like TextMarks can cut your costs substantially compared to leasing a dedicated shortcode. That’s a good way to start.

Text alerts can include links, so make sure you’re using these links to drive traffic to specific mobile-friendly story pages (not to your home page) or to mobile-friendly advertiser landing pages.

8. Experiment with apps. After you have a mobile-friendly web presence, you’re considering mobile users in your editorial style and social media activities, and you’re offering some text messaging options, that’s the time to consider investing resources in apps intended to run on specific mobile platforms like Android or the iPhone.

The easiest way to get started with apps is to use a service that simply repackages your existing content within an app, “shovelware” style. Uppsite is one service that will create apps for you on all major platforms, and run network ads. That might be a good first step to experiment, get some data about your mobile users, and earn a little revenue.

However, in the big picture, content shovelware does not make a compelling app. Only 25% of apps get opened more than nine times. So if you intend to invest resources in developing an app, it’s better to look for opportunities to offer services, not just content, through apps.

Your mobile apps can be project-specific, such as presenting a data visualization, supporting a crowdsourcing effort, or providing special updates or context on a crucial community issue.

Usually when people say “mobile apps” they mean “native” apps which are software deployed for a specific mobile platform. But with the advent of better mobile browsers and more advanced web technology, it’s now possible to deliver a great deal of app-like functionality via the web. The advantage of “web apps” is that the user doesn’t need to download or run any software. One example of a mobile-friendly web app is ProPublica’s Dialysis Facility Tracker.

Developing platform-specific native apps cost more, so only build an app when it’s truly warranted: to use special device capabilities (like the camera or accelerometer) or if you have a very good revenue case. In particular, many publishers are lured by iPad apps because they look pretty and appear to return to publishers the control over users they thought they once had. But iPad apps have proven to be a dubious investment for news or content publishers.

9. Sell mobile landing pages or microsites, not just banner ads. Position access to your mobile audience as a premium service that can deliver more value to advertisers more value.

Use mobile landing page tools such as Landr.co or MoBistro to create compelling, actionable mobile microsites for your advertisers—for longer-term, bigger contracts than simply displaying a tiny banner that would likely perform poorly. You can get great analytics from these microsites, and adjust them on the fly to improve performance.

The key is that your ad sales staff must really know how to sell this service, build a basic microsite, and keep it updated with current advertiser info.

Once you have some advertiser microsites, you can promote links them not just via ad banners, but via your other mobile or social media offerings

10. Mobile doesn’t stand alone. Always promote and explain your mobile offerings in your print/broadcast venues, house ads and at events.

Prepare printed, online, and sometimes video tutorials explaining each offering: what is is, what value it offers to whom, how to use it. Create versions for community members and advertisers or partners.

And in general, train your community in how their phones can be useful tools. Recommend to your useful reporting tools for local issues like SeeClickFix, citizen journalism apps like MePorter, transit info services like NextBus and more.

The more you can encourage your community to get more info and value from their phones, the more they will value your mobile offerings.

More resources from the KDMC/CUNY community mobile media workshop.

 

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

June 12, 2012

Text alerts for community media: Tips for getting started

Text message alerts are a potentially powerful, effective way to keep your community engaged with your news and information wherever they are—and regardless of what kind of phone they have or whether they have a data plan. But there are plenty of ways to do text alerts wrong. Here are some tips for getting started safely and smart…

By Amy Gahran

Aside from voice calls, text messaging (also called simple messaging service, or SMS) is the most popular thing people do with their cell phones. It’s also the most ubiquitous mobile communication channel—SMS works on virtually every cell phone, from the cheapest and most basic feature phone to the fanciest smartphone.

You can use text alerts to deliver short messages with breaking news, top headlines with links to stories, special topic updates, event or deadline reminders, and more. You can also use them to drive traffic to your website, or to your print edition, or even to carry paid advertisements.

1. Subscribe to other local text alerts first. Get a sense for what kinds of news, info, or alerts people in your community might be getting. For instance, local daily papers and TV or radio news shows often offer text alerts, as do many local governments, police departments, school districts, sports teams, and more.

