Why apps should be the LAST part of your mobile news strategy

Right now I’m on the BART train to SF, heading to the 2011 Web Conference of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. There, at 1:30 I’m speaking on a panel that, by its title, is about developing mobile apps.

Follow #aanweb on Twitter to see the conference chatter.

My job there is to explain to these general-audience, primarily local and print-centrist venues, why a native smartphone/tablet app should be the LAST part of their mobile strategy.

My main points…

1. News orgs need to start building large mobile audience & brand strategy right now! And right now, 70% of US mobile users are on feature phones, not smartphones. They need to be engaged NOW, to build brand loyalty. Otherwise it’s 1995 all over again.

2. Do your own local mobile market research. I did, in Oakland. Eye-opener. Even though (as Paul Wagner of Forkfly noted in his part of today’s panel) mobile market research info can get outdated in a few months in terms of the specific devices people use, I do believe that conducting an annual local mobile market research survey will give you a general idea of how much of your local mobile audience tends to not be using the latest or priciest technology — as well as what kinds of things they like to do on their phones. This is valuable for strategic planning.

3. Best place to start: a lean mobile-friendly web site is the cornerstone of your mobile strategy. Default to it through auto-detection, and route common smartphone platforms to your full site.

4. Offer text alert and e-mail services that include direct links to specific relevant pages, not just your home page.

5. Consider social media and e-mail as key supporting parts of your mobile strategy.

6. Link tracking. Run all links you publish VIA text, social media, or e-mail through Bit.ly or a custom link shortener to track sharing, because sharing is what people love to do on their phones.

7. Let them talk back on the go. Set up ways so people can easily text, e-mail, MMS, or contact your news org VIA social media. Also consider Evoca for accepting/managing comments by voice calls.

8. No shovelware apps! When you’re ready for apps, don’t just repackage your stories Think services, interaction, databases, sharing. Also, consider web apps before native apps. Apps can be special-purpose, like for  for special features, like you annual “best of” voting & features, or events calendar. Web apps don’t necessarily need HTM5: See Apps.USA.gov for examples. You can do feature phone apps, too.

9. Consider print in your mobile strategy — use QR codes or text messaging with auto response (based on alphanumeric codes printed with stories or features) as ways to engage your mobile audience starting from how they already interact with you.

10. Have fun! After all that, experiment with augmented reality, brain implants, other cool stuff. Try lots of small experiments before making big commitments. You don’t have to do everything, but you should try everything.

That’s it! (And yes, I did write this whole post on my Droid Incredible while taking transit from Oakland to SF. Updated it later on to add links and formatting, which isn’t really easy on WordPress Mobile.)

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