AND not OR*: How Mobile, Social and Web are converging

by Sonali Shetty of Hodges Digital Strategies

*For a refresher on Boolean algebra go here.

Are mobile, social and web three separate entities anymore? Not when you consider the following:

  • The number of smart-phone users, world-wide just crossed the 1 billion mark.  In the U.S., approximately 87 percent use their phones to access the web and other apps (25 percent of whom, primarily use their mobile devices to access the web).
  • More than half of Facebook’s 1 billion users access the platform through their mobile devices, while 18 percent of whom don’t even visit the website.

So, it’s no longer an option to pick a platform, businesses must be on all of them. At Hodges Digital Strategies, our most interesting challenges are design and development at these three intersections: mobile + web, mobile + social and web + social.

Mobile + Web

  • Side-by-side example of website on mobile (left) and mobile-optimized website (right)

    Mobile friendly sites (Sites that function on mobile devices.  These sites have no flash and small image sizes for relatively fast loading. Users may need to zoom in order to use the site.  Newer design and development capabilities are phasing out these kinds of sites in favor of mobile optimized and responsive sites.)

  • Mobile optimized sites (Sites designed to cater to mobile devices. Pared down functionality and navigation elements, large, touch friendly buttons and minimal data entry allow for mobile optimization.  Most mobile optimized sites give users the option to view the desktop version of their website.)
  • Responsive design (Sites that utilize responsive methodologies for web development. A full website that renders seamlessly on devices with various form-factors. Meaning, a separate mobile site is not required – a large three column site on your large screen monitor, with rich visuals and extensive menus, can step down to a single column in a series of steps, responding to various device sizes.)

As more people interact with the web, primarily through their mobile devices, mobile capabilities for your website are no longer optional. While there is no right answer on whether to choose mobile optimized or responsive, we are biased towards responsive design and are incorporating these techniques in pretty much every new site we build.

Mobile + Social

Of the main social platforms, Twitter and YouTube were the most mobile-centric from the beginning, however, the switch to Timeline impacted apps, as they’re not visible via Facebook’s mobile app. To mitigate this (and to aid in app discovery), Facebook announced App Center. Mobile friendly apps that are registered in App Center are now discoverable through Facebook’s search bar. From a development perspective, it does mean that each app needs to also include a mobile version (using any of the above methods). There is slightly more work on the backend, however, with more and more users coming in from mobile, this is the only way for the users to access apps on their devices.

Web + Social

Back in 2010, Facebook introduced Open Graph API (yes, that ubiquitous “Like” button is just a toddler). Social sharing by liking or sharing content on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google +, has been deployed on millions of websites. Sharing also happens in the reverse direction by embedding activity streams from social media onto the web.  Single sign-on (signing up for a web-app via your Facebook or Twitter account) saves us from having to remember yet another user ID and password. However, balance that with the risk of allowing the 3rd party site access to your information and sometimes publish on your behalf. You can control third-party app access via privacy settings on your Facebook account.

This digital convergence is only going to accelerate further and include future platforms. Just think: Google Glass, the Nike+ FuelBand, your car’s dashboard…the fun has only just begun.

Our New Website: Being “Responsive”

Editor’s note:  Great job by Tony Scida and Casey Ferguson on our new website.  One of the features that’s explained below is “responsive design” which basically means the site grows and shrinks to accommodate the computer or mobile device that you’re using.  To best illustrate, view the site on your laptop and then your smart phone.  Or just look at the images below.  Cool, huh?  We think so.  Enjoy.-JN

by Tony Scida

When I started at Hodges, the first thing I wanted to do was update the website. While the site had served the agency well for a number of years, it had started to show its age—it didn’t take advantage of the new variety of screen sizes that users have come to find on their desks and in their hands, for instance. It was also not all that easy to update to add new Hodgers or update or add case studies, for instance.

I was cautious at first, because I wasn’t sure how Jon & Josh (and my coworkers) felt about the existing site and the prospect of undertaking a major site redesign. Fortunately for me, everyone around here was in agreement that we needed a new site.

This week—just days shy of my three-year anniversary—we’ve launched the new hodgespart.com. What took so long? Well, I’ll talk about some of the site features and considerations below, but the main reason is that, as with any agency, client work comes first.

Goals for the new THP site:

  • Update the look and feel to match recent logo and color palette changes.
  • Better integrate additional services and practices such as social media and luxury.
  • Improve updateability of the content.
  • Provide a first-class experience for users of mobile and other small-screen devices.
  • Put the work front and center.

