Although mobile is still young, it will undoubtedly change the game for association communications. Here are the technologies and applications your association needs to be thinking about.
By Christina Folz
THESE DAYS, IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYTHING BIG IS SMALL. On January 27, the iPad—Apple's new tablet device— joined a crowded marketplace of mobile devices and e-readers that includes the iPhone, Kindle, BlackBerry, Google Android, Windows Mobile, and many others.
No one knows yet which of these devices will become dominant; how consumers (and association members) will drive development; or how advertising will fit into the mobile picture for publications. But one thing is clear: The mobile platform is here to stay, and therefore, association professionals must start thinking about how they can engage their members through these ubiquitous devices.
Indeed, Jeff De Cagna, the chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, recently named mobile as one of the top ten 2010 trends for associations. "Associations need to give immediate and serious thought to how they will establish a meaningful presence on their associations' ‘third screens,'” he wrote in a January 29 blog post on SmartBlog Insights.
At this stage of the game, probably the single biggest step that association professionals can take to engage in mobile communications is to take part in social media. Associations that are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites have already established a presence on some of the most popular mobile apps out there. "In addition to serving as a platform for engagement, mobile devices are personal access points to the rapidly growing public and private networks to which association stakeholders belong,” said De Cagna, who is offering a three-part webinar in March called "The Future of Associating is Mobile—Powerful Strategies for Third Screen Success.”
Tweet All About It
Twitter was specifically designed to be compatible with short-message service texting—a communications protocol developed for the exchange of mobile-to-mobile information; therefore, it is an ideal format for information-sharing on the go. You can use Twitter to instantly update your members on news and events during your association's annual meeting, for example, or to distribute the latest information relevant to your field—making you the trusted resource that your members will turn to, wherever they are.
At my association—the Optical Society of America—we used Twitter extensively at our October 2009 annual meeting to post real-time updates on plenary talks, conference symposia, and sessions, as well as media and blog coverage of the event as it happened. It also enabled us to instantly inform participants of schedule changes and to organize impromptu get-togethers with members. Facebook offers a similar capability for distributing information quickly, through its fan pages. These pages are easy to set up, and they are far more effective than Facebook groups for distributing news because your posts appear directly in your fans' news feeds.
Podcasts and Blogs
Podcasts are, by their very nature, mobile engagement tools, since the development of podcasting was fueled in part by the popularity of the iPod. It's a good idea to make audio and video casts part of your current or future communications strategy. If you already produce a regular podcast, make sure it is easily available to your members through iTunes. Ideally, you should distribute your "show” on a regular schedule, so your members can plan when they want to listen to it, perhaps during their next commute or plane ride.
Blogs are another great tool that can work in concert with tweeting to get information to members on-the-go. The blog host WordPress offers a free mobile plug-in called WPtouch that will automatically format your WordPress blog for easy viewing on an iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, or BlackBerry Storm.
Yep, There's an App for That
If you use a vendor to create a digital version of your association publication, check with them about their mobile options. You may not even realize that you are getting a mobile-formatted product—which you can then advertise to your members. For example, digital editions from Texterityare automatically formatted to be viewable on an iPhone and iPod.
For those looking to take the next step, Texterity also now offers its customers the option to create a magazine-branded iPhone app that allows users to comment on articles, access dynamic feeds, and search for content. In addition, it offer opportunities to sell advertising or to raise revenue by charging members for the app.
"It is only recently that associations have started looking into how they can generate revenue through digital editions,” said Kim Kett, director of business development for Texterity. "Mobile is definitely something that associations need to be thinking about.”
QMags,another digital provider, recently launched a mobile magazine version that works on all web-enabled handhelds. So far, QMags has launched four mobile titles. In addition, a company called DubMeNowworks with associations to create branded apps that work on the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Mobile.
But before you spend lots of money to develop your own killer app, it's best to get a feel for the mobile landscape and how you can meet your members' needs. Start by experimenting with social media—particularly at your meetings and events—where you know people will be relying on mobile technology. Talk to your members or survey them about their mobile preferences, and use web analytics that reveal how your members are accessing your website and/or publications.
Although mobile technology is still young, it will undoubtedly change the game for association communications—so make sure you're a player.
Christina Folz is managing editor of Optics & Photonics News for the Optical Society of America and serves on the Association Media & Publishing Final Proof Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to write this article for the membership.
SPECIAL OFFER: Attendees to Association Media & Publishing's Annual Conference, June 14-16, 2010 at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC, earn access to a complimentary Mobile Magazing Webinar given by Jeff De Cagna on May 20th. You must register for the conference by May 5th to qualify for the free webinar. Contact Emily Hicks for more information.