ideas / Mobile

Mobile news alerts: An underused tool

iPhone SMS alert from the New York TimesHave you ever deleted a text message without reading it? Most people wouldn’t, which makes SMS text messaging a potentially valuable tool for news organizations.

Use of a texting service is different than a mobile site or iPhone application because it delivers news to the reader without requiring the reader to seek it on his own. All he/she has to do is sign up.

I can see how it’d get annoying — perhaps spammy– but the service is all opt-in.  If you have high-quality content, this won’t be an issue.

Barack Obama’s campaign is proof tha text alerts can be successful. He texted alerts to his supporters and even broke news of his VP via text message.

It baffles me that most news sites which offer text alerts bury the feature somewhere on the site. Pro news organizations like Tampa Bay Online offer text alerts, but the feature is hidden under the “tools” option.

The New York Times offers the service too, but again, it’s a hidden option that most readers probably don’t realize they have.  Even a Google search didn’t yield results for LA Times’ mobile alerts, which only leads me to assume they don’t offer the service.

The option to subscribe for text alerts should be offered prominently on the homepage, right alongside the option to subscribe to RSS., a project out of UC Berkeley, is a great example of college media that offers text alerts and features it on their homepage (found via Richard Koci Hernandez).

The best texting service is designed with narrow subscription options (i.e. specific categories/sections of news alerts) so your readers receive only the news they want.

WordPress users have the option of using a plugin called SMS Text Message which allows the admin to send an alert directly from the dashboard.  The downside is that it doesn’t allow readers to choose the category they want.

Another free option that allows you to mass text is Tatango, which can be used by anyone (even you College Publisher folk).  Tatango does allow readers to sign up for the category they choose and the account can be linked with your RSS feed.

The advertising hasn’t quite caught up for text alerts (The NYT doesn’t have a single ad in their alerts). I could see an ad offer being sent out every 10 alerts or included at the bottom of every few alerts.

Not everyone will sign up, but it’s about offering another means for your readers to consume your news. Those who prefer the service will value it.

So set a goal for yourself this week or this month to have a system for giving your readers text alerts. Experiment and see if it’s successful. Feature it somewhere on your homepage.