Mobile Strategies for Nonprofit News Organizations


As a nonprofit news organization, you may be spending a substantial amount of your time building up your digital presence however, have you thought about extending your presence to the mobile platform?

According to recent reports from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the State of News Media Report 2012, news consumers are quickly adopting mobile devices (from smartphones to tablets) and using them to access news frequently throughout the day.

As a nonprofit news organization, do you have a mobile strategy? If not, it may be a good time to think about developing a strategy.

Your Audience – Look at your Web Stats

Before building the strategy, find out if your audience is accessing your news content from the mobile device. Take a look at your website traffic in addition to the referral traffic (those that come from social media) to see what patterns you can find. If so, what kind of devices or operating systems are they using to access your content? This can provide some key insight of the steps you need to take next.

According to a report by Misty McLaughlin, manager of user experience and Lacey Kruger, lead information architect at Convio, if 5% or more of your total site traffic is coming from mobile devices/operating systems, they recommend nonprofits create a mobile website and/or app.

Convio is a provider of cloud-based constituent engagement solutions for nonprofit organizations. McLaughlin and Kruger created “A Guide to the Mobile Web, Best Practices for Nonprofits (pdf),” which provides several great tips for nonprofits on how to get started in planning a mobile strategy.

What Is Your Focus?

Once you have found out where your audience is coming from via the mobile device, you can then start thinking about what your mobile strategy can be.

When creating a mobile strategy you should think about how your mobile presence can contribute to your existing digital presence – it should not replace it but complement it. Whether you build a mobile site or mobile app, the information you feature in it should extend the work that you are already doing.

Here are some questions to help you get started in determining what you should focus on or feature in your mobile app or site:

  • Do you have news content that your audience would like on the go?
  • Is there a location-based element to any of your news content that would make it easier for people to get that information based on where they are?
  • Is there information that your audience may want to access daily that can be evergreen (event calendar, databases, etc.)
  • Are there events you are hosting (town halls, workshops, forums) that can be further enhanced by having the information on the go that can also be easy to post or share?

These are just a few questions to help you think about what you could feature in your mobile site or mobile app. The Convio guide features several other great points about what kinds of information nonprofits have that may be beneficial to offer on the mobile device for the user.

Mobile Site or Mobile App?

When thinking about the direction to take for your mobile strategy, you can create a website that is optimized for the mobile device or create a mobile app or do both. In either case, there are benefits as well as challenges when doing either option.

A mobile website is a site that can be accessed from a browser on the user’s mobile device – mobile phone and/or tablet. When creating a website that is optimized for the mobile device, you will need to identify a provider that will allow you to customize your CMS and website design to make the content customizable for the small screen. In some cases, some organizations will create one website that works for the desktop or laptop as well as the mobile device and offer the same content on all platforms.

Other organizations will create a separate site for the mobile device that will feature some but not all of the content of the main website. It depends on what kind of news content you have and how you want to present that information on the mobile device as well as what you think people may want to access from your site while on the go.
According to usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, it’s best to create a mobile website that is different from your main website because users will interact with the mobile site differently because of its screen size, the buttons, the user’s swiping gestures, and the amount of time the user has to access the information while on the go. Nielsen suggests making a mobile website that has less content that is user-friendly because it will make it easy for your users to access the information and motivate them to come back to the site often.

There is also the option of creating a mobile app. A mobile app is an application that is downloaded and installed on the individual’s mobile device. When creating an app, simplicity is key. The app should have a specific purpose for the user and should be very easy to use. Often mobile apps will feature one particular function – to search for information, to play a game, to find a location or to use it for utility purposes (calculator, compass, take notes, view a calendar, etc). It’s important to identify the news content or features that you can offer that will make your app attractive to download and be used frequently.

Nielsen also provides some tips on how to design a mobile app. In his usability research, he has found that users perform better at specific tasks when using an app than a mobile website.

When it comes to making a mobile app, there are many resources needed, and cost can be an issue. Instead of trying to build the app in-house, you may want to consider a third-party provider to build it for you. Here are just a few companies that specialize in creating custom mobile apps:

Look at Others for Inspiration

As you are planning to build your mobile strategy, spend time looking at what others have done – not only those in the news industry but look at apps and mobile websites from other industries for inspiration.

Several INN Members have built mobile apps and mobile websites. Take a look: