The time has come for towns to use mobile apps as a communications tool.
At the 2020 New Jersey Planning Conference, MyDowntown Mobile Principal, Ken Gruskin, AIA, PP, CID, spoke about how towns can take advantage of growing smartphone usage.
In case you couldn’t make it to the Conference, here are some key insights from Ken’s presentation.
Everyone loves stats (at least we do)! Here are a few interesting ones about cellphone usage today:
- 87% of Time Spent on Phones is in Apps
- There were 257 Million Smartphone Users in 2018
- 97% of Americans Own a Cellphone
- 69.6% of US Population Uses Smartphones (2017)
- Smartphone Household Penetration in the US 74%
- 74% Have a Smartphone in NJ
You’ll want to determine your goals for your mobile app before you start developing it. Are you focused on promoting local shopping, building community, notifying residents of important alerts, or is it something else?
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Some key features to consider including in your community app are:
- Branding: Reinforce and express your existing town brand in the app. If you don’t have a clear, well-designed brand, this is a great time to develop one! Your brand should present an image that reflects your own, unique town identity.
- Directory: This is a key feature if you want to promote local shops! You can include business listings, maps, directions, hours, and parking information to name a few.
- Events: This is incredibly valuable if you’re interested in building a stronger sense of community in your town. Getting people out and about in your town starts with them knowing there are things to do! So, promote local events, include an event calendar, provide all the details they need to know and give them directions for how to get there! Make it super easy for them. And as we’ll go over shortly, send push notifications to remind them of these great things your town offers.
- Coupons: We all love a good deal, don’t we? If one of your main focuses is promoting local shop patronage, coupons are a great tool for that. Many of your local businesses probably already have some discounts available to their customers. You (and they) can use your app to help spread the word (and maybe develop some in-app exclusives!). In the app, post these local coupons and discounts, and again, tell people about them with Push Notifications! Be sure to be delicate here about doing too many of these types of “ad” pushes. See if you can come up with ways to pair valuable information with a deal promotion. For example, pair the ice cream shop’s coupon with a half-day school notification: “School’s out early today! Send the kids over to Sandy’s Ice Cream Shop for 2 free toppings on their ice cream!”
- Push Notifications: As promised above, here is a little more about how you can use the mobile-app-unique feature of push notifications! This is a key differentiator between your app and your website (not that there’s anything wrong with websites!). Push notifications allow you to reach out to your audience instead of only being able to wait for them to come to you. So once they have the app, you can talk right to them! And as we touched on under the Coupons section above, you don’t want to over-push. One way to help with that is to create different push groups or types that people can sign up for in the app. Don’t have kids? Don’t get school updates! Only sign up for what’s of interest to you. So just a quick reminder, you can send push notifications for event information and reminders, coupons, school updates, street closures, and more.
- Polls and Surveys: Get the information you want to know, right from the people who know it – and without having to get them to town hall! Integrate a polling system with your app to learn more about what your community wants. Whether it’s feedback on a newly proposed master plan, or what types of shops the people are hoping to fill up their redeveloped downtown.
- Beacon Technology: Send incredibly targeted push notifications. For example, place a beacon at the farmer’s market, and send app-exclusive coupons to people attending the market! If you’re not there, you won’t be able to get the great deals!
- App Management: Once the app has been developed, you’ll want to make sure that you have an easy way to keep the app fresh. “Content is King!” as they say. So look for a user-friendly content management system (also known as a CMS) that allows someone on your team to easily make updates. Of course, the alternative to this is to have your app developer do these updates for you, or have a combination of the two. Note: you should expect to have at least some sort of maintenance program, which covers behind-the-scenes updates to make sure the app is always functioning properly on all of the latest operating systems. The item in question is whether your developer will help you with the face-forward content updates. Having your developer as a backup, possibly on retainer for 3-7 hours per month or more, in case you need assistance in keeping up, is a great idea.
- Social Media: Help build community engagement within the app by offering community posts, location check-ins, and allow for free PR! Connect to all of the top social networks and allow sharing of content in the app including deals, events, news and more.
- Links: Make sure valuable links are pulled into the app and don’t take users out of the app and into their browser. You can extend the usage of your app by keeping them with you using in-app browser functionality. Include valuable information and tools that are available on the web so that you’re not needing to enter the same content in multiple places! Link to municipal information such as library events, public works information, etc.
- Local News: Share the latest News and Information with your community. You may want to curate the information that is shared or tap into an existing news outlet’s RSS feed so the information is auto-populated. Just remember, you won’t be able to edit or curate RSS content.
- Loyalty Program: Small businesses in your town may want a loyalty program but don’t know where to start! Your app can facilitate that with a multi-location loyalty program. If shopping locally and building loyalty is a focus for you, a loyalty program is key!
- Photos/Videos: You’ll, of course, want to have a gallery of photos and videos to showcase all of the best features of your community!
- Geo-location: To make it easy for app users to get to the places they’re looking for, you’ll want them to be able to view nearby businesses based on their current location – and then even get directions to that place!
While apps aren’t very new anymore, the local, town app is a relatively new concept that is making waves across the country, and we suggest you join in. An app can be a great addition, and even evolution, of your existing digital communication strategy. You don’t need an app to replace your website – there is certainly room for both, however, a mobile app can be valuable for building a sense of community in a time where everyone tends to be looking down at their phone.
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