Over the last few years, I have been paying an increasing amount of attention to mobile technology and its intersection with the arts. Many people in our field hold the philosophy that mobile is the future. I would argue that mobile is the present—it’s where things already are.
- There are currently 6 billion mobile subscribers worldwide. That’s 87% of the world’s population.
- As of Dec 2011, there were 331.6 million wireless subscriber connections in the United States. When you divide the number of active connections by the total population of the U.S. and its territories, that’s a penetration rate of 104%.
- In March 2012, the number of U.S. mobile subscribers using smartphones surpassed the number of those using standard feature phones.
- In the United States, 25% of Internet users are mobile only.
If any of you are waiting for a “tipping point” to arrive before you begin exploring how to engage audiences via mobile devices, allow me to gently inform you that you are late to the party.
The point has tipped.
So what are your options?
Participate in mobile-optimized environments
Thankfully, most of us already use mobile-optimized environments to communicate with our audiences. Your Facebook pages and Twitter profiles are presented to mobile users in an optimized format, and your messages on those platforms appear in your followers’ activity streams on their mobile devices—which is critically important given that over 50% of Facebook and Twitter users access their accounts from smartphones and tablet computers.
Develop a mobile website
Whew! Okay, so at least you have some mobile-optimized content. Now, what about your website? For those of you who have a mobile website, good job. Skip this section. For those of you who do not have a mobile website, I have some questions for you:
- What percentage of your website’s traffic comes from mobile devices? If you have Google Analytics integrated with your website, there is a mobile report that will give you this information. If you do not have Google Analytics or a comparable analytics program integrated with your website, start with that.
- How many monthly visitors need to be coming to your website via mobile devices before you actively pursue providing them with an optimized experience? This is not a rhetorical question. What is YOUR tipping point? How much of your audience needs to access your site from smartphones and tablet computers before you invest time, energy, and possibly money in a mobile-optimized website?
Mobile websites do not have to cost a great deal of money. If you are using a content management system like Joomla or Drupal to power your website, there are free and low-cost modules that can optimize your current website’s content for display on mobile screens. If you do not use a content management system or your CMS does not have a mobile module, there are free and low-cost services that allow you build your own mobile site.
If you do contract a web developer to build a mobile site for you, be sure to isolate the content that will be of particular interest to mobile users. Use your site’s analytics to help you prioritize which areas of your website need to be mobile-optimized. This will help you to rein in the costs for developing a separate mobile site.
Redesign your standard website to be responsive to mobile screens
If you are already planning on redesigning your website, then you might consider building your site with a responsive design, wherein the site’s layout and content presentation changes based upon the size of the screen on which it is viewed. Sites built with a responsive design typically have at least three sizes—one for desktop and laptop computers, one for table computers, and one for smartphones.
Sounds perfect, right? So why doesn’t everyone have a responsively designed website? Cost and awareness. Firstly, most people are unaware of responsive design and, correspondingly, do not know to include it in the RFPs they send out to web designers. Secondly, responsive design costs substantially more than designing a standard website. How much more varies depending upon the complexity of your website.
Responsive design is certainly going to become the standard practice in web design. As more content management systems adopt responsive design and as web development tools evolve to automate the process, we will see the costs for implementing this type of web design reach a more affordable price point.
Build a mobile app
Why in the world would an arts organization want to build a mobile app for marketing and promotional purposes? Here are three key reasons:
- Smartphone culture is app culture. If you own a smartphone, then you know that smartphone users typically open the internet browser when they are searching for something. So you need a mobile website to insure that seekers on mobile browsers encounter optimized content when they find you on the mobile web. But if you want your audience to repeatedly engage with your content over time, they want an app for that.
- Deeper engagement opportunities. With mobile apps, you have the ability to utilize native features of the smartphone to deepen engagement activities. For example: an app could access the phone’s GPS feature to provide event-specific content to any app subscriber within a defined proximity of your venue. All other subscribers would see your standard app, but those subscribers near your venue will see content specific to that day’s event.
- Push notifications. Mobile apps with push notifications allow you to send text messages directly to your app subscribers. At InstantEncore, we have seen arts organizations use push notifications to alert subscribers to mobile-only promotional offers, new streaming audio and video content, logistical changes, traffic challenges, etc. This type of outbound communication is not possible through mobile websites.
Like responsive design, building a mobile app from scratch can be too costly for many arts organizations. Additionally, mobile apps are built for specific platforms. Android apps cannot be used on iPhones and vice versa. If you do contract an app developer to create an app for you, make certain that the app will be available on at least the Android and Apple platforms (covering 80% of the U.S. market).
Pursue a multi-platform mobile solution
Okay, I can hear you now, “Seriously? I need a mobile website and mobile apps? I’m never going to be able to do that.” Let me be clear: if you are initiating a mobile strategy, a mobile website is a need, whereas mobile apps are a want.
On the other hand, the possibility does exist to have a mobile website AND mobile apps through a single, affordable service.
There are a number of multi-platform mobile solution providers catering specifically to the arts and culture sector, including: InstantEncore, Toura, CloudTix, Mobile Roadie, TourSphere, ReverbNation, and many more. Each of these providers delivers different features and possibilities. I encourage you to check them out to see if a packaged solution could meet your needs.
No matter which solution you pursue, stasis is not an option. So get moving!