There is little doubt that the proliferation and variety of mobile devices is influencing the ways in which people seek and consume information.
The trends and behaviors are becoming so obvious that major media organizations like the New York Times are customizing their content based on the type of device that is used to access the information. We’re not talking about simply making content accessible across platforms, but rather altering and customizing the content itself to fit the prevalent media consumption behaviors of each type of mobile device.
For example, the Ottawa Citizen this week announced that it would publish unique content on four different media platforms – news print, online, tablet and smartphone.
According to Postmedia, owners of the Ottawa Citizen, its research showed that, “each platform attracted a different kind of reader. The survey revealed that young people overwhelmingly use their smart phones to access news, while middle-aged readers have developed an enormous appetite for their iPads.” Older readers, meanwhile, still prefer reading news on paper.
These observations come at a time when transportation communication professionals are working hard to meet shifting public expectations for how government should best communicate with the public. State department of transportation staffs have largely seen the rise of mobile devices and new media tools as increasing their workload as more information is sought more frequently by more diverse audiences.
Consider that today’s average transportation user is not only driving a car, but she also is walking and biking. She is concerned about safe routes for children to reach school. She also might be interested in how the transportation department is address transportation problems in her neighborhood.
How do you reach that user – the customer – with critical information about traffic, local construction impacts, project development and planning issues?
Just a decade ago the typical minimum effort included writing a news release and updating a web site. We might also mail a flier to a neighborhood and take out an ad in a newspaper. The hope was that the media – radio, newspapers and maybe TV – would deliver the news for us. But that has changed.
Today, the minimum effort still includes writing a news release and updating a web site (and probably a flier and a newspaper ad). But it also might include writing a blog post, updating a web page, tweeting a link, commenting in a community listserv, cutting a short video, posting images on Pinterest, and sending out a e-newsletter.
To be successful, the effort has to be sustained and broad and targeted. The message must remain consistent regardless of the channel.
This takes a lot of work and it takes continuous attention to creativity. Because as soon as we think we have settled on a successful formula, the technology changes. As the technology changes, the ways in which people consume information changes.
I cannot image Google Glass earning broad acceptance, but there might be other technologies that we have not even imagined yet that will further shift the ways in which the public prefers to receive information.
Perhaps the lesson from watching the mainstream media outlets micro-slice their audiences based on their preferred media platform is that those of us in the transportation communications business must continue to try new tactics.
With our teams already stretched thin — and changing expectations for what constitutes “best practice” — we must continue to ask ourselves the age-old questions, “who is our target audience?” and “what is the best way to reach them?”