With these goals in mind, we worked with Sonali and the Hodges Digital Strategies team to create the final site you see. Here are some of the features we’re particularly proud of.

Our website viewed on a browser

Responsive Web Design

The site was designed from the start to work well on iPhones and other mobile devices. Without getting too technical, the site uses modern CSS and HTML features such as media queries to resize and shift elements on the page to provide a better experience on small devices without sacrificing the desktop experience. We learned a lot of responsive design throughout this process, as we do with every project, and we already have some enhancements to the responsiveness planned.

Client Success Front and Center

Our website viewed on an iPhone

On the previous site, the case studies were a little minimized. They were all on the same page and there was no room for compelling images. With the new site, we decided to put the case studies right up front. And, thanks to our content management system (CMS), we can easily change and update the case studies that are featured on the homepage. But case studies aren’t the only way we’re featuring client work. Because this blog serves both THP and HDS, it didn’t make sense to create a separate blog on the THP site, so instead we created what we call The Gong, a nod to the real-life gong we hang in our office. When something good happens, like a great hit for a client, we bang the gong so everyone in the office can hear. With The Gong, which I like to call our “hit blog,” we can now sound a virtual gong as well.

What’s Next?

Just because this site is launched doesn’t mean it’s done. This was a long time coming, but it’s just the starting point. We’ll continue to update the content, optimize performance, refine the responsiveness and, we hope, constantly update The Gong with quality client hits.

The next great expression of “brand love”

by Sonali Shetty

The ultimate expression of “brand love” is an icon on the Home screen of mobile devices.  Our devices are so personal and ubiquitous, that any apps we download and keep, are an extension of our identity.  True enough that many of our devices are a junkyard for apps – long forgotten and seldom used.  But others are so addictive, we wonder how we lived “pre app.”

Checklist from Hilldrup’s Move Pro app

At HDS we just launched an app that I hope will be an incredibly handy resource for many people.  Hilldrup Move Pro (iPhone/iPad), for our friends at Hilldrup Companies, is a full-featured moving platform.  The app is a must-have for anyone contemplating a move.  But, we wanted to make the app relevant to a wider audience.  When creating a strategy for app functionality, we faced a unique conundrum.  How do you extend the life of an app that is built around a discrete event?  You want an app to be a valuable branded tool that people want to access again and again on their mobile device, right?

In looking into consumers’ moving patterns, we noticed that most people don’t unpack their boxes right away.  (True confessions: I still have unopened boxes in my attic six years after stashing them up there.)  So we created the ability for users to visually add items to their virtual box and even take pictures of their items, in order to document box contents.  High value items can be immediately identified.  Finally, users are able to create QR code labels to slap on their boxes.  When a user wants to identify the contents of a box, all they have to do is to scan the label on the box and read the contents. Pretty Cool!  Oh, and as an added security feature, to prevent just anyone from being able to read the QR code, only the Move Pro app on the original device that “packed” the box is able to read its contents.

Some other features and their long-range applications include:

– Ability to notify friends when you’ve moved – applies down the road if your phone number or e-mail address change.

– Currency converter.  For people moving to other countries, this is super useful.  And just as handy for people simply taking a trip abroad.

– Assign a task to a friend – “Honey-do lists” are finally mobile-ized!

Reverse search will be available in the next release. Here’s how it will work – suppose I’m looking for that pair of red shoes I wear over the holidays.  A quick search within the app tells me immediately which box those little babies are in.  That means no more rooting through boxes to find what you’re looking for.  This feature alone transcends moving – it puts a handy organizing tool at your disposal.

We’re pretty excited at what the Hilldrup Move Pro can and will do.  Download it and let us know what you think.  We’re hoping that MovePro will make it to your Home screen.

The #PR gamechanger.

With apologies to my friends in the satellite media tour/video news release world, I’ve been silently waiting for years for the time that technology would catch up and allow just about anyone to “broadcast” news using inexpensive devices and technology.

The time has come.

Today BBC announced that it’s working on an iPhone/iPad app that will enable reporters to shoot, edit and feed stories (and I’m guessing live video) from their Apple device on both 3G and wireless networks.

The implications for broadcast journalists are staggering.  For the last few years we’ve seen the integration of Skype-quality video into newscasts where they are now commonplace and the video quality is more than acceptable.  The cost savings associated with this new technology are great as the need for satellite trucks and satellite time will now shrink dramatically.

