Mobile Technology and Associations- Still Confused?
After attending the ASAE Tech show earlier this month it’s apparent the association community, like the rest of the world, is embracing mobile devices. Not only were smartphones and tablets everywhere, but mobility was a key topic in many of the sessions. Like social communities over the past few years everyone wanted to talk about mobile, yet no one quite knew what it all meant.
As an exhibitor at the show, I had a chance to talk with dozens of attendees, and listen to some of the challenges, opportunities and feedback regarding the move towards mobile devices. Below are some of the insights I garnered from both the sessions and attendees.
4 Things to Know about Mobile Technology
1. Confusion is Common.
In talking with attendees it is clear there’s a lot of confusion surrounding mobile devices. When you’re talking about mobile devices, are you talking about eReaders, smartphones, tablets or wireless laptops? These are all very different devices and have many unique advantages and challenges.
If your audience is using an eReader such as a Kindle you will need a very different content creation and distribution strategy then if they are using a tablet or wireless laptop. An iPad user will have a very different experience than a smartphone user. Rushing too quickly to meet the technology hype may be a mistake. For all the mobile chatter, if you look at the types of devices actually hitting your content pages, mobile devices likely make up a small number- sub 5%. This doesn’t mean it won’t change, but it does means you have time to plan.
2. Start with the User in Mind.
The individuals who appeared most organized thought about their content from the user prospective. Many of the smaller mobile devices such as smartphone have bandwidth and screen size constraints. If you have a large body of documents that needs to be quickly and easily searched, having the content in an eLibrary wrapped in metadata is probably a lot more important than having content in an ePub format so it renders well on your iPhone or Android device.But if you have a manuscript that members will read end to end having an ePub format makes a lot of sense. If you have a conference program book with session itinerary and speaker bios, a mobile app may be the best solution. The point is, think about the content you want to share and how your user is going to interact with that content. Then look for the technology.
3. Don’t Chase the Device. Have the Device Come to You.
I was surprised by the number of attendees that came to our booth asking about eBooks with digital rights management or mobile app, but really needed a mobile friendly eLibrary with search capabilities and access control. An eLibrary or Digital Publishing Platform can be integrated into a website and has the advantage of attracting users to your site and not needing to go through Amazon or Apple for distribution of the content.
In defining your mobile or content strategy, avoid chasing devices. Think about the broad application and which solution will serve the greatest number of people. Only a very small number of attendees I talked to actually needed an ePub or mobile app. This doesn’t mean these products don’t have their place, but a lot of people were jumping to the wrong solution based on riding a technology wave. Most smartphones, tablets and now eReaders have browsers that work great on mobile-friendly sites. Apps still have the advantage of allowing the user to access content offline, but even this advantage is eroding as more and more sites are being built with HTML-5 which allows users to cache content on the device and work offline.
4. Time is on your side.
Like any new technology, standards are not defined and propriety products are common. Right now eReaders, smartphones and tablets are often structured to read proprietary formats and apps in hopes of controlling the content. Amazon, Google (Android) and Apple want your content and have tried to set up control points with their devices to force you to distribute your content or app on their site. These walls will likely erode over time. Now even most Kindles have browsers that allow you to access the internet—this greatly reduces the need to use Amazon and Apple as distribution points.
Without a doubt, mobile devices are here to stay and will bring many opportunities to further engage and serve your members, but as content owners it’s important to think about how these devices can be integrated into your overall content creating and distribution strategy.
The dust has not yet settled around mobile products so your best bet is to think broad and look to maintain as much control as possible around your content and its distribution.
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