Mobile choices – respond, stand alone or app?

There have been many blogs, tweets – even proper well written articles - on the various merits of responsive web vs. dedicated mobile sites vs. apps. Many people around the world make a very good living from ruminating over this very question and then sharing these ruminations with a willing (and paying) audience.

To be fair – it is an important question – although the advancement and capabilities of HTML and CSS over the last 2-3 years has (in my mind at least) made the question “Should I make my site responsive?” pretty redundant – the answer is yes – for small (if any) extra development and design cost you will receive a site that behaves (mostly) and looks (at the very least) fine across all types of device.

More fundamental to mobile site success is the presentation of relevant content and the effect that viewing your site and services on different devices has on user experiences and journeys. Your approach to this will have a very direct impact on the all important conversion (and therefore ROI) of your online offering.

So we agree that as a minimum your site should be responsive – now it needs to meet the content needs of a user viewing it from a mobile. So consider using a Content Management System (or method) that removes content from the user view of your site as the device (and therefore browser window size) gets smaller. 

An example could be, if a user is viewing your site on a mobile,  remove the content area which shows latest publications from your home page which are seen when viewed on a ’desktop’. Maybe leave a link to your twitter account (which contains more easily accessible (that’s a subject for another blog) links to news, events and comment.  

In effect you are keeping your mobile site simple – focused on only including content that drives and encourages visitors to move along the path to your core (or Macro) conversions.

A further example here and how making your content fit the device – is if your organisation sells sofas online – show simple product data and images on a mobile. This will begin to engage users and simple data is more suitable and easier to read on a smaller device – but allow the visitor to email themselves a link of the full product information.

This will enable them to view more product info (videos etc.) on a desktop or tablet when they get home or into the office. This content strategy will enhance the quality of the online experience and keep visitors engaged in both site and service/product.

Here the objective (or macro conversion) is the actually the same “Sell the sofa” but the path to achieving this (micro conversions) are different - on the mobile site it is emailing a link and on the desktop site it could be playing the product video which shows different visual angles for the sofa?

I’ll write more on conversions in a future blog along with views on the update of Google’s Universal Analytics (which can support the measuring of the success an impact of showing different content on different devices).

In regards to a separate mobile site – this can work very well for specific and focused businesses – those with a limited number of customer transaction/interaction (I know they are different things….) types.

A successful example is a client I have been working with for 2-3 years now – Principal Hayley Hotels. They have a very clear macro conversion objective – sell hotel rooms – by creating a separate mobile site (that is automatically shown when the server detects a mobile http request) the user is presented with a stripped down and focused user journey that is all designed and structured around quick, easy and secure room booking and payment.

So, what about apps? Well the younger demographic use them, a lot. Where do we start with the gaming and communication apps? A simple answer here – if you are aiming a younger demographic for your services – develop an app for specific business objectives – be that delivering gaming content, creating competitions etc.

Here I also think they are especially relevant for businesses that want to offer a more specific and personalised level of content or interaction with their clients or if there is a specific level or market of interest for an organisations data or services.

Think of a weather app for the BBC or indeed their iPlayer applications. The BBC provide a wide range of services but it recognised that a wider range of its demographic wanted to listen to digital radio on their mobiles and that a slightly smaller demographic wanted to have access to more detailed weather data.

These should also be considered for very specific or very regular user journeys – for example managing finances or checking train times. There are many and in some cases (National Rail and First Direct), very successful examples of organisations proving a very direct service to their users through the use of apps.

All three options have their clear benefits to organisations and their clients. If you clearly understand and work on your web strategy – and specifically how this aligns with, meets and supports your business objectives - then you can start to make   decisions on which blend works best for you. If you need help in starting this journey – drop me a line.

A blog about blogging

What is it and should you do it?

I’m not 100% sure what blogging is (stay with me) but if you have a commitment to good writing and get personal and professional pleasure from a considered explanation of a topic then you should do it…

I lean heavily towards looking at blogging simply as (good) writing on the web – not ‘posting’ or ‘tweeting’ or ‘liking’ but writing. This perception (for it might not be the correct one) helps me differentiate it as a communication and engagement tool from more instant chat ‘instruments’ such as Twitter, Google+ etc.

It is however a method that creates contradictions and conflicting views from digital guru’s (what an appalling contextual term), online experts and consumers and these should be taken into account before dipping your virtual quill in the online inkpot of the web.

A few years ago (in ancient times) the term for writers of blogs – bloggers – was seen as derisory. Those that wrote blogs were not to be taken seriously and were seen as individuals who liked the sound of their own ‘voice’ or who could not get ‘proper’ journalistic roles. At the time I worked at Reuters and within the journalistic industry bloggers were merely a ‘fad’.

That has clearly changed beyond comprehension over the last 5-10 years. Some bloggers are now seen as market influencers, people who can in some cases make or break an organisation’s reputation and there is huge commercial value, significant status and occasionally celebrity applied to those bloggers that have built up a significant following and are able to wield such power.

However (contradiction alert) it has also in some quarters been announced that blogging is dead and that Twitter and other chat instruments are applying the final kicks. This apparent paradox only adds to the confusion around the future and purpose of blogs.

Badly composed and lazy blogs perpetuate this blog graveyard – you know the ones - completed by CEO’s (or more likely their comms team) that are seen as a chore rather than an opportunity to share and communicate an interesting opinion, objective, viewpoint or idea.  These churn out the same corporate, bland ‘noise’ that you are likely to receive from an anaemic press release. They are an example of bad writing - they give blogs a bad name.

Well structured, considered blogs on the other hand can be real gems of content and only add to the engagement of existing and future customers as well as attract the eye of those influencers I spoke about earlier. Ensuring these are completed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable writers and that the content is relevant (to the organisation, subject and field of expertise) are obvious, but often ignored pre-requesites.

A more recent knife into the collective shoulders of blogs is that good blogging requires some hard work and commitment from individuals and organisations and (to be honest) people get bored of exhibiting both of those attributes especially when a quick ‘retweet’ or ‘like’ can be seen to have the same immediate effect (more site visitors, increased commercial exposure, cost-effective marketing) as a well considered written blog piece..

Blogging has had a recent emergence in the digital consciousness (if it ever went away) since Matt Cutts announced that guest blogging for linking’s sake (at a high level this is the practice of one party paying to put a pointless and irrelevant blog on another parties site that includes paid for links) would no longer be tolerated by Google.  Those blogs/sites and bloggers who partook in this unsavoury act would be ‘blacklisted’, ranked down, have their Candy Crush account blocked or something like that.

I saw this not only as an obvious attempt for Google to again stamp its authority on the web’s content but to also look to reinvigorate the art of good blogging and by default, good writing and content.

That is a good thing – and after all if you blog content then the NSA won’t come looking for it (allegedly - I am obliged to say).

So if you and your organisation wishes to not only focus on the engagement of clients through the immediacy of instant social media but also has a focus on the longer term creation of a network of what can be a more precisely engaged contacts then blogging could be the way to go.

If you don’t believe me check out a rapidly growing communication ‘platform’-  www.medium.com  a writers paradise that (ironically) has as one of its founders, a former Twitter executive.

I hope having written all of this that the blog was useful and ticked my own self-imposed measures. If not – then do let me know or better still blog your own thoughts and send me the link. Just don’t tweet about it.

Social Media Crib Sheet

Can the delivery of some your business objectives be supported by the effective use of social media? Can events be better publicised and therefore attended? Can the member base be increased? Can sponsorship revenue be increased?

The answer to all three of these examples is yes. All research across multiple markets points to the fact that an effective social media service within an organisation has a direct impact on an increase in revenue and improvement in reputation of that organisation.