Get to know the kind of content they provide, and get a feel for what seems useful. Also look for opportunities: what kind of local news or info isn’t yet offered by text alert?

Follow the links included in these text alerts, to ads as well as to stories or online information—do they go to mobile-friendly web pages? Are phone numbers or addresses ever included? (These are clickable on many phones.) See if they stick to what they promised in terms of content and frequency. Do they honor standard “stop” requests to unsubscribe?

2. Select a reputable SMS service with shared shortcodes. You will have to spend a little money to do text alerts right. Wireless carriers charge money to deliver text alerts to phones. Also, anti-spam laws govern require that a common shortcode (a special 5- or 6-digit phone number) be used to send any text messages which are not strictly person-to-person communication.

The easiest and most cost effective way to reliably and cost effectively transmit your alerts and adhere to legal requirements is to use a shared shortcode service. These companies lease shortcodes (which cost at least $500/month) and use software to divide their use—and cost—among several users. They also provide web-based software that allows you to manage subscribers, compose and schedule alerts. Textmarks is an inexpensive and easy-to-use SMS service, but there are many others. For a small list of subscribers, your text alert service can cost as little as $20/month.

Avoid services that offer to deliver your text alerts for free—these rely on technologies that are often blocked by wireless carriers. You want to be sure your subscribers receive your alerts—and that their requests to cancel are promptly and automatically handled. (Before you buy, test this important feature by subscribing to alerts from another publisher or marketer using the same SMS vendor, and then send the message “Stop.” You should receive no further messages from the service.)

3. Don’t overload your subscribers. People hate getting too many text messages, especially from news outlets or other organizations rather than individuals. So decide up front what your upper limit for text messages will be: Just 1-2 per week, or 5-10 over the course of a typical month, is reasonable.

4. Establish relevance first. Mobile users prize relevance above all else. So consider what kind of timely, brief alerts might be most valued by your community—and it probably isn’t the top headlines from your print paper or website.

For your first text alert offering, consider sending out occasional text alerts while important community news is breaking, before you write up and publish a news story—or even if you don’t end up publishing a related story.

For instance, you could start by posting text alerts of important breaking local news or events: major police actions or fires, major local government decisions, announcements of important community business openings or closings, severe weather alerts, timely reminders of festivals or sporting events, and more. Focus on whatever key time-sensitive news you already routinely follow (via police scanner, by attending meetings, etc.), so you’ll be able to pretty consistently catch the most vital community news right away.

Later, after you’ve gotten your feet wet with offering occasional text alerts of mobile news and events, you can branch out to offering other types of text alerts, such as your top story of the week or special weekly alerts on an important community issue. You’ll need to maintain each text alert service as a separate opt-in list—never subscribe people to new text alerts without their permission. But occasional alerts of breaking community news is most likely to get people interested enough to try your text alerts in the first place.

5. Provide only direct, mobile-friendly links in your text alerts. If you do link to your online news stories from text alerts, link directly to the mobile-friendly version of the story webpage—not to your homepage, or to a section page. (Making your site mobile friendly is the first item in my 10-step mobile strategy for community publishers.) And definitely don’t provide links that try to load the full version of your site which is meant to be viewed on a computer. That will slow down and frustrate many mobile users.

Similarly, if you include advertiser links in your text alerts, make sure they lead to mobile-friendly landing pages. (If your advertisers don’t have mobile-optimized landing pages, you can easily build and sell them as a service using tools like Landr.co)

I recommend using the free link shortening service Bit.ly to create all links that you’ll include in text alerts. This will allow you to track clickthroughs on these links, so you can assess which kinds of links are most popular with your text alert subscribers.

6. Don’t run off-target, irrelevant network ads. Many mobile ad networks will pay you to append short text ads with a link to your text alerts. That’s tempting, but those ads often say cheesy, generic things like “Got psoriasis?” This is irrelevant to community and most of your text alert subscribers, and hence undermines the key value of text alerts: relevance. Plus, they just look clueless.

Community publishers should probably avoid most ad networks for text alerts—they’re just too general, intended for a mass audience.

