At the end of last year, I tried to predict content strategy trends for 2011. One of them was mobile content strategy, and there’s no doubt that this has come true. Jakob Nielsen has been writing about mobile and in Chicago, the Web Content Conference will focus on mobile and content (June 6 - 7, 2011).

The Challenge of Mobile Content Strategy

Mobile content strategy requires a whole different set of muscles when thinking about users. When we think about users for typical user persona development, we build on who they are -- their information needs, interests, what they care about. However, when we’re developing a mobile content strategy we have to rejigger that thinking because user personas are not as important as user scenarios.

User scenarios anticipate the needs of a user in a mobile situation, when their information needs might be different than in a standard, desktop situation (and by that I mean a situation where a user has a full interface and is not pressed for time). A typical user scenario would look like this:

User A is at one of our physical stores. He wants to know how much the camera that he is holding in his hand would cost online. Can he save money by buying the camera or any of the accessories online? Is it possible to use the online price in the store to negotiate for a better deal.

Every team has their own methodology for developing user profiles. They should definitely be revisited at least once a year, if not more often. If you are developing mobile content strategies then you need to adapt your user personas to user scenarios because what your users are doing when they access your content means more than anything else in the picture at that moment.

Why User Scenarios are Critical for Mobile Content Strategy

Let’s break this down. A major part of content strategy is defining your users so you can help them accomplish their tasks more easily. When you define your users and what they care about, how they might behave on a website changes when you consider their behavior in a mobile environment.

Let’s take the case of a pregnant woman who likes to hang out on a pregnancy website. She spends the majority of her time on the message boards with other women who are due around the same time she is, and she reads articles that are pertinent to her baby’s growth. These are things she does during her breaks at work.

Why would this woman access this site on a mobile device? She’s bored waiting in line at the post office, and wants to waste time? She wants to check if another woman is okay that wrote in earlier this morning complaining of lower back pain? Possibly. Chances are though, this woman is only going to check the site if she has a question about her baby -- she has a symptom that’s occurred suddenly  -- and she will probably be nervous when doing so. So, her entire scenario changes -- her points of reference change. This changing point of reference is EXACTLY where mobile content strategists need to pay attention.

Creating User Scenarios with Changing Points of Reference

In my opinion, the best way for a team to attack a mobile content strategy is to consider the points of reference your site or application offers a user (what’s the value in your content?) and then try and determine how that might change in a mobile situation. To look at it another way, what are the critical pieces of information you can provide in a fast, quick access situation? What is the point of reference for the information you provide in a desktop situation? And what is it in a mobile situation?

Build out specific case scenarios for each of your users. In fact, build out 3 mobile scenarios for each of your users. You may find out that no one solution works for all of them. That may be the dirty secret of mobile at this point in terms of technology and devices. However, you probably can satisfy most of them. Focus on solutions that work toward building a strong mobile content platform -- that respects your users’ changing points of reference when they are in a mobile situation.

Content is About Points of Reference

Creating engaging, useful content means something different when we talk about mobile content strategy. Again, think about the pregnant user with the changing point of reference. What’s more important to her? The content that surrounds what she wants to know or just that critical kernel she’s trying to find out to alleviate her anxiety about her new symptom?

When she’s sitting at her desktop at work, she’s interested in browsing, so engagement is important because you might make her stick for longer if you create content that’s compelling. However, if she’s in a mobile situation, she’s not browsing. In fact, she’s as sticky as they come, because she’s on the hunt for information. But your job is to make it easy for her to find that information in a mobile situation so you become a trusted source.

Design, Information Architecture and Mobile Content Strategy. How can you make it easiest for your users to find the right content in a mobile situation? You make it easier by respecting the marriage of content and the user interface -- the entire display of the content and choices about the content relies even more heavily on design and IA than it does in a standard Web browsing scenario.

We’ll talk about that next month. In the meantime, I’ll be reading everything I can about mobile content strategy in preparation for the Web Content Conference this June in Chicago. I’ll be there -- will you?

Editor's Note: Additional articles on Content Strategy include: