We know that more and more users access their favorite forum communities on their phones and tablets. This trend will continue to accelerate. How should community managers react to keep their forum active? In this blog post we examine three options.
1. Do nothing.
The low cost, low stress approach. We find that a typical end user will “suffer” through a poorly designed platform if the community has achieved “critical mass” and the user generated content remains entertaining. This approach seems risky because there is so much competition for users’ attention.
2. Responsive design.
The modern approach. In this scenario, the forum platform maintains the same functionality but the page automatically responds to the size of the user’s device when it loads. Some custom programming is required but the underlying mechanics of the site can typically stay the same.
3. Build a native app.
The “app store” approach. This approach is appealing because it gives you “shelf space” in the app store. But it can be expensive and time consuming. Tapatalk is one option that exists to port your forum into its own app but a branded version of your forum requires a $99 setup fee and ongoing costs of $69 per month.
We are fans of the second option — responsive design for forum platforms. The biggest drawback to this approach is that, as a forum owner or community manager, you’re competing against apps like Facebook and Instagram that sit right on the home screen of the user’s phone. Unfortunately, a responsive forum platform does not automatically give you presence on the home screen of the user’s mobile phone.
In this day and age, such a presence is necessary to win the attention of your users. When they’re bored and looking at their phones, it must be easy for them to access your forum.
We create a shiny shortcut for Ninja Post forum communities but we typically rely on users to add the shortcut themselves. It is preferable to take steps to add your forum to Apple’s App Store and to the Google Play store, and this is a service we are beginning to offer to the website owners we work with.
Thousands of users visit our forums every day. Incredibly, about half our traffic is users on a mobile phone or tablet device. The increasing popularity of mobile devices and tablets cannot be denied.
In just a few short years, traffic to our forums has shifted dramatically from primarily desktop visitors to a split between desktop and mobile users with a small slice of tablet users.
In 2012, 74% of our traffic was from desktop users and the remaining 26% of traffic was made up of mobile phones and tablets. Today, in 2014, only 48% of our traffic is from desktop users, and mobile phone users represent an astonishing 45% of our traffic. The remaining 7% of traffic is from tablets.
Tablet usage has not changed much. In 2012, 4% of our visitors visited on a tablet. Today, that number has increased to about 7%. Over the next few years, we expect to see an increase in tablet usage as these devices become cheaper and more prevalent. Our development team is planning accordingly.
The table below shows the how the landscape has changed over the last three years:
In this day and age when 50% of forum traffic comes from users on mobile phones or tablets, every forum should have a fancy icon that users can add to the home screen on their phone. Kind of like a badge of honor users can add to their mobile device. We are happy to report that we have begun rolling out this functionality for our clients.
One of our goals is to create habits among users. When they’re bored and take out their phone, we want them to see what’s happening on their favorite forum! Requiring users to open the web browser on their phone and then navigate to the forum is a cumbersome process and one we want to avoid. After all, one key to creating new a habit is to make sure the habit easy to adopt and we’re mindful of that fact.
Getting users to add a sweet icon to their phone reinforces the “Hey, when you’re bored come see us!” habit and it acknowledges the dramatic shift from desktop to mobile.
Add shortcut from Ninja Post forum to phone in iOS
In last week’s blog post we noted, “Forums are desktop applications in a mobile age.” On the bright side, we believe that many existing monetization strategies for forum communities remain applicable no matter how their users access a given forum. However, for a forum to remain profitable, its audience must stay engaged and user contributions must remain high. If forum owners offer a lousy experience to users on mobile devices, contributions will decline. If contributions decline, then so does the ability for site owners to generate revenue.
We believe that users on mobile devices are unlikely to write long posts. On the other hand, we believe mobile users are likely to post pictures while on-the-go. If the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, then the shift to mobile represents a great opportunity to capture interesting and provocative user generated content.
This opportunity explains why one of our most important goals is to provide users with an outstanding mobile experience. Ninja Post already provides a user interface specifically designed for mobile devices and supports mobile photo uploads when users are on-the-go. The next step is to support mobile video uploads; a feature we plan to introduce very soon.
Ninja Post provides its clients with a skin specifically for mobile devices. This makes it easy for users to participate when they’re on the go. After all, communities powered by Ninja Post should be accessible anyone, anywhere, and by any device.