Is it “Mobile First” or “Content First”?

“Mobile first!” It’s a phrase we often hear … but what exactly does it mean for your organization? Do you redesign your website to be responsive? Build a standalone mobile app? And—no matter what—how can you execute “mobile first” without compromising your messages and calls to action?

When nonprofits choose to put mobile first as a strategic driver of any digital initiative, a common mistake is to start with tactics. Leadership commits time and money to a set of activities focused on outputs (e.g. a mobile app) and metrics (e.g. click-throughs, downloads, mobile visitors) versus meaningful results—how will this investment provide a sustainable advantage for our organization?

Meaningful results may include:

  • More efficient use of time: the ability to create (and update) content once, versus maintaining separate content for a website, mobile site, and app
  • Consistency of message: more consistent storytelling and calls to action
  • Centralized content management: having one technical system or cloud storage location, versus dealing with content scattered across desktops, servers, blogs, and so on
  • Higher user satisfaction: allowing people to connect with you and complete key tasks, no matter where they are or what device they’re using
  • Qualitative metrics: having the systems in place to see not only what people are doing but why

As you consider your core objectives and measures of success, you’ll start to realize that there are multiple interdependencies, risks, and assumptions to define prior to launching into any major mobile initiative:

  • Do we know for sure what our audiences want and need prior to donating or becoming members?
  • Do we have clearly-defined, differentiating brand values that are coming across in our visual assets and copy?
  • Who will be responsible for the health and well-being of the new site/app once it’s launched?
  • How will any structural content requirements work with (or against) our current technology?

These are big questions, and the answers should directly inform and drive any project work you undertake.

The problem is, content creation and maintenance is often something that most nonprofit employees do on top of their “regular” jobs. It’s relatively unusual for nonprofits—even large ones—to have a person or team committed to content full-time. That means content is coming from all over the place. It’s messy, inconsistent, outdated, even inaccurate.

So, by prioritizing “going mobile” over establishing a sustainable, repeatable system for content creation and governance, we’re simply creating one more channel that’s going to deliver more subpar content.

So, with all that in mind, let’s put “mobile first” in perspective.

Why content trumps channels, devices, and platforms

Just like your desktop website, social media properties, paid search campaigns, email marketing, even print campaigns and event materials … mobile is simply one more way to connect with your audiences through content. Content is the lifeblood of every point of contact you create. It is the only way you can engage, inspire, and motivate your constituents. It’s how people find you online. It’s what drives donations, membership, and event attendance.

Without powerful, useful, usable content, channels don’t matter. Mobile doesn’t matter. You have to get your content right—not just once, but every time. And that requires content strategy.

Content strategy guides planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. It puts helpful constraints around what you willand—sometimes more importantly—won’t do with your content products, processes, and technology. At its core, content strategy puts a stake in the ground about where you’ll spend time and money to help support both your users’ needs and your organization’s business model.

Unfortunately, according to Blackbaud’s 2014 Nonprofit Content Marketing study, only 26% of small nonprofit organizations and 37% of large nonprofits have a documented content strategy. That means too many are struggling to find their way in a constantly changing digital world.

Charging forward without a compass

Without a clear strategy, we can randomly decide to start a Facebook campaign, tweet twice a day, redesign our website to be responsive, build a mobile app, invest in new technology, create a dozen new videos … the list goes on and on. Our digital efforts will likely remain fragmented, and we’ll spin in countless directions that drain resources we can’t afford to waste.

The beauty of having a content strategy is that it becomes your “true north,” clarifying all of your priorities—including those related to mobile. For example, if you’ve decided to focus on task-based content that helps clients or constituents get assistance, it’s okay if videos of your board meetings aren’t optimized for mobile viewing. If your strategy is to focus on content that increases your number of repeat volunteers, this may be the perfect time to invest in a well-written scheduling app that makes their time more fun and efficient.

A smart content strategy provides significant constraints that ultimately will help focus resources far more efficiently and effectively.

Start where you are

Now, let’s say you’ve already received direction from the board that mobile is a priority for this year. If that’s the case, you can craft your content strategy to support this requirement.

Instead of approaching your mobile project strictly in terms of technology or tactics, ask yourself:

  • How are our unique audiences already using mobile to consume content? How do their mobile activities compare with desktop activities?
  • If some of our content doesn’t work well with mobile, why is that? Is it poorly structured? Is it too unwieldy for clear labels or useful navigation?
  • Do we have the right content? Is there too much for a user to wade through? Is something important missing?
  • What resources (time, money, technology, people, know-how) do we have available? What’s the smartest way to invest those resources to support both our audiences and our financial model?
  • What efforts are we setting aside to do this work? How do we balance existing priorities with new initiatives?

Slowing down to ask these questions as early as possible—putting content first—will take your mobile projects in more meaningful directions every time.

Learn more about content strategy from Kristina and other national content strategy experts Confab for Nonprofits this June in Chicago. Use the code NTENCONFAB to save $150 when you register. 

Kristina Halvorson
Brain Traffic
Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the most important voices in content strategy. She is the CEO of Brain Traffic, the author of Content Strategy for the Web, and the founder of Confab Events content strategy conferences, including Confab for Nonprofits. Kristina’s work focuses on the processes, people, and policies that make up the foundation for extraordinary, sustainable content.