For mobile users, apps are their connection to the world. With a click, they can see local restaurants, nearby movies, the weather, news and an assortment of other content created for the user.
For years, stations have looked at their apps as a way to gain digital users and expand their news audience. But are they taking their apps seriously enough? While most stations have news apps, many have purchased or “leased” an off the shelf weather app that lets them add local content. Don’t get me wrong. Some groups have worked on improving their app strategy. Unfortunately, the majority have not.
The Key Word is “Local”
TV, radio and newspapers used to own local information. Not anymore. For years, we at CJ&N have advocated that stations should own the “local” app market – provide more than just news, and be the place folks go to see what events are going on where they live. Unfortunately, many apps still have the same content menus they did years ago – focusing on news but with little attention to what events happening where their users live.
Research by CJ&N, Facebook and others shows one of the top searched items week in and week out is “what to do this weekend with your family.” Women, especially moms, are the top searchers. Thursday is when the largest number of searches occur. Thursday is when Facebooks shows some of its highest traffic.
We see this as an opportunity for stations. Does your news app have a section on weekend events along with local restaurants and other items consumers look for? Whether it be for an event for families, an event for singles or big community events, we know people are searching.
While stations offer information on local happenings on their air, few offer a menu on the app or their website where they can search at a moment’s notice. Also, in the past, we have also discussed how to tie weather into this, along with possible revenue opportunities.
Now, unfortunately, Facebook is – again – coming to the rescue of information-hungry users. Facebook is eating away at what stations used to “own”: local happenings.
Facebook’s push in this area should be concerning. You may have seen the app pop up on your feed. It’s in a slow rollout after being launched near the end of the year. I have it loaded and it’s getting pretty robust.
This blog is not all about lamenting another Facebook bite into the local market. That wouldn’t help you. It’s too important to just surrender, but it does take a commitment.
Station apps should own their marketplace. Stations have the ability to create content, aggregate content, update content and the market it with their huge reach. Instead, in most cases station apps are nothing more than just an RSS feed from their website – all news with a weather feed
Sure, there are the occasional live fires and car chases, but a station’s app could go days before the user opens it on their device. Meanwhile many users look at Facebook several times a day, if not continuously. So, in that environment, how do you make your app work for you?
An Action Plan
If I may suggest an action plan:
- Create a corporate and company-wide strategy to improve the user experience and the content on the app and web site.
- Communicate this strategy to everyone and keep folks on target. Don’t worry about how many likes, downloads or shares the others guys got. Focus on your mission. Target. Refine. Target some more.
- Create an app content team and feed. There should be content specifically for the app when the user needs it. Traffic should play a role in the morning and the afternoon. Weather should be constantly updated with a “local” voice and perspective. Basically, the app should be daytime and day-of-the-week sensitive. Weekend content should have a different feel than weekday content.
- Focus on where the users are. (It’s easy to get distracted by shiny objects; unfortunately, those objects tend to be like fishing lures – they hook you and become a work flow and time suck.)
- Measure, measure and measure. See what stories and content are getting traction and create more of them.
- Work hand-in-hand with sales to create station apps for major events: state fair, holiday events, community celebrations. (You can create an app that you can continually re-purpose with different content and sales opportunities.)
- Use research – both qualitative and quantitative. And use focus groups that do more than talk about the content; have them use your app in real time. Listen to their comments. Ask what they want and what they don’t want. (The screener is critical here.) Too many apps are being built with interfaces designed for the developers and the newsroom and not for the user.
Years ago, we looked over at newspapers and said that won’t be us. Unfortunately, sites like Facebook have been like the proverbial frog-in-the-pot story, slowly coming to a boil until it’s cooked to death.
Let’s not let that happen to local news and information. Now is the time to take an active approach as “outsiders” continue to encroach into the local space.