For PR and social media pros, we are now a step closer to direct feeding/broadcasting soundbites and interviews at extremely low costs to any broadcast journalism outlet.  That is if we can maintain some level of video and audio quality.  Our ability to become PR/SM utility players who can learn how to shoot, edit and at least hold an iPad still will become more important as this new application becomes more mainstream in the news room.

Our ability to produce our own iMedia tours is also one step closer as well.  With basic audio, lighting and shooting skills our mobile devices will soon become more important that we ever would have realized in the practice of our craft.

We’re not quite there yet, but it’s time for us to get ready.  The technology will continue to evolve.  We better as well.

 

The Daily from the PR perspective

Some quick thoughts on The Daily, News Corp’s new iPad-only newspaper.

I love it.

Not because the content is great or the design is tremendous, remember people ragged on the first issues of USA Today when it come out.

I love it because, it represents the future of what dynamic, interactive, freshly delivered content CAN be.

I also love it because at a time when daily news delivered in a “news-a-zine” format is dying, here is a new fresh source of information.

Finally, I love it because as a media relations professional it is the equivalent of “cool fresh meat” for folks like us to pitch to and to get coverage for our clients.

Don’t judge The Daily by its debut yesterday, wait a year and lets talk.  I have a feeling it will be an interesting conversation.

So, what’s next? We want to know.

A quick post here to preview a talk that Sonali and I are giving next Wednesday to PRSA Richmond.

They tell me that more than 100 folks have signed up so seats are going fast (more than veiled attempt here to jam the room.)  Here’s a link to sign up.

Even though Hodges Digital Strategies is still in its first year, our learning over the course of the last year or so has been exponential.  I peeked back at a similar presentation I gave last year and it looked prehistoric in comparison.  That being said, we are not experts and don’t have all the answers so some of this will be nothing more than our opinion based on what we’ve learned so far.

First and foremost, our presentation is still in the formative stages so if you’re coming (and even if you’re not) and there’s something you’d like us to touch on please comment below and we will try to cover it.

Some of the topics we are going to discuss include:

  • Public relations and its leadership role in social media
  • The maturing of social media platforms and what they means for brands
  • How to promote and grow your social media presence
  • “multi-channeling”
  • The current status of Twitter, Foursquare and others
  • The “next” platforms and trends
  • Mobile, mobile and did we mention mobile
  • And a takeaway for B2C and B2B and social/digital

Lots of stuff to cover in a short period of time.  If we’re missing anything please let us know.  If you have a comment please do so.

We will post the presentation next week after we give it.

The birth of Hodges Digital Strategies

This is a blog post that is more than two years in the making.

Past posts have alluded to growth at The Hodges Partnership, mainly focusing on the new two-story addition to the back of our Shockoe Bottom home.  But I have hinted at something more, and here it is.

Today I’d like to announce the creation of a second business under the Hodges umbrella, Hodges Digital Strategies.

HDS is the product of a two-year journey we’re taken with a number of folks including our new business partner in the venture, Sonali Shetty and a number of clients who have jumped into this new digital and social world with us with both feet.  Some of those clients include AMF Bowling, SnagAJob.com, Carpenter, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, ChildFund International and CarMax, all of whom at varying levels are exploring way to reach audiences online, create community and broaden their communications strategies to include digital, social and mobile platforms and everything in between.

As I have written before, I am a big believer that PR firms are well positioned to guide clients through this newer world because we have a great history of content creation for communications programs. Some PR firms have struggled because while they know what should be done to communication on platforms as diverse as Facebook, Twitter, websites, and iPhones, they lack the design and technological development capabilities to handle the entire assignment for clients.  This is where we hope to succeed with HDS by marrying the power of public relations and technology and providing seamless strategies under one umbrella.

Through our communications, design and development capabilities we can create “digital outposts” for a brand with strategies born out of our public relations experience, delivered across all online and digital platforms.

Specifically HDS will:

  • Build custom websites and web applications
  • Build custom experiences on social media platforms, like branded custom landing pages on Facebook and use contests, games, etc. to leverage its viral nature.  Among our team is one of the first third-party Facebook developers so we have the experience needed to deliver.
  • Build iPhone, iPad and Droid apps for smartphones.  We’re in the beginning stages of building an iPhone/iPad app for Rutgers University athletics.
  • Provide analytics to see how successful your program is.
  • Counsel on social media strategy including everything from initial listening programs, to ongoing monitoring for reputation management issues, to providing advice on how to grow and interact with communities and consumers including social commerce and geo-location programs with Foursquare, etc.
  • Provide strategy and counsel on online video projects.

