Go Mobile or Go Home

How many of us have been part of organizations that feel a sense of accomplishment and relevance once they finally publish or update their website? How many of us have experienced that joy in the past five years?

If the internet were a sport, finishing or updating your web site would feel like winning the championship. Put the champagne bottles away, though. In reality, having a basic web site is more like making it into the last playoff spot by the skin of your teeth.woman on cell phone

Put another way, if you think having a web site alone is going to take your church, school, or organization from bottom to international acclaim, it’s time to put away your mixed CD, throw away your 4XL white T-shirts, and join us in 2015.

We all know about social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, how often do we think about how our audience will consume our digital content? Will they be at home, at school or in a library? Will they have access to high-speed internet? Will they use a computer, a phone, or a tablet?

The Facts

This last question is becoming increasingly critical in our day and age. According to Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center American adults are becoming increasingly dependent on mobile devices to access the internet. Consider these statistics and facts from his article:

  • 10% of Americans have a smart phone but no broadband (high speed) internet at home
  • 7% have no easy option for accessing the internet other than their phone
  • 64% of Americans own smart phones
  • 15% of Americans age 18 – 29 depend on their phones for internet access
  • 13% of Americans with an annual household income below 30,000 depend on smart phones for internet access. That number is only 1% for those earning more than $75,000
  • 12% of African Americans and 13% of Latinos rely on their phone for internet access, compared to 4% of whites

Individuals who are phone-dependent are also more likely to have to cancel their phone service due to financial hardship, and are also more likely to reach their phone plan’s data limits.

I won’t give every statistic here – you really should go read the report, which I linked to above. It has a wealth of information that is useful for anyone who works with populations that contain humans living in the 21st Century (translation: YOU).

  • One other group of stats that I do want to highlight deals with how people use their phones:
  • 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.
  • 57% have used their phone to do online banking.
  • 44% have used their phone to look up real estate listings or other information about a place to live.
  • 43% to look up information about a job.
  • 40% to look up government services or information.
  • 30% to take a class or get educational content.
  • 18% to submit a job application.
  • 68% of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally to follow along with breaking news events, with 33% saying that they do this “frequently.”
  • 67% use their phone to share pictures, videos, or commentary about events happening in their community, with 35% doing so frequently.
  • 56% use their phone at least occasionally to learn about community events or activities, with 18% doing this “frequently.”

The list goes on from here. The point is, people are using their phones for everything. Young people, low income people, and people of color are particularly more likely to rely on their phone as the only, or at least most dependable, form of internet access. Even individuals who have access to the internet through computers at home are consuming a great deal of content through their phones.

pone in hand

We can’t be serious about reaching people where they are if we’re not also serious about building content to be consumed on mobile devices. Hopefully by now you’ve realized that some things that look good on a computer screen don’t translate well to mobile devices. We’ve got to finally let go of the era of web sites that throw in the proverbial kitchen sink. Your web site doesn’t need background music, falling snowflakes, thousands of frilly swooshes, and seventeen columns of text.

When I went looking for a design for this blog (which I was able to do for literally $0, by the way), I knew I had to find something that would work for mobile. Every design that I seriously considered was tested on my phone. If it wasn’t easy to consume, it dropped from consideration. I did this because I know that most of my audience will read my contend on their phone. If it’s not easy for the to read, they’ll move on.

One more thing: organizations, especially big brands and churches, love to talk about wanting to reach young people. If you say this but mobile isn’t a real consideration in your internet strategy, you’re putting yourself at a serious disadvantage. According to Neilson, 70% of 13-17 year olds and 79% of 18-24 year olds have a smartphone. You’d have to be either really crazy or terribly resource starved not to build for mobile with numbers that high.

phone earbuds on desk

What Should We Do?

So, here are my recommendations for simple, realistic things you can do to be relevant in a mobile world:

  • Have a responsive website. Most of us can’t afford to pay a designer thousands of dollars for a slick web site that shape-shifts when used on a phone. Thankfully, easy-to-use templates for these kinds of sites exist for free. Premium templates that make you look like a design genius can be had for under $100.
  • Use social media. What, exactly, are people doing on their phones? Social media is a big chunk of content for a lot of people. Don’t be absent from that space. Remember, for people to see your social
  • media presence, you have to actually post content.
  • Use video. This is not as easy as the two suggestions above, but, depending on the type of content you want to make, it’s not as hard as you may think. Based on the statistics, there’s a good chance you have a smartphone, and these days most of them come with a half decent camera. Use it.
  • Explore a text messaging service. Honestly, unless you’re ESPN or NBC News or some outfit like that, how many people are going to check your website every day or even weekly or monthly? Text messages allow you to directly contact your audience.
  • Explore developing a mobile app. Not everyone needs an app, but some organizations do. It may not be cheap, it may not be easy, but it’s something to think about as a potential long-term goal.

Even a genius like me doesn’t know everything. What other strategies would you suggest to help an organization be relevant in a mobile world?