But you can—and should—eventually integrate local ads into your text alerts. Once you have a mobile-friendly website, you can start selling mobile-friendly ads from local advertisers (or larger institutions or brands that want to reach your community) which appear on the website. Again, that’s covered in my 10-point mobile strategy.

Once you have, say, five or more advertisers on your mobile site, you can start including occasional links to those advertisers, in rotation, in some (but not all) of your text alerts.

7. Support and promote your text alerts in print and online. Write up short, basic information about the text alerts you provide and why they’re valuable to your community. Create a mobile-friendly webpage with this pitch, as well as clear instructions for subscribing and unsubscribing. Print up postcards and fliers with this information, to distribute in community locations.

Also include this information in an article or recurring house ad in your print edition (if you have one), and link to it prominently from the main navigation on your website. And if you use social media or publish an e-mail newsletter, occasionally promote and link to your text alerts from there. (Social media and e-mail are hugely popular with mobile users.)

8. Keep the big picture in mind. Think of your print and web presence, social media efforts, and text alerts as an ecosystem. Your text alerts can drive traffic to your website or print edition (or advertisers), and also help your community recognize a whole new level of value from your news venue. Your print and web editions and social media posts (as well as supporting materials like postcards) in turn can drive text alert subscriptions.

Text alerts meet a need for quick heads-up awareness, whenever and wherever needed in your community. Your main news platforms provide more in-depth coverage, and social media provides engagement and more frequent updates. Understanding this interplay can help you hone your community coverage strategy and also use mobile to support your business model.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

June 12, 2012

Text alerts for community media: Tips for getting started

Text message alerts are a potentially powerful, effective way to keep your community engaged with your news and information wherever they are—and regardless of what kind of phone they have or whether they have a data plan. But there are plenty of ways to do text alerts wrong. Here are some tips for getting started safely and smart…

By Amy Gahran

Aside from voice calls, text messaging (also called simple messaging service, or SMS) is the most popular thing people do with their cell phones. It’s also the most ubiquitous mobile communication channel—SMS works on virtually every cell phone, from the cheapest and most basic feature phone to the fanciest smartphone.

You can use text alerts to deliver short messages with breaking news, top headlines with links to stories, special topic updates, event or deadline reminders, and more. You can also use them to drive traffic to your website, or to your print edition, or even to carry paid advertisements.

1. Subscribe to other local text alerts first. Get a sense for what kinds of news, info, or alerts people in your community might be getting. For instance, local daily papers and TV or radio news shows often offer text alerts, as do many local governments, police departments, school districts, sports teams, and more.

Get to know the kind of content they provide, and get a feel for what seems useful. Also look for opportunities: what kind of local news or info isn’t yet offered by text alert?

Follow the links included in these text alerts, to ads as well as to stories or online information—do they go to mobile-friendly web pages? Are phone numbers or addresses ever included? (These are clickable on many phones.) See if they stick to what they promised in terms of content and frequency. Do they honor standard “stop” requests to unsubscribe?

2. Select a reputable SMS service with shared shortcodes. You will have to spend a little money to do text alerts right. Wireless carriers charge money to deliver text alerts to phones. Also, anti-spam laws govern require that a common shortcode (a special 5- or 6-digit phone number) be used to send any text messages which are not strictly person-to-person communication.

The easiest and most cost effective way to reliably and cost effectively transmit your alerts and adhere to legal requirements is to use a shared shortcode service. These companies lease shortcodes (which cost at least $500/month) and use software to divide their use—and cost—among several users. They also provide web-based software that allows you to manage subscribers, compose and schedule alerts. Textmarks is an inexpensive and easy-to-use SMS service, but there are many others. For a small list of subscribers, your text alert service can cost as little as $20/month.

Avoid services that offer to deliver your text alerts for free—these rely on technologies that are often blocked by wireless carriers. You want to be sure your subscribers receive your alerts—and that their requests to cancel are promptly and automatically handled. (Before you buy, test this important feature by subscribing to alerts from another publisher or marketer using the same SMS vendor, and then send the message “Stop.” You should receive no further messages from the service.)

