Mobile Content is a Social and Moral Imperative

Mobile content is a social and moral imperative.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I understand that you may believe a statement as dramatic as that is equivalent to a teenager saying they will die without their iPhone, or tickets to that One Direction concert, or those Ugg boots. But what I’m talking about is shockingly real and important.

The ton of bricks I’ve just been hit with is the book Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane. There is so much to say about this book, but I want to put a laser focus on an important issue that McGrane raises and that has to do with the mobile-only user.

So, who is the mobile-only user? If you’re like me, you imagined it to be some whiz kid techie who has every toy ever made by Apple, Samsung, Google, Amazon, etc. I imagined the mobile-only user as a too-cool-for-school smart alec who prides him/herself on knowing the next big tech thing at all times.

I was wrong.

It turns out the mobile-only user is not just that whiz kid, but a whole lot of other people on the planet. McGrane points out that in many places throughout the world, people access the internet only through mobile phones. In India, 75% of the population (almost a billion people) have a mobile phone. China now has more mobile internet users than there are people in the United States. In Egypt, 70% of the people who access the web via a mobile device never use a desktop computer to go online.

Here in the United States, mobile-only users are on the rise. McGrane sites Pew Research Center stats that show mobile-only users in this country breakdown into nothing less than a socioeconomic divide. McGrane writes:

Sixty percent of Americans who make less than $30,000 per year don’t have a broadband connection at home. About half of African American and Hispanic households don’t have broadband access to the internet at home. And eighty-eight percent of Americans without a high school diploma don’t have a broadband internet connection.

Mobile phones have become a great equalizer, cutting across social, racial, and economic divides. A person does not need the fanciest phone available to have a device that gets them online. Folks, that is a big, big deal, and this is where the social and moral imperative comes into play.

As a public university, diversity and access to education are two of our core values. But these core values can quickly morph into hollow talking points if we don’t take seriously our obligation to communicate with people on their terms, not ours. We have got to raise the importance of the mobile web by developing a solid content strategy aligned with our core values. We cannot continue to poorly communicate with large portions of the local and global population and expect success.

Beyond wanting to achieve success in student recruitment, faculty recruitment, and fundraising, there is something even more urgent that we must do. We must quit avoiding our obligations to the mobile web. If we continue to do so, we are guilty of denying access to education, the very ideal we claim to strive for as an institution. We send recruitment staff all over the world to recruit international students, but what is the point if we are not introducing ourselves to these students via a useful mobile site? There is a great deal of work and energy going into the creation of a Center for Social Justice on this campus, but shouldn’t a viable mobile content strategy be part of that dialogue?

The answer is (say it with me), “YES!!!”

McGrane gives a great example of an organization who faced a moral dilemma because of mobile content: From their research, they knew that they needed to get life-saving information into the hands of under-served populations who were having higher incidences of cancer. People in this category did not have public health information about the need for screenings, lifestyle changes, and other helpful tips for trying to remain healthy and cancer-free. The folks at discovered the research showing how many people were using their mobile phones to access information, and they re-designed their website with a mobile-first strategy. Since their mobile move, has nearly doubled the number of people visiting the site from a mobile device. Their work with a mobile content strategy will undoubtedly save lives.

The good news, in part, is that a responsive, mobile UM-Flint website will be here October 1 and there will be no looking back. Yay! Check that one off the to-do list. However, there is more to meeting this “social and moral imperative” than just having a site that is mobile and responsive. The ultimate promise of mobile content is to engage in meaningful conversation with all the people we want to invite into our university community from all walks of life, from every corner of the earth.

The mobile university website demands our ongoing attention. If we fail to meet this demand, in many ways we fail humanity. We cannot claim to truly fulfill our promise of access to education if we continue to make the web a low priority. Everyone should have access to education, and we need to deliver it to them.

Jen Hogan

More from Karen McGrane on the subject of mobile content strategy:

PODCAST: Karen McGrane on Web Strategy via 5by5
VIDEO: Karen McGrane’s Keynote at DrupalCon 2013