Community Cohesiveness Through Mobile Phones
Today, mobile devices have become a way of life. The instant gratification of news, shopping, social media, navigation and much more has become a given, all with the convenience of the swipe of a screen. A recent Forbes article revealed that since 2014, the use of mobile apps surpasses that of mobile internet browsers at an astounding 86% (apps) to 14% (browsers). Consequently, the most effective way to reach people now is through the development of mobile apps.
This trend is starting to reflect in the non-Jewish, non-profit world. Andrew Olsen, Vice President of ad agency Russ Reid and contributing writer to The Non-Profit Times, states that it appears non-profits have reached a tipping point when it comes to the utilization of mobile sites. Olsen relates how a year-over-year digital trend data chart compiled from a group of non-profits in the last two years shows the following statistics:
- 35% increase in web traffic going to mobile devices
- 42% increase in donations made to non-profits from mobile devices
- 28% increase in revenue generated via mobile device transactions.
He finalizes his point by revealing that new research shows that 50% of all mobile users have completely abandoned a brand based on a poor mobile experience.
Jewish organizations and communities must face the challenge of keeping up with this trend. All the more so in the world of kiruv. Organizations work hard to follow-up participants after one outreach event to keep them engaged in ongoing programming. This is especially difficult with the competing “noise” that people hear on social media, their computer, and more. Consequently our communication must be the most efficient and effective. Most organizations use e-newsletters and know that the typical 20% open rate is not the very best we can be doing. What will our participants open? How do we go directly to where they are – on their mobile phones?
Developing a custom app is a lengthy process that requires time, resources, and once it is created, sufficient resources to maintain and manage. Most organizations don’t have the necessary funds or manpower to develop an app, even if you know how it will help you reach your target audience. It is a troubling challenge if you are hoping to thrive and keep your members informed and excited about activities and services your community can offer.
The Israel Forever Foundation, for example, focuses entirely on inspiring unaffiliated Jews about Israel. Executive Director Elana Heideman explains: “We are interested in an app to make our content more easily accessible for people on the go, giving them direct opportunities to engage with Israel from wherever in the world they might be. The cost as well as staffing and maintenance needs are the primary reasons this remains unrealistic for us.”
Outreach organizations clearly recognize the need for apps. The Orthodox Union has developed three custom apps: one for Torah shiurim, one for kosher resource availability, and one for college students. The OU “Torah App” is a great way to learn “on the go” but is not built around community members or community participation. The apps are not synced to social media and require management that is completely separate from OU events around the US.
United Synagogue of America’s youth movement, USY, has made some inroads into the mobile market. Four out of seventeen of their regions have their own mobile app available for android phones. Those four are linked online, but do not share a look, a “user experience,” a logo, menus or content. They cannot sync data nor share it with their users or with USY’s umbrella National Office in an automated way.
Individual branches of organizations, like USY, generally end up using “DIY” (Do It Yourself) tools to build their own website, of which there are several. They include:
Appery.io is a mobile drag-and-drop platform with interactive tutorials and offers advanced options. The first app you build is free, and after that it’s $25/month for three projects, $75/month for 15, and $180/month for 40.
Buzztouch offers web-based software that allows you to host your apps on their site or on a cloud storage service like Dropbox. They provide an open source “app engine” for iPhone, iPad and Android applications, and are used together with the iOS and Android software developer kits.
Appmakr is also a drag-and-drop platform that only costs $1 a month and allows you to make your own iPhone apps, Android apps and HTML5 mobile formatted websites — with no coding required.
If you choose to use DIY options such as these, you may still run into the challenges of design, understanding Jewish communal “user experience,” and the needs of ongoing management (in terms of time and money). You will also be missing the essential feature of “umbrella organizations.” While a standalone organization may have a DIY option, it doesn’t have a system in place to share information between branch to branch or from branch to national office which is critical.
An Israeli team of innovators has come up with a solution, “Communer,” to comprehensively address all of these challenges. Avi Oren, Eli Magzimoff and Nissim Avitan set out to create one app that can be affordably customized for any organization, can be automatically synced with all of your other social platforms (web, Facebook, etc.) and is primarily focused on one goal: better, cheaper, easier, faster, more qualitative community engagement. “We are confident this is a “game changer” for Jewish communities, Jewish organizations and Jewish mobile phone users,” Avi Oren tells us.
By using Communer, organizations can take a pre-existing structure and app that was designed with Jewish community engagement in mind, and customize it solely for their own goals. In addition, administrators and/or community managers can update all relevant news and event information to the app, which will automatically update all the relevant platforms (website, Facebook page, WhatsApp group, etc.) and reach people more efficiently. Oren’s team has added an additional feature — a “community search” with information provided by the community. If your participants are visiting another town and want to find kosher food, a Jewish community event or a minyan, other “Communers” will have entered that information.
The ability to push and pull information from branch to branch has been a major attraction to the platform for organizations like Lavi-Olami and Chabad, both of whom have branches that are in varying stages of adopting Communer, along with over 230 other communities/organizations.
It’s clear that for Oren, Magzimoff and Avitan, success is not only measured by the number of contracts or the revenue generated. It’s really about getting Jews to know what is available around them so that they can participate. Magzimoff, also a rabbi, was on shlichut from Israel in Europe several years ago, where he saw the widespread problems with community engagement.
“Communer started from a very simple idea for my own Jewish communities to communicate better with their members and evolved into providing a wide and advanced solution for all non-profits and beyond,” Magzimoff explains. “We have developed Communer firstly because in our age every form of community is having a really hard time reaching out properly to their people, but moreover so that anyone can find out about any type of event, lecture or any Jewish or communal service anywhere in the world in a simple app click. By reaching people where they are we can make it easier to participate and simply connect more Jews.”
For more information, visit: www.communer.co.