Presented by Incubation Lab: We Need an App!! ... Really?

The Presented by Incubation Lab series shines a light on what "going mobile" means at a station. Teresa Peltier, Emerging Media & PR Specialist for dual-licensee WSKG in New York, weighs in:

If public media is a cafeteria, mobile apps are the coolest kids in school.

Apps reach uncharted audiences and strengthen previously established connections. The PBS and NPR apps have seen great success, consistently rising to the top of Apple’s most-downloaded list. In addition, member stations have introduced member card benefits, streaming services and more through their own.

As the maverick in residence here at WSKG, I am usually the last person to hesitate when we consider adopting a new platform. However, when we began discussions regarding developing a station app, I (reluctantly) concluded the station would benefit from holding off.

Like wanting to hang out with the cool kids, we all seem to want apps. But what can this magical little nebulous of code and awesomeness do for a station?

While trying to answer that question, we encountered 6 reasons why apps, while awesome, did not necessarily fit into our immediate future, and why they might not be right for every station (at least not right now):
  1. No in-app donations: Simple and true. Certainly not the most important obstacle, but a hurdle nonetheless. 
  2. NPR and PBS offer streaming: Why recreate the wheel? Especially when that wheel is a wonderful production with the resources to ensure it’s continued success as a top download. A simple promotional campaign could direct Smartphone users in our online and on-air audience to the NPR and PBS apps.
  3. Apps require staff, skills and money … and a lot of them all. In an economically difficult time, several stations are looking for creative ways to keep staff, not hire more. The expertise needed to create an app (and more importantly, an app that works across all platforms, all phones, all providers, anywhere and everywhere), quickly runs up the bill. In an alternate scenario, a station might consider contracting the work out. Again, this will require a significant financial investment, plus strong, strategic brainstorming from within the station (see next 2 points) and the implementation of follow-up customer service and tech support.
  4. What new service would your station’s app provide? If you’re thinking about streaming your radio – NPR already does that, and local content will be available in the near future in PBS Apps (check out the roadmap in the Mobile Strategy Deck for Stations). What can your app provide that your site, your airwaves and no one else’s site or airwaves can’t?
  5. Do you have the audience (and the ability to tap into it)? Do I have an ample grasp of my online and on-air audience (who they are, how they are using the media, what they want from our services) to know first that they want an app, and second that I can get that service to them effectively? The best part about my job is that the technology changes constantly. There’s always something super new and super cool to experiment with – but it also gives the feeling of perpetual catch-up. If I’m spending a considerable amount of my day formulating strategy for Facebook, a service firmly entrenched in millions of Americans’ lifestyles, am I ready to add another service to my plate, along with the other five or six social media tools I’m working with?
  6. Website and mobile-only site development. This should be strong before embarking on the app attack. Most users will likely still interact primarily with our homepage – how does it function for the mobile audience? In the list of priorities, the most used, least costly item will likely come first, for both financial and best-interest-of-the-audience reasons. Revisit #4: did you think of a really cool app? Could you take that idea and bring it to digital life within your website or mobile-only site?
Overall, while I won’t be strongly advocating for an app at my station in the next few months, we have taken that first step by having the conversation about what “going mobile” means to us, and what it takes to get there. I will vehemently push for those imperative building blocks that make it viable in the future: staff skill building, fiscal planning, understanding of our audience and greater quality of the online products already in use. With a strong, up-to-date website, a simple and effective mobile site and some thorough brainstorming and financial planning, perhaps this time next year we’ll be asking, “Why not?”

The Presented by Incubation Lab Blog Series tackles the digital media topics that matter to stations, while highlighting and celebrating the online efforts of stations. These regular profiles of products, people and trends can provide you with inspiration and potential collaborators for your own projects.

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