News media companies: Stretch your imagination for mobility


INMA Mobile Summit benchmarks mobile consumption, success, and cultural underpinnings of modern media companies
INMA Mobile Summit benchmarks mobile consumption, success, and cultural underpinnings of modern media companies

Every media company wants to know the secret sauce to mobile success, and INMA recently brought together the brightest minds on the subject. 

The INMA Mobile Summit was held a few days before the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas. Combined, the events were a baptism into all things mobile. 

Here are some key takeaways I got from the INMA Mobile Summit. 

Mobile remains more of an audience story and a cultural story than an advertising story – to the consternation of publishers. 

For example, non-voice mobile usage increased 613% from 2010 to 2014 to nearly three hours per day among American consumers. According to Yahoo, while 66% of consumers interact with news on their mobile device, less than 5% of their time on that mobile device is dedicated to news. 

Most start-ups in the Austin technology corridor are not “mobile-first,” but “mobile-only.” There is no “mobile strategy” or “mobile team” any more than a newspaper in 1970 had a “print strategy” or a “print team.” 

Mobile is so fundamental at Facebook that Mark Zuckerberg will tell an employee to go away if an idea or solution doesn’t include a mobile format or solution.

The ubiquity of mobile was everywhere at the Summit. One speaker said that responsive is not a mobile design technique. It’s an organisational approach built around the user experience.

The new phraseology for engagement on a mobile device is “thumb-stopping content.” 

News on the mobile device is speed over accuracy, small screens and large distractions, and thinking particle (segment, paragraph, infographic) over article. 

Mario Garcia of Garcia Media says there are two tempos to the modern news company: “24/7” constant flow of information and “curated” – edited and art-directed packages. “Raw meat” is for the smartphone and “cooked steak” is for print. The 24/7 model is all about the journalism of interruption: speed with (not over) accuracy, short over long, facts over analysis. 

An emerging value currency in mobile is “time saved” over “time spent.” 

The mobile editor is the next crucial addition to the journalism mix: curating in a hurry for an audience that thrives on frequent interruptions. 

When identifying mobile opportunities, think about where and how people are wasting their time, having difficulty with technology, and/or looking for information, digital media futurist Amy Webb says.

Media companies must create an attention strategy for mobile, as clicks and downloads are not valuable metrics. Consider “dwell rates.” 

Vox Media is a microcosm of the new digital media companies. The company’s big bets are social, topical, real-time, and that brands matter now more than ever. 

A new class of talent has emerged for the digital-only media companies. They grew up online. They hacked their way to influence. They may use new tools, but they embrace the principles of previous generations: storytelling, engagement, truth. 

While much attention is paid to the smartwatch, it is the broader genre of wearables that will change society in the next three years: rings, handbags, shirts that change colours based on moods and are driven by sensors. Wearables will be a US$50 billion industry by 2017! 

These takeaways only scratch the surface of the key learnings from the INMA Mobile Summit. 

Combined, they paint a powerful cultural picture that is at odds with how legacy media companies are organised: still around the romance of print. 

To my eye, “mobile” is less important than “mobility”: that media is becoming an out-of-the-home, away-from-the-desktop consumption experience. Are we ready for such a pivot? Can we have a conversation about how to inject news into a person’s “Internet of Things”? 

What the INMA summit did was stretch the imagination, sometimes uncomfortably. Yet the news media industry needs a stretch from time to time. Watch this space for more discomfort in the near future!

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