I will be making a presentation to newsroom leaders Tuesday about the mobile-first strategy I have proposed and promoted in this blog.
I was pleased to hear Eric Schmidt tell the American Society of News Editors (that N in ASNE used to stand for Newspapers) in Sunday night’s keynote address that Google is taking a “mobile-first” view of digital opportunities. News organizations must do the same. Amy Webb of Webb Media Group also underscored the importance of mobile communication and location-based information at a Monday address to ASNE. I will attempt to follow by giving the editors advice and encouragement to start moving ahead right away with their mobile operations.
As I have contended here, I will tell the newsroom leaders that mobile communication and commerce present valuable opportunities for news organizations, and we cannot afford to pursue them with the limited vision that we brought to most web ventures. With Nielsen projecting smartphone penetration to reach 50 percent of the U.S. cell phone market by the end of next year, the opportunity and the urgency are great.
I hope and expect that our efforts at Allbritton Communications will provide many examples of successful mobile projects for others to follow. But for now, I will provide a hypothetical example that I hope someone will turn into reality shortly.
An event that causes a large number of people to travel from your community to a distant location is the perfect opportunity for a short-term mobile-engagement project that can have profound long-term benefits. I developed a mobile-engagement plan for Gazette Communications in advance of the Iowa Hawkeyes playing in the Orange Bowl this January. I won’t explain or dwell on the reasons why my Gazette colleagues did not pursue this plan. But I believe it would work for any news organization when a significant segment of the community travels to an event beyond your print or broadcast reach. Sports presents many such opportunities — bowl games, conference basketball tournaments, NCAA tournament games, state high school tournaments. But you could use this plan for news events that prompt lots of people to leave your community, such as an inauguration or other national events in Washington. When I covered Pope John Paul II’s trip to St. Louis for the Des Moines Register in 1999, hundreds of people from Iowa traveled to see the pope. An event like that today would be a great opportunity for mobile engagement.
The Seattle Times carried out some excellent mobile-focused projects when large numbers of its community traveled to Washington for President Obama’s inauguration last year and to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I am sure that other organizations have executed some strong mobile projects that we can learn from. Please tell me about those examples (and supply links) in the comments.
These events are ideal because the people involved have a shared interest that you can serve for content. Advertisers from your community and the distant community share interests with this audience. The people are not going to be reading a print edition of your home newspaper (even if you ship to the venue, you won’t reach many of the people) and they won’t be watching a TV station back home. They will be away from their office computers and if they travel with a laptop, they will leave that in the hotel room most of the time, while they are at the arena (or the National Mall) or out enjoying the host city at restaurants, bars and tourist attractions. But more and more, these travelers will have smart phones that will make great vehicles for distributing your content about the event they are attending, for engaging them in conversation about the event and for enlisting their help in covering the event and the related community travel experience.
Here are some highlights from my plan for mobile engagement with the thousands of Iowans who traveled to the Orange Bowl. As journalists read it, I hope you think about how your organization might connect with the mobile audience for distant fans in your community. And, of course, many of these same ideas will work for events right in your community.
How to contribute. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute content to the project in multiple ways:
- By Twitter. You can promote a generic hashtag you have used all season long, such as #Hawkeyes, or an event hashtag such as #OrangeBowl.
- By CoverItLive. You can pull a Twitter hashtag in, but also use a liveblog to invite engagement by people who don’t use Twitter.
- By SMS or MMS, using a short code.
- Through your mobile application.
- By email, with an address that’s easy to remember, probably containing the name of the event, for sending comments or photos.
Plan multiple forms of engagement. You want to give people several ways to share their experiences and views from the distant city:
- Photo contributions. Present a daily gallery of fan-submitted photos, with voting by fans to select some of the best. On game day (I’m using football as an example, but you can choose similar slices of other events), you can ratchet up the engagement, asking for specific photos from the fans: best tailgate party photo; shoot the view of the kickoff (or some other key event) from your seat; shoot the fans around you celebrating the team’s first score; shoot someone around you shooting pictures; shoot the band at halftime; catch the mood around you late in the game (anxiety if the game’s still on the line, celebration if your team is in control, gloom if your team is getting whipped); best post-game shot.
- Video. During the game, have one of your web producers make a video of the best shots (perhaps over some audio of the band playing). You should welcome and highlight fan videos, too, but photos will be easier for them to shoot and send.
- Social media curation. In addition to direct contributions, you should curate fan photos/videos from other sources: Flickr, YouTube, Picasa, wherever.
- Prizes. Award prizes (or at least recognition) for the best contributions in various categories: fans enjoying the host city; tailgate party photo; fans at the game, etc.
- Short codes. You can use a short code to promote and compile contributions by text message.
- Liveblog. Run a daily liveblog for local residents in the distant city, using CoverItLive. Promote the hashtag as well as direct participation in the blog. Staff in the city covering the event should contribute directly to the blog with tweets, photos, links to their blog posts, etc.
- Map of people from your city enjoying the distant city. Put your news content and user contributions on a map of the host city, using a tool such as Newsgarden, Google Maps or Ushahidi. Make it easy for users to post pictures, comments, stories, invitations (and whatever) of their activities to the map. Using the Orange Bowl example, if your local residents are off in the Everglades, the Keys or the beaches, you post their photos, observations and accounts on a map. Encourage geotagging of tweets (and use of the hashtag), so that geotagged tweets with that tag would go automatically onto the map. Encourage people to check in on Foursquare or Gowalla, and map their checkins. Staff visual journalists who shoot content around Miami should always enter links on the map, wherever else the content is used. Staff who are twittering from mobile devices should geotag tweets.
- Text alerts. Encourage people to sign up for your text alerts, so you can directly send them important developments related to this event, with links to your mobile site.
- Tweetup. Host a tweetup in the host city, where people can meet your staff members. Pass out T-shirts or other swag promoting your mobile efforts.
- Applications. As you improve your staff’s skills in developing mobile applications, consider whether an event is big enough for its own mobile app. If not, make sure the content is easily accessible from your general app (perhaps an update of your app is in order anyway).
- Mobile site. Check out your mobile site before the event and make sure that it will provide easy access to your web content.
- Advertising. You will have businesses from your home area that will want to support the team and reach this audience that supports the team. But don’t stop there. Businesses in the host city such as restaurants, night clubs and tourist attractions want to help your audience spend money. Help them advertise on your mobile content, possibly with coupons people can show on their phones.
- Collaborate with other media. For a bowl game, conference basketball tournament or NCAA basketball game, you have at least two cities with fans in the same distant city (and may have multiple media organizations from your state). Consider whether and how you can collaborate with them and/or aggregate their content in your mobile effort. A media organization in the host city might have an app or tourist site that would help people from your community.
A big news event like this is the ideal opportunity for mobile experimentation. Beyond the fact that so many people will be using mobile devices, it’s a big news event you’re gearing up for anyway. And it’s a one-shot project. Once the game is over, your project is over, so you are not committed to anything for the long haul. But if a technique works effectively, you can decide whether and how to apply it to your continuing coverage.
If your local baseball team is likely to play in the College World Series in Omaha this June, start planning your mobile project now. You don’t want to be complaining later that Google beat you into mobile-first strategy for your community.
Read all three of my earlier “mobile-first strategy” posts together, with their comments, and a table of contents:
Or, if you prefer, you can read the other posts on the blog:
- News companies need to help local businesses pursue mobile opportunities
- News organizations need mobile-first strategy
- How news organizations need to change to pursue a mobile-first strategy