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Q&A: ABC pushes custom election coverage in mobile outreach

q&A ABC news

ABC News’ decision to send 10 million push alerts to users of its mobile application who had signed up for election night alerts paid off in increased engagement with the brand at the risk of alienating consumers.

The network had focused on giving users multiple entry points into signing up for a range of push alerts with its apps during coverage of the 2014 United States midterm elections. Mobile’s role in helping news organizations deliver up-to-the-minute results from the polls points to its strength as a tool for building public engagement in real time. 

“Our goal was to deliver alerts that were relevant to each person instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Peter Roybal, head of mobile at ABC News. “Users were able to choose what they were interested in hearing about on election night.

“We were successful because our approach was a thoughtful marriage of all of the data available and the needs of our users,” he said. 

In an interview with Mobile Marketer, Mr. Roybal discussed how ABC leveraged mobile to give individual consumers election coverage that fit their preferences.
 
How did ABC leverage mobile to engage the audience with election coverage?
ABC's mobile offering for the election was focused on giving users multiple entry points into signing up for a range of types of push alerts with the ABC News apps. Our goal was to deliver alerts that were relevant to each person instead using a one-size-fits-all approach. Users were able to choose what they were interested in hearing about on election night.
 
There were four ways to opt-in: Users could tell us their level of interest in the election from “send me everything” to “key highlights”. 

Mobile users could pick specific races to watch.

Users could pick specific races to watch. Users who shared their location could receive statewide race alerts based on where they were. 

Users could opt into general alerts – perfect for those interested in only top level breaking news. We limited this to four alerts on election night for major events such as Republicans taking control of the Senate.
 
We were able to give users a great deal of control without them having to spend a lot of time configuring alerts.
 
What mobile approaches produced the biggest successes?
For the first time we were able to let people sign up for alerts starting from our Web site, instead of having to start in the app. Users who saw an ABC News story on Facebook or from a Web search could start the alert signup from the Web. 

Clicking the site would take you through the steps of downloading the app and setting up alerts. We saw a lot of success with this approach, resulting in click-throughs and user action.

This was a new capability that originally started as a Hack Week project at Urban Airship.
 
Rejecting the one-size-fits-all mentality.

Another thing that people may not typically think of is the thought that goes into curating and writing the alerts themselves. Our newsroom is organized around pushing out information as soon as we have it, because we want our users to have the information as it happens. 

On election night we connected the ABC Decision Desk system for projecting winners in races directly to mobile alerts for the first time. This got the information out immediately but also freed up other parts of the newsroom to focus on alerts related to the overall balance of power in the Senate and key victory and concession speeches.
 
How did you measure this success?
We measured success through alert sign ups, the level of interaction with the alerts, and the feedback that we received from users – which was complaint free.
 
Why did these mobile approaches succeed?
We were successful because our approach was a thoughtful marriage of all of the data available and the needs of our users. 

Election night has a lot going on. It happens fast and in big bursts. Users likely are following along with multiple device as well as television. 

Mobile alerts are perfect for providing a level of ambient awareness that complements all the media the user is consuming. When you want to go deeper into a particular story, all you need to do is swipe the alert.
 
What challenges did you have? 
Our approach worked really well. At the start we weren’t sure that people would be able to make the leap from the Web site to the app for signing up, but the results were very good. 

People we able to make it through the funnel and customize their news. 

A marriage of data and users' needs.

This was also the first big event since iOS 8 launched. We added the ability to share and follow right from the lock screen when iOS 8 launched. 

It worked well in the real-time world of social on election night.
 
What has the experience taught you about leveraging mobile to engage the audience in the election story?
Personalized push has been a centerpiece of our mobile portfolio for more than a year. On election night, we were able to take our options for covering big events with alerts to the next level. 

We expect to use these capabilities for future events like the Oscars or big sporting events, or even for conferences like CES.

You never know what is coming next in news, but this approach allows us to keep our users informed.
 
Is there anything else that you’d like to highlight?
Live video is another aspect of the mobile app that people are always surprised by. 

We have seen huge success with using push to drive users to live video. On election night we had 7 hours of live streaming news coverage on the app. 

In addition we had live streams of victory and concession speeches from around the country, and users were able to watch this coverage while exploring other items, such as stories, inside the app.
 
Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York. 

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Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

 
Related content: Government, ABC News, mobile, mobile marketing, mobile commerce, Q and A, Peter Roybal

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