The combination of all these specialties will help a client leverage their potential audience and engage and interact with them wherever they are.

This coupled with The Hodges Partnership (no the traditional PR side is not going away by a long shot), will allow clients to reach consumers through traditional media (media relations/communications), online (through media relations/communications, social media platforms and web development) and on their mobile devices (through media relations, social media platforms and mobile sites and apps).

All under one Hodges umbrella, which provides one consistent communications strategy and of course, lower overhead and costs.

Speaking of which, we are also offering a small business/non-profit product for Facebook based on feedback we’ve received from a number of folks as well.

So there’s the news.  I know it was a little “salesy” but we’ve been holding this in for so long we wanted to make sure we told our story effectively because as we tell our clients, “you only have one time to launch, so you better communicate effectively.”

We’re very excited about this and we’re happy to answer any questions or provide initial consultation.

Again, we think that PR is perfectly positioned to lead in the digital world, and we’re putting our money where our opinion is.

Thanks for all your support these past eight years and we hope the Hodges brand of companies is around for a whole lot more.

Mobile site vs. Mobile App?

This post was fueled as many these days are by two things, a conversation with a client and our soon-to-be-announced new company.

The client conversation was focused on her initial interest in creating a mobile app (iPhone, Droid, etc.) to help promote her organization, what it does, etc.  Using this app would also help her consumers navigate her business.  After doing a great deal of research in her industry, the client and her team decided not to pursue the app strategy but to instead put their money into a mobile version of their website.  They discovered that based on their consumer, what they do and how they do it, the mobile version of the site would be more helpful and more cost-effective.

So that got me thinking, given the “cool factor” of apps these days (everyone wants one and HAS to have one, it reminds me at lot of websites in the late 90’s), is it better for a business or organization to invest in apps or to create a mobile site, a version of their existing website that is optimized for mobile devices.  Since our new venture will help clients design and develop both Mobile sites and Mobile apps, we really don’t have a “dog in this hunt” and we can look at this question objectively.

After a short conversation with Sonali Shetty, our partner in our new venture, here are some considerations to think about when weighing Mobile app vs. Mobile site:

  • Casual vs. hardcore:  Are you creating the mobile presence for a casual maybe one-time user or someone who you expect will come back often?  If casual, you might consider the mobile site, if hardcore you likely will want to focus on the app because of its “richer” experience.
  • Basic info vs. optimization:  Similarly if you want the information to mirror some of the basic functionality of your existing website, then the mobile site might be the way to go.  The mobile app by its very nature can and should be that richer experience with additional and enhanced functionality and information.  It can include exclusive, stand-alone features such as games, widgets, offers, etc.
  • Branding:  Just by the very nature and size of the medium you have a better opportunity to brand with the app than you do with the mobile site, although each have their pluses and minuses.
  • Cost:  In this world of Apple, Droid and Blackberry in many cases you’re not only building one app but you’re building two or three and there is little economy of scale.  The mobile site is just one element and since in most cases it is an extension of your existing website, it should cost less than the app.
  • Access:  The mobile site is available easily off the device’s web browser.  The app is available through a third-party like iTunes or Android market.  In those cases, you need to get it approved by those third-parties before being able to offer them to your consumers.

So if you in charge of making these decisions in your organization what do you do?  I would default to how you think most people are using their mobile devices.  In my case with my Droid or iPad (I go both ways :)), I tend browse first and app second and if you look at either of my devices, aside from Paper Toss HD (greatest game in the world), you will see apps that pertain to my business and things about which I’m MOST passionate.

My takeaway from that is that the Mobile site is more of a must have and the Mobile app is more of a luxury.

What do you think?

The PR social media crystal ball

First off, thanks again to the PRSA for asking me to present to their Thursday breakfast meeting.  It was a great group of familiar and new faces and hopefully what I talked about was helpful.

For those who couldn’t attend, I thought I’d recap here.  I will also share my presentation though Slideshare, just click here and you can view and download although you may need to become a Slidshare member to do it.

For the presentation I was asked to share my thoughts on “what’s next” for social media.  Anyone who truly knows the answer that question is much smarter than me and likely lying but I took a shot and here’s what I came up with.

