Magazine article Communication World

If You're Going to Go Mobile with Your News, Do It Right! Give Readers a Choice about How Much Information They Want to Absorb with Any Given Piece of Content

Magazine article Communication World

If You're Going to Go Mobile with Your News, Do It Right! Give Readers a Choice about How Much Information They Want to Absorb with Any Given Piece of Content

Article excerpt

Welcome to the second installment in our ongoing series about what communicators can learn from the media in the "real world."

Most communicators love to benchmark against other companies--and they should. There are valuable lessons to be learned in doing so. But if you're looking for proven techniques, tactics and best practices for reaching your various audiences, the real world also has a lot to offer.

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Which only makes sense. Big media companies spend lots of money on user testing, usability, focus groups, surveys and other research. They know what works. They know what their audience wants. And they build their channels accordingly.

Most corporate communicators don't have the time or the budget to do the kind of research that big media outlets do. But that doesn't mean we can't piggyback on that research and use those same techniques without spending all that cash.

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We just have to copy what they do, when what they do makes sense.

In our last column (November-December 2011), we looked at the headlines in supermarket magazines like Cosmopolitan and applied them to the types of topics we have to write about in our organizations.

That was fun.

This time, let's shift gears and look at a major news outlet, CNN.

The first lesson that we can learn from CNN: Go mobile. The entire world is going mobile, and if your organization doesn't have mobile applications for both your website and your intranet in the next two years, you're going to be way behind.

Smart companies like UPS and Walmart, which have large populations of employees who don't sit at desks, have realized this, and have created mobile apps for their intranets. UPS drivers can access the intranet on their company BlackBerrys; Walmart workers log onto the company's incredibly popular internal social media network, myWalmart, from their own mobile devices.

The trend is here to stay. My wife, Cindy, and I used to read books in bed. Now we read our iPhones. Cindy reads Facebook and the Chicago Tribune and various other news apps. I read The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNN.

But, as with all other communication channels, a mobile app is only as good as the content and the writing that goes into it. CNN gets it right, and there is a lot that communicators can learn from it.

CNN: The perfect online app?

A great mobile app gives readers a choice about how deep they want to go into a piece of content. If they want to just skim some headlines, they can do that. If they want to read summaries of stories, they can do that. And if they are really interested in a topic and want to read the full story and maybe even watch a video or send it to a friend, they can do that.

That's the way the CNN app is set up. It's all about the user's choice.

The first thing you see when you hit the CNN app on your smartphone is a list of the top stories, with one major story featured (see facing page, left).

Notice that the headlines on this "page" each pass the one critical test for online headlines: They tell you what the story is about. They're not cute. They're not vague. They don't engage in word play, like a print headline can get away with.

They simply tell you what the story is about, usually in the subject + active verb + object formula, which is a great model for online headlines.

Now, let's say you skim those headlines and decide you'd like a little more information on the featured story, "U. …

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