Karen-McGrane

You begin your book Content Strategy for Mobile by saying that there’s no such thing as a content strategy for mobile. Really?  

It’s funny, I gave one of my colleagues a copy of the book and he read the first page, put down the book, looked at me and said, “Well, you’ve neatly addressed all of my concerns with your book in the first sentence.”

What I’m trying to emphasize in the book is the idea that if you’re thinking you can treat mobile as this separate problem that’s sandboxed off from everything else, you’re making a huge mistake.

The problem is not about writing something different that will appear on a smartphone or tablet, it’s about ensuring that I’m delivering the right content or the best experience to all of my users regardless of what platforms on which they choose to consume content.

Really, this is about having a publishing process that allows you to treat all of the channels and devices that you need to get your messages out, as equal.

In your book you call out the notion of “designing for context,” suggesting that we can’t make assumptions about a user just because she’s using a smaller screen. Do you mean that people don’t consume content differently in certain contexts, or is it just that we don’t have enough information to make those assumptions?

This is probably one of the most hotly debated and contested points in the industry right now. Are we designing for the “mobile context” and what does that mean?

Anybody who’s ever used their phone while they’re sitting on their couch or when they had a laptop available to them recognizes that “mobile” doesn’t always mean that you’re on the move.

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to talk about optimizing for the local case, but don’t spin that to cover all the mobile use cases out there because, frankly, then you’re leaving out all the people who aren’t using their phone while standing on a street corner.

In fact, I would say for most organizations the goal is to achieve a sense of parity between the desktop and mobile.

In cases where you might say to yourself, “I don’t know if this content really needs to be on mobile, I don’t know if it’s worth it,” the answer is that it probably doesn’t need to be on the desktop either.

McGrane's new book, Content Strategy for Mobile, published by A Book Apart.

McGrane’s new book, Content Strategy for Mobile, published by A Book Apart.

You cite NPR as an example of a media brand that has embraced the adaptive content approach. Are any magazines doing it successfully? I assume that it’s harder for a print publication to make the transition than a radio network like NPR, where the raw audio content is already digital.

Right now the legacy process for most publishers is that they think print first. That model is going to break down as you start to realize it’s not just going to be web, it’s going to be mobile web, native apps and tablets, and who knows what’s next?

What if we stopped thinking of this as a sequential process and we start thinking about having one universal structure that would be designed from the start to cover the full range of cases, including print?

Having that flexible package of content that you can work with means that when you get to web or mobile or tablet or whatever, you have more pieces to play with.

Is the biggest obstacle to adaptive content technological – as you say in the book, most content management systems just aren’t equipped for it – or is it cultural, in that legacy media organizations are attached to the way they’ve always done things?

This is a user experience problem. Let’s treat the users, the content authors and the people who are going to use the CMS like they’re users of any other enterprise system.

It’s not an uncommon problem in UX, to say, “Oh right, you’re dealing with two very different sets of users with two very different needs, how do you prioritize their competing needs and design a system that gives you the best shot at meeting all of them?”

I’m really fond of telling publishers that the money they spend on improving their CMS, making it easier for their internal staff to navigate these screens, making it easier for them, for example, to post to social channels, is going to get them way more business value than yet another redesign of their homepage.

You suggest that mobile may be the key to reach under-served audiences and markets. How so?

I have pretty solid data from the U.S. that shows that 31 percent of people who use their mobile phones to use the internet say that’s the only way or mostly the way they access the internet.

This is astonishing! I mean, it’s a third of people who access the internet on their phones.

This has huge implications for all types of industries. If you have any sort of civic responsibility for communicating with the public and you don’t have a content strategy for mobile, you are dramatically underserving a population of people.

I also think it reflects a growing trend of people who do have access to a broadband connection or desktop computer who prefer to get their information through mobile.

There’s a huge underserved population today who are consuming content on their phones and we’re giving them a crappy experience. We’re telling them, “Here’s how the web works for you: You have to pinch and zoom your way through sites that were designed for a much larger monitor, you’re going to get errors and the fonts are going to be really tiny.”

We’ve all kind of collectively thrown up our hands and gone, “Well! That’s good enough!” No, it’s not good enough.

In her own words

Karen McGrane on getting writers to think about adaptive content:

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