To deliver an effective Social Media ‘channel’ detailed and focused research should be completed to formulate a strategy which identifies quick wins and longer targets and objectives – which could be % increase in event attendees, % increase in sales or a % increase in members.

Social Media cannot be ignored – public sector, corporates, individuals, competitors all communicate and access news and opinion through Social Media – in many cases it is a signpost to content – and needs to be used smartly to gain maximum benefit to your organisation. Do not be scared of Social Media (consider the South West Trains or Principal Hayley examples of one embracing and the other running away from social media and the effect this had on reputation).

As a starting point for research and therefore the creation of a strategy some key components and tasks can be identified.

Some (this is not exhaustive as it is a crib sheet) key components of a solid social media strategy are based around;

Building Networks

1. Review current followers, friends and contacts.

  • How many of these followers are key contacts?

  • Are they members? If not could they be?

  • Are the journalists? Could they act as sudo-publicists for the organisation? Could they feed into the site (submit pieces for publication)?

  • Are they bloggers? Could they link their site to yours?

  • How many of your followers/friends have a large follower base themselves

  • Those that have a large network should be contacted and a relationship built. This can expose your organisation to the contacts own network thus increasing its own potential contact base.

  • Do they have their own sites or work for large organisations?

  • Can you work towards getting these external sites to link into your site (this is also a major SEO benefit).

2. Review the market.

  • Use monitoring tools to search for trends.

  • See what competitors/local gov/central gov/charities/academies/media/global organisations are saying about a wide range of risk related issues.

  • Connect to these – especially market influencers (who may be bloggers/journo’s). 

3. Effective and timely distribution and publication of content across all  platforms 

  • Very simple - get your content on the platforms quickly but accurately – be aware that members will wait for content – non-members will not. Understand and dare I say analyse the risk/reward. But be bold.

  • Your professional integrity is key – but the organisations openness and honesty can counter this.

4. Creating relevant content (blogs, tweets, news stories, comments etc.) 

  • This includes ensuring events and publications are what people (not just existing customers or members want to read).

  • Search for market trends and ensure that senior board members are able to comment and blog upon issues

  • Also research (using Google Analytics tools) what users and members are searching for on your own site – this will advise you what interests your own users have. Use this to inform how to communicate through social media but do not use this as the only guide.

5. Use the platforms sensibly 

Twitter

  • Quick notifications of events, appointments, links to specific news stories and blogs.

  • Users need and demand quick, easy to digest notifications and reminders.

Linkedin 

  • Professional network, so use for open discussions on market trends, new legislation, news stories and encourage members and non-members to contribute. It is a very subtle way of gaining non-member and the casual observer trust and interest in your organisation.

  • Consider using as a supportive tool of your own forum. Forums are only of interest to members and those that can access them. They are a closed shop!! Analyse how much true benefit members (not just the board) gain from having access to a closed shop.

Facebook 

  • Use carefully – but be aware that this is becoming a more commercial platform. Push and publicise events (these could be your or partner events, webinars etc.)

  • Use this to also connect to sponsors pages, event location pages (Principal Hayley for the Palace hotel for example), government, charity and school.

Blogs

  • Do it!!! Get a 'good writer' (see my previous blogs for who these people are!!) to write 3-4 blogs (between them) a month.

  • Get external sources to link to these blogs.

  • Make the blogs relevant- comment on the latest news (floods, legislations etc.)

  • Think about podcasts!! Seriously – a 20 minute weekly podcast – get it sponsored!

  • Get sponsors, advertisers to blog. Get external sources to blog! Do not however take payment from people wishing to blog!

  • Ask members to write pieces for discussion

  • All of  these link to also increasing SEO rankings (for another document!!) and working closely with the analysis of the site via Google Analytics to build a picture of what people are talking about (Social Media) and what people are viewing (your website).

I can work up a more formal social media strategy for you that can feed into the wider communications strategy. After completing the research targets can be set (and measured) and then fed into the business plan.