|Brinati|Pathways to Mobile: Which Should You Choose?
If you missed the recent AM&P Lunch & Learn in Chicago, here’s what you need to know about responsive design, mobile websites, and native apps — including figuring out which might be right for you.
By Teresa M. Brinati
January 2014 marked the first time Americans used smartphone and tablet apps more than PCs to access the Internet. This tectonic shift has ramifications for associations and how members are increasingly using mobile devices to access and consume information. In "Your Association Can Go Mobile,” Association Media & Publishing’s Lunch & Learn education session on June 10, 2014 at the American Dental Association in Chicago, attendees collected advice and tips on the latest options in mobile communications for associations.
Responsive Design vs Mobile Websites vs Native Apps
Garenne Bigby, a web developer for the David James Group, discussed the pros and cons of responsive web design, mobile websites, and native apps.
Responsive web design allows a single website to fit a variety of size environments — for example, desktop, tablet, or smartphone. The advantages are many: one website is easier to administer, one URL to publicize and market, easy search engine optimization (SEO), and low cost.
"But one-size-fits-all doesn’t always work,” Bigby notes. Responsive web design is a relatively new technology, and most responsive frameworks do not work with Internet Explorer, which is a disadvantage.
Comparatively, a mobile website offers the best approach for the user experience because it’s designed specifically for a mobile device and mobile user, plus it loads rapidly. However, building a mobile site in addition to a desktop version is not cheap, Bigby cautions. Other cons include multiple URLs or redirection, and two versions of the site to update and apply SEO.
A native app, on the other hand, is software downloaded to a device made for a specific operating system (e.g., Apple, Android, Windows). Apps can be costly because different versions are needed for different operating systems and also require approval of subsequent updates. Users don’t always update apps, and marketing and SEO require separate attention.
But the pros are plentiful: Apps offer a terrific user experience, full and complete control of content appearance, and quick load time. Best of all, the association raises its visibility by having its app icon on members’ mobile devices.
"It’s great marketing,” Bigby says.
Apps for Publications
If you’re thinking about launching a publication app, Kim Kett, vice president of national accounts for GTxcel, recommends answering the following questions:
Which platforms are your members using to get content?
Is your publication content presented in HTML on a website, available as a digital edition, or both?
Would your advertisers be willing to sponsor the app?
How much time, productivity, and money will the app require of your current resource configuration? Or, will you need to hire more staff or shift resources to get the app done?
Your magazine has much to gain from an app. Digital metrics allow you to more accurately measure what’s being read in your publication, and there are more diverse revenue opportunities, particularly when it comes to engaging advertisers.
If a publication app is not in your immediate future, there are other ways to be mobile. Kett suggests a mobile-friendly website, mobile-optimized emails, and being present on social media.
In the meantime, to see what other people are seeing when they come to your website on a mobile device, Kett recommended checking out Responsinator. Responsinator is an online tool that provides a quick indication of how a site will look on the most popular devices.
"A digital and mobile strategy allows you to reach members where they live — which is on their mobile devices,” Kett says.
Laura Welsh, director of business development for Core-apps, highlighted the benefits of event apps, which commonly include schedules, exhibitor and event listings, floor mapping with routing, social networking, and alerts. More sophisticated features are audience polling, session check-in (for continuing education credit), session evaluations, and attendee rosters with opt-in functionality.
Before getting carried away by the virtual bells and whistles, you need to know why you want a mobile app for your conference, what your goals for the app are, and what your budget is, Welsh notes.
Another decision is whether it’s a native app or written in HTML5, which is housed on the Web and runs across all mobile platforms and devices. Either way, six to eight weeks should be allotted for development of your event app.
Once you have the app, Welsh offers these tips:
Publicize the URL for the app in your event’s registration area.
Include a QR code in the print edition of your conference program and on posters scattered around your event.
Incentivize participation — offer prizes for signing up or doing some app-related activity.
Make sure your event app is never too large to download over 3G, which is the current baseline for mobile communications technology.
Contract with a vendor that can insure wifi in sessions projected to have high usage.
There were many takeaways from the presentations. "For me it was learning more about responsive design for a website and how it can be an alternative to apps,” says Carolyn Tatar, senior manager for product development and management at the American Dental Association.
Angel Alvarez-Mapp, executive director of Congregation Beth Shalom, left the session with a positive outlook. "Regardless of the size of your association, you can definitely go mobile,” he says.
Teresa M. Brinati is director of publishing at the Society of American Archivists. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this event for our members who were unable to attend.