  1. Conversing and not broadcasting:  Now that you have gathered friends and followers (and want to increase those numbers) you need to truly engage them, not just throw things at them — in short you need to provide value.  Share good information, teach them.  On Facebook use custom landing pages–here’s the one THP and Compleo did for National Harbor (now that Facebook will once again let you do that), offer games and contests with cool prizes (here’s our current contest for SnagAJob.com), do ticket giveaways on your wall.  Have fun.  But most importantly…START A BLOG.  The blog is the best way to engage, share your                       expertise and opinion and begin a conversation.
  2. Geolocation: Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla, if you are not familiar with them you should be.  On those platforms, people tell other people where they are and what they are doing.  And in some weird social media peer pressure twist of fate through check-in, badges and reviews people are driven to the places and businesses frequented by their friends.  Retailers and businesses are offering real world rewards to encourage more traffic and check-ins as a way to drive more traffic and PRESTO, a new social phenomenon is born.
  3. Privacy: What the head of Facebook publicly states he doesn’t believe in privacy, we’re all in trouble.  For companies and organizations the blur between personal and professional on social media means new rules for them and their employees.  In the social media world we are all ambassadors of all organizations we represent, we don’t have the luxuries that we used to have to say the things online that we’d like to.
  4. Online vs. Mobile: In this day of limited marketing budgets and an increasing number of online devices, where should companies spend their money?  The answer is where their customers or member are the most.  In the new world that may not be on the computer but on their tablet or on their phone.  This may force companies and organizations to make choices between their websites and their mobile APPs.  If you could only afford one, which one would you choose?  And oh, don’t forget about QR codes.
  5. Measurement: Apologies to my friends at social media measurement companies but I still think you have a way to go.  There is no simple solution in this space.  There is no industry standard.  We still have to rely on the old standards of “what is my goal?” and “how can I use social media to reach that goal?”  You also must create your own cadre of online tools to review and manage your organization’s reputation.  The companies are making strides here, but are not there quite yet.
  6. Live “U”casting: We have live blogged, live tweeted, and podcasted but have we really taken advantage of services like Ustream or Justin.tv.  What I can broadcast live video directly from my Droid online for all the world to see as I can now, the PR implications are frightening.
  7. It’s not social media, it’s just marketing: Just like direct and online before it, social media is not an add-on anymore, it is official a key part of the marketing mix, the sooner we treat it that way, the better for all of us and our clients.

Okay, so that’s my best shot.  If you disagree please comment, if you think I’m missing something I’d love to hear it.

The only certainty is the second we feel comfortable Facebook or someone else will pull the rug out from us so be flexible and be ready for the next big thing.  It is likely right around the corner.

Thoughts on social media for internal communications

So my good friend and client Lisa Van Riper from the University of Richmond asked me to give a talk to her strategic PR grad school class at VCU.  The topic?  The use of social media for internal communications.

While I have read and thought a great deal on this topic THP’s client are only beginning to scratch the surface in their use of social media tools for internal comm.  I am a big believer that the brand begins within an organization and that employees can be your best spokespeople and evangelists, so using social media tools to create this “community” is a logicial step.

 After doing some research on the topic I found that a couple of my Twitter friends, Amber Naslund of Radian6 and Justin Goldsborough of Fleishman-Hillard had presented recently on the topic.  Both of their presentations are available on Slideshare.  I am stea….I mean using them liberally in my presentation Saturday.  With permission of course.

After noodling it around in my brain and seeing some work that others have done here are some best practices.

– Blogs/videos:  Not always on the core business but on other topics they can all related to.

– Brainstorming:  Creating platforms or using existing intranet tools to get people from all over the organization to brainstorm ideas is a no brainer.

– Basic information/news:  Intranets and wikis to provide updated information about the company helping make sure all associates are on the same page

– Social networking sites:  Think Facebook or Twitter but only for employees to communicate to other employees to talk about things (or share picture or videos, etc.) related to their work.

– Recruiting/retention:  More Linkedin-ish, helping employees network within the organization to move up or to find out what internal positions are available.

– Online training:  Videos, presentations, live tutorials.

– Online events: Through Ustream or Skype or existing intranet everyone can see what the leadership is up to.

– The future: Mobile:  Texting, training videos, podcasts, all to keep execs and rank and file engaged.

All exciting, all useful.  Many big name companies like Best Buy, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dell, etc. are the one’s putting these tools to great use.  But there’s one thing that can hinder social media from becoming the norm in business.

Money.

All of these tools, especially if they are custom-made portals, will cost money to personalize and build out.  Sure there are platforms one can access for free like Yammer and Ning that can get you part of the way there but how can smaller companies take advantage of these approaches?

I’d love to hear you thoughts on how social media for internal communications can become available and affordable for all businesses, not just the big ones.  Thanks.

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