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Creating a tablet application for your news organization is challenging but doable. Be ready to admit your failures and build on them, said digital media guru Doug Bennett.

Doug Bennett“When you’re in digital you have to recognize that there’s no recipe for success because you’re always experimenting and trying new things,” he said.

Bennett is the former president of Freedom Interactive who headed the Orange County Register’s experimental iPad app called “The Peel.” He shared thoughts and lessons learned from the project during a Digital Publishing Alliance event at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Bennett believes that creating apps will be important for the future of news organizations. Projections show that one in three Internet users will use a tablet by 2014. Tablets are a medium that didn’t exist two years ago but are now being used by more than 54 million people, he said.

Although the Orange County Register’s app was cut because of new ownership, the development team learned quite a bit.

Tips for reaching a younger audience by Doug Bennett

When creating apps for a younger audience, remember this is an age group that doesn’t usually read your print product so you will need to find new ways to reach them.

  • Simply replicating a print publication won't draw in a younger audience. Take advantage of the tablet's technology. Let the content speak for itself in terms of credibility.

    “You can’t put the same content on a new device and expect a different demographic to use it,” said Bennett. “A younger audience expects a different experience on mobile than an older audience.”
  • The younger demographic is attracted to content that is more personalized to their likes and dislikes.
  • Give the product a unique name. For example, if you name the product the newspaper’s name, the audience will assume it’s a brand replica. In this case, the product was named “The Peel.”
  • Not many advertising dollars are going to mobile products right now. However, people, especially young people, are spending quite a bit of time on mobile. Don’t just move web ads over to your mobile product. News organizations have struggled to sell web ads but this does not need to be the case with mobile/tablet ads. Tablet users are more engaged than web users, said Bennett.

Seventy-seven percent of users use the device daily and spend more than 90 minutes a day using the tablet. According to Bennett, tablet users are more engaged with content and with ads. When you provide interactive content such as video, music and high resolution photos it engages the audience more than a smart phone or print product.

  • Additional advertising tips
    • Create ads that are related to the medium. Create ads that will attract the given audience.
    • Engage the audience through the ads. Mobile ads can be more attractive than print ads.
    • Furniture store print ads are known for being loaded with photos. Focus on just a couple of products to “talk” about in a tablet ad.
    • Create an Internet experience for users. Bring the ad to life with other images, video. Incorporate live elements, too. For example, incorporate the business’ Twitter feeds. The point is to create elements like a Twitter newsfeed so the audience sees an ad that is ever changing due to the elements you add. It helps give them a reason to interact with the ad, said Bennett.
    • At first, you’ll need to help advertisers design their ads for a tablet.
    • It will take time for your advertisers and sales representatives to become accustomed to the new medium.
  • Collaborate with journalists/reporters in your newsroom. There are numerous resources in your own newsroom. Newsroom staff can also learn video and social media skills by assisting with these apps.“You can’t afford to start a separate newsroom, for pursuing mobile but you certainly can put together a small team that can pursue video, help with curation, help with design and graphics and supplement the efforts of what resources you already have in place,” said Bennett.
  • Videos should play a major role to content development.
  • An integral part of “The Peel” was a feature story that was of interest to a younger audience. The feature stories were brought to life with short videos, high-resolution photos and interactive features created in HTML5.
  • Provide interactive content such as 360 degree turning, rub and reveal, audio, photo slide shows, music and video.
  • Bennett said they produced a product for Monday through Saturday but later learned that users wanted a similar experience on Sunday, too.
  • It will take time to become profitable and increase the audience base.

Bennett said he feels “The Peel” could have become profitable based on the team’s original two-year timeline. However, quite a bit was learned in the short time “The Peel,” was in existence.

“The knowledge gained from this experience has allowed me to become an industry expert in mobile and tablet publishing, but boy did it come with some bumps and bruises,” said Bennett.


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