Your guide to engaging mobile readers

Apr 08 2013

If you think creating content for smartphones and tablets is a waste of time, think again.

According to a February 2013 Nielsen report, 53 percent of Americans now own smartphones. Eighty-two percent use their devices to browse the Web and 72 percent watch videos online. Seventy-two percent of users also prefer mobile-friendly sites.

Last week, our director of STEM coverage wrote a Lab Report about adapting your stories for mobile devices. We’ve documented more insights in our e-book, “News on the go.” Here are some of the main takeaways:

What type of mobile site should you build?

For the developer

If you use a responsive design, your website will adjust automatically to the user’s device. With this approach, you’ll only have to build one site for both desktop and mobile viewing. To allow for easy browsing, look for a navigation bar that adapts to smaller screen sizes (drop-down menus work well on smartphones). Finally, make sure your fonts are simple and readable.

For the designer

The rules of graphic design are different when applied to mobile devices. Logos for mobile-first sites should be horizontal, not vertical. The text must be short and to-the-point so it can be as large as possible. If you place too much weight on decorative details, your effort might not be visible on a smartphone screen. Make sure your logo is versatile, because it will most likely appear on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, or even as a clickable icon.

For the reporter

Strong headlines are critical to attracting busy mobile readers. According to a May 2012 Google study, 86 percent of smartphone owners are multitaskers. They use their phones while doing other activities, like watching T.V. (52 percent) or reading magazines and newspapers (16 percent). Therefore, like your logo, your headlines need to be brief, direct and engaging. Avoid puns, because most mobile users will be accessing your content from a search engine.

For the videographer

Make sure to capture tight and medium shots, so that your primary subject will be easily visible on a small screen. Subtle movements, like a slight shift of the eyes, will be indiscernible. Instead, focus on more dramatic motions. Remember that the average smartphone session lasts 17 minutes, so avoid making excessively long videos if you want your reader to stay engaged.

For the newsroom leader

Mobile platforms are a relatively new frontier, so there’s no authoritative guidebook to tell you which stories will perform well with on-the-go readers. At one point or another, your staff will produce a story that fails. As a leader, you need to turn these failures into learning experiences and encourage your team to move forward. Instead of evaluating your employees based on their success, evaluate them based on the insights their projects generate. In the long run, your reporters will perfect their craft and your newsroom will benefit from the experimentation.

Download “News on the go: Field notes on storytelling for mobile devices” today.

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