How to build your mobile news audience? New Pew research offers insight
By Amy Gahran Increasingly, people are turning to mobile devices to get news throughout the day. Thus, mobile was the big trend highlighted in this year’s State of the Media report from the Pew Project on Excellence in Journalism—which echoes other recent findings from comScore and elsewhere.
How can news and information publishers get ahead of the mobile wave?...
By Amy Gahran
Increasingly, people are turning to mobile devices to get news throughout the day. Thus, mobile was the big trend highlighted in this year’s State of the Media report from the Pew Project on Excellence in Journalism—which echoes other recent findings from comScore and elsewhere.
How can news and information publishers get ahead of the mobile wave?...
“The age of mobile, in which people are connected to the web wherever they are, arrived in earnest. More than four in ten American adults now own a smartphone. One in five owns a tablet. New cars are manufactured with internet built in. With more mobility comes deeper immersion into social networking. For news, the new era brings mixed blessings,” the PEJ report’s introduction began.
Some highlights from the mobile section of the PEJ report:
Digital news is becoming a multi-device experience. For now, desktop and laptop computers remain the most popular way that people in the U.S. access digital news venues. However, PEJ notes: “Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 23%, now get news on at least two devices: a desktop/laptop computer and smartphone, a computer and a tablet, a tablet and a smartphone, or on all three.”
Also: “For most with multiple devices, there is not a single place for news. People who acquire mobile devices appear to be using them to get news on all their devices. This also suggests they may be getting more news more often. About a third (34%) of desktop/laptop news consumers now also get news on a smartphone. About a quarter (27%) of smartphone news consumers also get news on a tablet. While this smartphone/tablet news consumer group is small—just 6% of the population overall—it is a large percentage of those who own smartphones and tablets. Fully 44% of people who own both kinds of devices use both for news. What’s more, most of those individuals (78%) still get news on the desktop or laptop as well.”
“...Smartphone news users are now nearly split between their laptop and smartphone as their primary news platform: 46% still get most of their news on the desktop/laptop and 45% get most on their smartphone. Another 7% of these smartphone owners say they get most of their news on a tablet. Early tablet news users are moving in the same direction, but remain somewhat more reliant on the laptop or desktop computer. Of tablet owners, 47% still get most of their digital news via desktops or laptops, while a third (34%) have already transitioned to consuming most of their news on the tablet.
This echoes findings from comScore’s Digital Omnivores report last summer, which made this point: “Devices influence the way people consume content and it is important to remember that they do not exist in isolation of one another, but have a complementary relationship in consumers’ lives. ...Understanding how consumers are utilizing the full spectrum of digital devices available to them will become increasingly important to building effective digital strategies.”
Both PEJ’s and comScore’s findings indicate that in the long run, creating an integrated and relatively seamless user experience across devices will be important for retaining loyalty from mobile news users.
Site features like BostonGlobe.com’s “MySaved” (which saves stories bookmarked by an individual user in the cloud, for downloading to any device for later reading) may become crucial for a good user experience. However, such features probably will have to add more value compared to popular third-party tools like Instapaper, which support device- and reader-friendly aggregation across all websites (not just one news site at at time) and across multiple devices.
Deploying such services will be more streamlined for news and information sites that adopt responsive web design—a strategy that adapts webpage display for the type of device being used. Coupled with HTML5, which supports app-like features via the web browser, responsive design can vastly enhance the overall news experience for multiple-device users.
News brands are key for drawing mobile traffic. PEJ noted that news brands appear to drive traffic on every device, but they seems to matter most to tablet news audiences. “For all three digital platforms, the most common method for accessing digital news now is by going directly to a news website or app. And that has been helped by the advent of mobile. A third of those who get news via the laptop or desktop say they go directly to a news organization’s website ‘very often’ as do a third of smartphone news consumers and 38% of tablet news consumers.”
Keyword search is also important for mobile news discovery. According to PEJ about 70% of people who get news on a smartphone, tablet or both use keyword searches to find news at least occasionally. However PEJ’s earlier analysis of data from Nielsen indicate that much of news search traffic actually goes to the home pages of news site home pages, indicating that people may be searching quite often for news brands.
News aggregator apps are gaining mobile popularity. Just over a quarter of tablet and smartphone news consumers use aggregator apps such as Flipboard or Topix to access news stories. So it’s worth using these apps to make sure your news content displays well in this context.
Social media isn’t quite as important for mobile news discovery—yet. According to PEJ, “In total, just 9% [of digital news consumers] follow news recommendations very often from either Facebook or Twitter on any of the three devices.”
But: “This peer-to-peer sharing or recommending of news does appear to be an emerging trend, however, and may become a part—if not soon a primary part—of news consumption. If one adds to the tally those who say they follow these recommendations ‘sometimes’ to the 10% who say they do it ‘very often’ the number increases about three-fold. For both smartphones and tablets, more than a quarter (27%) follow recommendations from Facebook at least somewhat often. 9% for each device follow Twitter news recommendations at least somewhat often. On the desktop/laptop the percentages come to 22% for Facebook and 5% for Twitter.”
That said, it’s generally a mistake to view social media primarily as a tool to broadcast links to your content in order to drive traffic to your site. Social media’s key value is for two-way engagement with your community—a way to discover what interests them, amplify their voices, and build credibility by being part of the public conversation. This in turn can influence the content you produce for any platform, to make it more compelling to your community across the board.
Mobile apps get used more frequently, but care is warranted. PEJ examined data from Localytics, a company that provides an analytics platform for advertising through mobile apps. According to PEJ, this data indicates: “People spend more time per session with news on mobile devices than they do on computers, and read more articles per session and more articles per month. Comparing this data to data collected on news website behavior suggests on average that users return to news apps more than five times as often over the course of the month and spend a minute longer per session.”
While PEJ did not speculate on what drives this trend, it’s possible that the ability of apps to provide “push notifications” may increase the frequency of app use. Increasing engagement through apps is crucial, since last year Localytics found that only one fourth of all apps get opened more than 10 times.
Platform-specific mobile apps generally require more resources to develop and maintain, and require more action from news consumers, than mobile websites. Also, apps don’t always automatically open in response to inbound links on a mobile device. So if you decide to deploy mobile news apps, make sure you also have a strong mobile web presence, and offer optional push notifications. Also offering an array of SMS text message alerts can help boost mobile traffic for both websites and apps.
...To put all of this research in context, it’s important to recognize that very soon your digital audience will soon be accessing your content mostly via mobile devices. Last September analysts at IDC predicted: “By 2015, more U.S. Internet users will access the internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices.”
In other words, your news and information audience is going mobile fast. Building a strong brand and a good mobile experience for your users can help build your business. This may especially give brand new sites and advantage, since they aren’t hindered by legacy publishing systems that can’t easily accommodate responsive design and other new opportunities for mobile media.
The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
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Tags: research, mobile, apps, pew project for excellence in journalism, web, design, responsive design
Thank you Amy, this is really helpful as we try to figure out how to focus our scatter gun
At NOWCastSA, we’re watching mobile usage go up by 1% or more every 6 weeks this year. Today, just under 20% of our visits are from mobile, fed largely by our mobile-friendly interactive webcasts and video optimized for mobile.
iPhone took first place over Android recently, and iPad is right behind.
As you know and have written, this is coming from all socioeconomic groups, helping us bridge the so-called digital divide.
Between the mobiles and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube) almost 60% of our visits are coming from other platforms.
By CharlotteAnne, 03/21/12 at 2:33 pm
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