Why reinventing your mobile storytelling matters and how to do it

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Sahar Amer |  Aug 01, 2019

With a rise in users engaging with news on smartphones, news publishers are rethinking their mobile storytelling strategies. Findings from last year’s Digital News Report, found that 62% of smartphone users were accessing news through their devices. With the number of smartphone users expected to rise to 2.5 billion in 2019, and mobiles being the preferred device to access news, publishers need to better adapt their mobile storytelling to capture and keep audiences’ interest.

Digital News Report, 2018

We spoke with two specialists to learn more about how to enhance content on smartphones for better audience engagement: Tom Platt, the new Digital Editor for agency video at Reuters (and member of 2019’s cohort of Forbes 30 under 30 in Media and Marketing), and Jacob Gjørtz, Chief Marketing Officer at CCI Europe.

1. The intention is mobile

“When you have news consumption shifting, not just from print to digital, but from ‘traditional digital’ (websites) to mobile devices, you need to see how you can cater for a better user experience on mobile”, Jacob Gjørtz states. Jacob explains that applying the same print or online stories from a website for mobile consumption creates a bad user experience

He continues, “as news publishers, you need to consider that the mobile provides a different user experience and therefore you have to adapt your story formats to be native to mobile in order to provide users with the best experience.” 

Jacob points out that there could be a possible threat in audience loss if news publishers fail to develop their mobile content. “If news publishers don’t start adapting their content to mobiles, audiences will seek out other publishers who are doing it better.” It’s why social media platforms are more popular among news publishers, “because they offer a user experience which is digitally native and offers a lot of gratification.” 

Although some publishers have been developing better mobile formatting for some time now, the majority of article content on mobile hasn’t been adapted from traditional websites. Jacob predicts that we’ll be seeing a lot more progress with layouts like The Guardian’s animations and explainers, The New York Times long-form scrollytelling, Quartz data visualization essays, and BBC’s Expander format, in the future. 

“It’s important to create different kinds of formats for different kinds of stories.” 

2. Immersing and connecting the audience

“At Reuters we focus our digital storytelling on the subjects we know will perform well for digital audiences – stories people need to see to enjoy, shooting which makes them feel like they’re there, and stories they want to connect with”, Tom Platt explains. 

Previous broadcast conventions tend to be impersonal between the viewer and the subject. As video is becoming more and more popular for news content, capturing a ‘moment’ instead of heavily manufactured and produced shots will bring the audience closer to the story

Tom suggests, “think about the kind of video you’d find on your own camera roll – you filmed the must-see moments that involve movement. Usually you’re close-up to your subject – or trying to get closer using the zoom –you’re trying to fill your screen. When someone speaks to the camera, they’re in the moment, talking to you as a friend or a confidant. I’m a big believer in putting the human element first.”

“Our interviews and our shooting is getting tighter – there is more movement. We follow people down the side of a mountain and through cities using GoPros and gimbals, rather than static tripod shots that track from a distance and disrupt the connection between the viewer and subject.”

Tom stresses that from his experience at Sky News, making the subject the main event is always beneficial.

“Working at a publisher I always found that engagement rates – whether that was time watched or comments/shares on social media were higher when you let the characters speak for themselves. It creates a more intimate relationship between the viewer and the subject.” 

“At Reuters, we’re thinking not just about the story itself – but the distinct elements like soundbites, creative b-roll, down the barrel shots – which will help a digital publisher maximise key metrics: their watch-time on their video, engagement with the video on social platforms, and how to create their own distinct voice in a busy digital space. We’re giving clients more control over what direction a digital edit can take.”

He concludes, “Reuters will increase the amount of story that comes from the interviewee – that means more soundbites. Individuals will tell more of their story through their own words – so a client can choose which of those are most pertinent to the story they want to tell.”

3. Future trends and predictions in mobile storytelling

Overall, news publishers will continue to develop their mobile storytelling strategies, creating more engaged, personalized content that is instinctive to smart phones. 

Digital storytelling will become more mixed-media. Publishers will create more content where video, stills and text properly interact and complement each other. That will create really rich experiences for the benefit of the audience – and will increase dwell time and engagement, states Tom. 

Jacob sees three overall trends developing, “We’re starting to see these already, but they’ll continue to grow stronger. Video, short and long form, and personalized story formats; the right combination of these will become more and more popular going forward as we also become better at combining user analytics and AI with the actual content creation.”

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