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Hurricane Sandy tests mobile's mettle for always-on capability

With Hurricane Sandy leaving its mark on the East Coast of the United States, mobile is proving its mettle as an always-on medium.

Industry experts agree that news and weather mobile sites are likely to see the biggest impact. Additionally, marketers are making sure they are monitoring their mobile site performance to make sure it is up-to-par.

?Keynote is going to be watching mobile and Web site performance closely today and throughout the storm and the cleanup,? said Daniel C. Berkowitz, senior director of corporate communications at Keynote Systems Inc., San Mateo, CA. ?We expect problems, but we won?t know until the storm actually makes landfall.

?The key thing is that companies need to be monitoring their mobile performance and connected Web site performance so they can gauge the effects of the storm and take appropriate responses,? he said.

?The big question mark is power outages and the extent of the outages, such as duration, as that is where we could really run into problems,? he said. ?If people don?t have power, they will probably flock to smartphones to get on mobile sites for news and weather, and that is where we could see a big impact.?

Instant information
Mobile is critical for users, especially during disastrous events such as Hurricane Katrina, Tropical Storm Irene and now Sandy.

Consumers are already relying on their mobile devices for day-to-day tasks. During events such as this, consumers rely on mobile apps and sites from services such as The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, as well as mobile news sites including The New York Times and CNN for the most up-to-date information.

Another essential feature of mobile is its ability to raise awareness of the severity of the storm and conditions via hyper-locally targeted banner ads, which can be used to send affected consumers important emergency information or seek help and donations from areas that were not impacted. 

?We realize that mobile is probably the most important media to those being impacted by disastrous storms and weather like the Frankenstorm currently expected to hit New York,? said Monica Ho, vice president of marketing at xAd, New York. 

?Smartphones provide people with quick access to weather conditions and alerts via popular weather and news sites and apps like the Weather Channel or local news stations,? she said.

?In addition, it serves as an essential communications tool allowing people to inform loved ones or emergency crews of their situation via social networks and SMS.?  

Real-time news

Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal opened up their subscription-based paywalls to give users access to news content.

Not only does this help publishers get content out to consumers quickly, it can also be a great way to lure consumers into digital subscriptions.

?Opening up the paywalls is an opportunity to show how well the services work while increasing subscriptions,? said Agata Kaczanowska, lead industry analyst and media specialist at IBISWorld, Santa Monica, CA.

?It is almost like a promotion, but it also positively helps their communities and aligns themselves with a positive name brand,? she said.

However, with this opportunity comes a big challenge for publishers to make sure that their digital offerings have the capacity to hold the flood of traffic coming in.

For natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, mobile takes on an always-on nature for publishers.

Consumers are often glued to their television sets, laptops and mobile devices simultaneously, meaning that it is critical for publishers to crank out information continuously across all screens.

?Hurricane Sandy is a mobile story,? said Cory Haik, executive producer of digital news at The Washington Post, Washington.

?With that in mind, we developed a number of editorial tools accessible from our mobile platforms ? in addition to the desktop ? so users can prepare for the storm, follow the latest, and contribute to our coverage by submitting their own photos and stories through social media.

?Right now, we are seeing an increase in traffic across the board, especially with our mobile products.?

Weather is also a naturally hot spot for marketers.

According to AccuWeather, Hurricane Sandy has brought in the most users that the company has ever had from both Web and mobile platforms. 

With the increase in traffic, it also opens up unique advertising opportunities for marketers to reach a wide group of users, which can be used with custom sponsorship deals that are either planned before a storm or last-minute real-time bidding and exchanges.

?What mobile has done is keep a consistent high flow of users to AccuWeather,? said Jim Candor, executive vice president and chief business officer of AccuWeather, State College, PA.

?Before the rapid rise in mobile the last few years, we would see a relative decrease in usage over weekends and evenings, but with mobile, we are able to get a more consistent usage throughout the day and week,? he said.