Mobile News Notifications: A Two-wave Experiment with Smartphone Users

Publication Date October 27, 2016

Produced by the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin, “Mobile News Notifications: A Two-Wave Experiment With Smartphone Users,” examines the benefits of mobile push notifications to drive traffic to online news apps and sites, and the value of notifications to inform the public. The study includes data from 420 participants, who were asked at random to download either the CNN, BuzzFeed News or E! News app and to allow or not allow notifications. Among the main findings of the study were:

  • Notifications encourage app traffic: Those asked to install an app with notifications (27 percent) used it daily or more often compared to those who did not enable notifications (12 percent).
  • Notifications can prompt people to take action: Of those who received notifications 59 percent reported going to a news app or website after receiving one.
  • Not all notifications are created equal: Only those assigned to receive CNN notifications showed increased knowledge about the news content. This finding leaves room for further study focused on what kind of notifications lead to learning and examining factors such as timing, content and the information environment.
  • Older people like notifications more than younger people: Participants over 30 years old were more satisfied with notifications, with 27 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 37 percent of those 50 and older saying they were very likely to keep the notifications on their phone. This compares with 17 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds.
  • Tailored, relevant content is important: When asked what they liked least about notifications, 32 percent of participants said “untailored content” or that the app was giving them information “they didn’t care about”; 33 percent provided similar reasons for turning off notifications.
  • Notification frequency needs to be balanced with user needs: Participants (30 percent) cited “quantity and timing” as a main reason for turning off notifications.

“There have been a lot of questions surrounding news organizations’ use of mobile notifications, and I think our findings show that there are benefits to news sites that use them,” said Natalie “Talia” Stroud, Ph.D., director of the Engaging News Project. “Our results also show that more research is needed to better understand why some notifications are more effective than others.”

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