The Key to Content-Heavy Apps

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USE THE POWER OF PUSH MESSAGES

About 31% of Americans connect to news via alerts according to "How Americans Get Their News," a March 2014 study by the American Press Institute (API). The unique benefits of mobile, such as geolocation, add additional relevance to breaking news alerts. So it's no wonder that MobileGroove's Salz is bullish on the power of push messaging. She calls it "an essential for engagement and content distribution."

Push messaging is similar to text messaging, allowing content creators (and marketers) a more direct relationship with audiences. It's a way, according to Salz, for content creators to send "short, pertinent, personal, relevant, and valuable" content directly to readers. Because it is an opt-in technology, it allows you to reach a more engaged reader.

Now, technology is allowing content creators to deliver an even more personalized experience. Salz says that with some apps, users are able to say, "Yes, I liked this content-please send me more about this," and personalize the content they receive. She also hails the emergence of what she calls the "Rich Inbox." These messages can be saved to an inbox and can continue to be updated by the publisher. So rather than send an updated message because of, say, a typo, a publisher can just make the change and the message in the app will dynamically change. Salz points to ABC News and BBC as news apps that are getting the use of push messages right.

But geolocation adds a whole other level to what content creators can do with their mobile apps. Proximity alerts let a reader know when news is breaking in his area so that he does not have to go searching for the information or be surprised by walking out his front door to discover a crane collapse or major weather event. Often, major headlines take center stage in news apps, creating a dilemma for designers who want to showcase local stories before they lose relevance-but proximity alerts can help your content get seen.

Breaking News announced the launch of proximity alerts in June 2014, touting it as the first ever technology of its kind. The alerts let users know when news breaks near them, but we all know that too many push messages can be annoying and turn once-valuable information into white noise. So Breaking News apps' users can mute stories they do not want to hear about and even set quiet hours, so they aren't receiving noisy push messages in the middle of the night.

GET PERSONAL

By now, you probably know that your readers want targeted, personalized content. But if it was as easy as just deciding to deliver personalized content, everyone would be doing it well. There are a number of ways to handle the task of deciding how to deliver that experience.

Some content providers allow users to choose the types of content they are interested in. This is the most transparent way of providing targeted content, and it puts the most responsibility in the hands of the user. Most alert systems work by asking the user to set up a broad preference and then to pick from among the newsfeeds within that topic. Not surprisingly, apps have turned to offering readers new ways to manage the tide of alerts, and in addition to making the managing of alerts easier, many offer the ability to mute the alerts when a story is being heavily reported.

"Basically, consider the reader," says Challinor. "TLC (time, location, and context) are key! ... Make it easy to navigate and personalize. Maybe offer personalization of sections or genres that are of most interest (e.g., sports, local news). It's not rocket science but so many don't think about all this."

Zite, at its launch in 2011, represented the "next generation of content discovery and personalized publishing." It relies on a learning model, allowing users to select what is interesting to them and adding a socially driven learning twist. The app selects articles based on what is trending in the reader's social media circles. And yet, the app goes well beyond simply copying threads from a person's social media circles. The app takes the user's stated tastes, mines the interests of his network, cleans up the content, and it then marries this to his inferred content preferences based on his activity.

The killer app idea within Zite is that it learns by watching which stories a user reads and then applies a score to the stories based on his activity, lowering the score of stories as they get older and lose relevance. Zite, which was acquired by CNN in 2011, was then purchased by Flipboard in 2014.

But personalization isn't all about content type and subject matter. It's also about the device your user is on. "We actually know ... that when you're on your tablet, it's a lean-back experience, as opposed to a lean-forward," says Salz. She also points out that tablet users are not necessarily consuming the same content as their smartphone-carrying counterparts. For instance, most personal finance apps, she says, are used on tablets.

"Understanding the need state of your user when you're delivering the content" is important, Salz says, because those readers may be looking for different types of content. Tablet users are looking for longer content that they can be absorbed in, while smartphone users are on-the-go and likely looking for shorter, snackable content.

Challinor agrees that the device and context continue to be important. "Mobile handsets are for breaking news, fun, ‘filler for your day' info, and sharing with friends. [Users are] on the move largely," he says, adding that mobile users are more likely to be using their devices during the day.

In many ways, the rules for content-heavy apps are the same rules smart content producers have been following all along. You need to make sure you're creating relevant content and make sure your audience can find it-and sometimes that means pushing it directly in front of them. In other words, if you remember your content ABCs and apply them to the app age, you and your content should fare just fine.

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