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News must go mobile

Local publishers that want to stay relevant in today’s digital society need to make personalised content available to readers whenever and wherever they are, writes LYNETTE HUNDERMARK.

South African publishers who want to remain relevant in a fast-changing media landscape must adapt their content and platforms to the needs of an audience that wants personalised news available wherever they are and in real-time.

In order to successfully compete for the attention and engagement of today’s busy and demanding audience, publishers must deliver high-quality, relevant content in real-time to their audiences in ways that fit their lifestyles.

The rise of mobile media is quickly reshaping the publishing landscape in South Africa. This is evident from a recent study conducted by e-Marketer indicating that “smartphone audience growth in South Africa this year, will see a 27.1% increase in users.” Further to which, “while feature phone users were still more likely to use their phones for other leisure activities like reading celebrity news and gossip (25%, vs. 19% of smartphone users), smartphone users followed up on sports news and scores more than those with basic models.

We are also seeing echoing trends in other markets, where more and more users are turning to mobile sites and mobile apps for news. A case in point are the findings contained in MasterCard’s Digital Evolution Index, stating that “emerging markets are adopting mobile phones at an astonishing rate” and that “the next billion users (25% of the current total) will come from 60% of the global population still not digitally connected.

Mobile consumption of content, will naturally bring with it new behavioral patterns that mean publishers must rethink how they package and present their product.

One implication of mobile media is that news consumption is no longer linear and predictable. Where old media audiences used to sit down and read a newspaper end to end, listen to a radio talk show on their way to work, or watch prime time television, their behaviour today is far more context-bound.

People don’t follow predictable routines any more, nor do they make specific times in their schedules for media. Instead, they’re always on the go and dive in for content via a smartphone when they have spare time or when they need information. And whereas they once sought news recaps and headlines, today they expect deeper value when they turn to a publication because they have often followed developments in a breaking news story on social media all day.

What’s more, most people are so busy and media-saturated that they want accurate news content provided in a user-friendly, easy and digestible manner so that they don’t need to sift through multiple feeds and sources.

Since many South Africans are mobile-first, meaning that they favor their phones as a tool for obtaining information over other forms of media such as TV, newspapers and desktop PC’s – publishers simply cannot afford to deliver a poor mobile experience. In addition many South Africans are also mobile-only internet users, further emphasizing the need for publishers to become mobile enabled news providers.

Bearing in mind considerations such as the type of content publishers offer, the needs of their audience and the type of device used by their audience (given that South Africa is still a fragmented mobile device society with feature phones rather than smartphones still being in the hands of the majority), publishers should look at what mobile platforms to support in order to reach out to the majority of the user base. Locally, we have Nokia, Asha and BlackBerry devices together with Android, Windows Phone and iPhone. As such, it is important to gain an insight into what type of mobile device is going to be adopted by a particular market so that the mobile design and user experience can be created for the correct mobile platform.

With data costs still being relatively high in South Africa, another factor to consider is the usage of low end devices such as Asha and BlackBerry, which will require their own mobile experience, specifically customized for these devices. Such customized approaches will deliver news content and images to end-users in a manner in which they will not incur huge data costs. Failure to get this right may alienate a large scale audience who simply cannot afford additional data costs to read a publication. On the other end of the spectrum, data is not a problem for iPhone and Android users who are used to high quality image rendered content.

When it comes to the mobile consumer, from my experience there are two distinct types of mobile users: a mobile web audience and an app audience. From a budgetary point of view, it’s difficult for a brand to produce apps for every major platform as well as a mobile site. So brands need to choose wisely and make sure that whatever platform they go for, the number one goal of mobile is kept in mind – to deliver a personalized and relevant experience to the mobile consumer. This can be achieved by creating a solution that must perform beautifully on the chosen platform without compromising its core functionality.

If a publisher decides to create an app, it must meet users’ expectations of adding value to their lives, make use of their device’s native features and perform even faster than a mobile site. Apps have a number of advantages for publishers and audiences alike.

These are that apps with push notifications and alerts can deliver breaking news instantly to the device without the user having to physically go into the app to search for the information. They also offer a personalised experience where the users’ preferences are stored within the app to provide faster access to the content the user values.

If apps are the next step for a publisher, they need to add more value over what a mobile site offers and be kept up to date with the latest handset operating systems.

Whether the publisher goes for apps or a mobi site (or both), its mobile news platform must deliver accurate content in a timely and speedy manner.

These qualities are the bare minimum that the audience is looking for – and publishers must meet these demands to keep their users engaged with their content.

* Lynette Hundermark, managing director of Useful & Beautiful

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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