The following is a guest post from Tara Burghart, a content and marketing specialist at .orgSource. She is excited by the ways that social media has allowed associations to better connect with — and understand — their members.
Are you reading this on a tablet? Maybe even the 4–inch screen of your smartphone?
The answer is probably yes. The growth in mobile has been so fast that it’s sometimes hard for us to recognize how much it has changed most of our lives.
For instance, Cisco determined that the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the world’s population… this year! Nearly 30 percent of Americans say that their phone is the first and the last thing they look at each day, according to Qualcomm. The same survey found that nearly 70 percent sleep with their mobile device next to their bed.
Already, more than one in three American adults own a tablet device, according to the Pew Research Center. And helping make these phones and tablets attractive, mobile connection speeds more than doubled in 2012.
What does this all mean for associations?
It means your members are likely using their smartphones to try to renew their membership while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. They are likely trying to catch up on industry news with their tablet on their lap while relaxing on their couch over a weekend. And they are trying to accumulate some continuing education credits tapping away on an iPad during their ride on a commuter train.
The keyword is “trying.”
With the right website design and behind-the-scenes infrastructure, these sort of tasks should be easy for members to accomplish when looking at a big desktop monitor, or even a laptop. But they can be frustrating – or nearly impossible – when working with a tiny screen.
This isn’t a new problem of course. Smartphones had been around for several years when the game-changing iPhone was introduced in 2007.
So some associations created dedicated mobile versions of their website — simplified, streamlined editions that are stripped down of images and elements and some content. Other associations have developed apps so that they can easily communicate with members on the go.
But recently, a third option has emerged: Responsive design, an approach that aims to create websites that work and look great on any sized device, whether it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The technology site Mashable even declared 2013, “The Year of Responsive Design.”
In this approach, your association’s website is designed so that its layout, images, content, and navigation can change automatically according to the device being used. For instance, to a user on a desktop, your website would appear in its traditional three-column layout with a large menu bar. To a user browsing your site from her Android phone, the site might be a single-column layout with a small dropdown menu.
The Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS) opted to go with a responsive design for its website redesign this year. So did the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, while the American Association of Endodontists‘ new responsively designed site will launch later this summer.
Of course, responsive design is not without its own unique drawbacks. It takes more time to design, and therefore it’s more expensive. Third-party system applications might not be ready for a responsively designed rendering. And usually, you’ll want to rethink your entire content strategy, starting with mobile-first and working outwards.
Mobile apps still have an edge when used for targeted purposes, such as an association’s Annual Meeting – where maps, schedules, bios, and more can be gathered in one easy spot. Apps are also great for e-learning.
But for any association concerned about keeping members engaged as they increasingly go mobile, responsive design is a technique to seriously consider.
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