3. Don’t overload your subscribers. People hate getting too many text messages, especially from news outlets or other organizations rather than individuals. So decide up front what your upper limit for text messages will be: Just 1-2 per week, or 5-10 over the course of a typical month, is reasonable.

4. Establish relevance first. Mobile users prize relevance above all else. So consider what kind of timely, brief alerts might be most valued by your community—and it probably isn’t the top headlines from your print paper or website.

For your first text alert offering, consider sending out occasional text alerts while important community news is breaking, before you write up and publish a news story—or even if you don’t end up publishing a related story.

For instance, you could start by posting text alerts of important breaking local news or events: major police actions or fires, major local government decisions, announcements of important community business openings or closings, severe weather alerts, timely reminders of festivals or sporting events, and more. Focus on whatever key time-sensitive news you already routinely follow (via police scanner, by attending meetings, etc.), so you’ll be able to pretty consistently catch the most vital community news right away.

Later, after you’ve gotten your feet wet with offering occasional text alerts of mobile news and events, you can branch out to offering other types of text alerts, such as your top story of the week or special weekly alerts on an important community issue. You’ll need to maintain each text alert service as a separate opt-in list—never subscribe people to new text alerts without their permission. But occasional alerts of breaking community news is most likely to get people interested enough to try your text alerts in the first place.

5. Provide only direct, mobile-friendly links in your text alerts. If you do link to your online news stories from text alerts, link directly to the mobile-friendly version of the story webpage—not to your homepage, or to a section page. (Making your site mobile friendly is the first item in my 10-step mobile strategy for community publishers.) And definitely don’t provide links that try to load the full version of your site which is meant to be viewed on a computer. That will slow down and frustrate many mobile users.

Similarly, if you include advertiser links in your text alerts, make sure they lead to mobile-friendly landing pages. (If your advertisers don’t have mobile-optimized landing pages, you can easily build and sell them as a service using tools like Landr.co)

I recommend using the free link shortening service Bit.ly to create all links that you’ll include in text alerts. This will allow you to track clickthroughs on these links, so you can assess which kinds of links are most popular with your text alert subscribers.

6. Don’t run off-target, irrelevant network ads. Many mobile ad networks will pay you to append short text ads with a link to your text alerts. That’s tempting, but those ads often say cheesy, generic things like “Got psoriasis?” This is irrelevant to community and most of your text alert subscribers, and hence undermines the key value of text alerts: relevance. Plus, they just look clueless.

Community publishers should probably avoid most ad networks for text alerts—they’re just too general, intended for a mass audience.

But you can—and should—eventually integrate local ads into your text alerts. Once you have a mobile-friendly website, you can start selling mobile-friendly ads from local advertisers (or larger institutions or brands that want to reach your community) which appear on the website. Again, that’s covered in my 10-point mobile strategy.

Once you have, say, five or more advertisers on your mobile site, you can start including occasional links to those advertisers, in rotation, in some (but not all) of your text alerts.

7. Support and promote your text alerts in print and online. Write up short, basic information about the text alerts you provide and why they’re valuable to your community. Create a mobile-friendly webpage with this pitch, as well as clear instructions for subscribing and unsubscribing. Print up postcards and fliers with this information, to distribute in community locations.

Also include this information in an article or recurring house ad in your print edition (if you have one), and link to it prominently from the main navigation on your website. And if you use social media or publish an e-mail newsletter, occasionally promote and link to your text alerts from there. (Social media and e-mail are hugely popular with mobile users.)

8. Keep the big picture in mind. Think of your print and web presence, social media efforts, and text alerts as an ecosystem. Your text alerts can drive traffic to your website or print edition (or advertisers), and also help your community recognize a whole new level of value from your news venue. Your print and web editions and social media posts (as well as supporting materials like postcards) in turn can drive text alert subscriptions.

Text alerts meet a need for quick heads-up awareness, whenever and wherever needed in your community. Your main news platforms provide more in-depth coverage, and social media provides engagement and more frequent updates. Understanding this interplay can help you hone your community coverage strategy and also use mobile to support your business model.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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