Digital signage is a visual communications tool that is out there for anyone and everyone to see, but feels like it’s talking just to the person looking at the screen. For starters, it’s less cluttered than posters and flyers (plus less work involved with putting all those up and then taking them down), and it’s greener (no paper or ink to recycle or go to landfills). There are also far more options with digital signs that with any other communications method.
- you can deliver breaking news in real-time
- screens are bright and show motion
- you can have multiple things on a screen at once
- you can change what’s on the screen throughout the day
- it’s cheaper than print
- it’s more environmentally friendly than print
Different viewers are engaged in different ways, and digital signage is extremely versatile. As we know, some people learn better from reading, others do better with audio and video, and experiential learners need interaction like touchscreens. Because digital signage can do all of these things, it helps get information across to all the learning types.
What it is
Digital signage is simply using electronic screens of any size and shape to display messages, media or alerts to targeted viewers. Those viewers can be the general public or internal employees (or, in the case of schools and universities, students).
We’ve all seen a digital sign, but when we talk about a “digital signage system”, we’re talking about a centrally-managed network of displays that require a lot more infrastructure and management than a single screen.
What you need
- Design apps – software that sits on a desktop and allows users to create artwork, video, messages and layouts. This can be part of a CMS, or external applications like Photoshop and PowerPoint
- Content Management System (CMS) – a software platform that sits on a server (on-site or cloud-hosted) that lets users import and schedule content into playlists and send those playlists to media players
- Media players – PCs with playback software that receive content playlists from the CMS over a network, and then pushes that content out to displays
- Displays – also called screens or digital signs. These are usually large LCD screens, interactive touchscreens, or video walls (several screens working together as one large one). However, anything with a screen that can receive a signal from the CMS can be a digital sign, including tablets, desktops and phones
Displays can show content full screen or in multiple zones, and can run as many playlists as you like. You can schedule different playlists to different screens, and can also set days and times for specific content to display. Depending on your CMS, you can also override all screens with emergency alerts.
Before you buy anything, you need to get a team together that includes everyone who will be involved during purchasing and implementation, as well as those who will actually run the system on a day-to-day basis. The more people involved at the start will avoid costly delays down the road, and ensures you have more buy-in from the start.
Sit down and plan out what you want your digital signage to accomplish. Get detailed – the more you can anticipate in advance, the more targeted your search for the rights products will be, and the more effective your deployment will be on day one:
- Goals – Overall, what your organization hopes to achieve
- Objectives – Within organizational goals, specific benchmarks being strived for
- Plans – Outline of strategies and tactics within defined objectives and goals, considering all available input
- Strategies – Programs, campaigns or communications within a plan to help achieve objectives
- Tactics – Specific tasks related to strategies
- The location of displays and which screens will show what content
- IT issues like connectivity, bandwidth and network security policies
- Outsourced services like content creation, paid data subscriptions, etc.
- Budgeting concerns
- Potential revenue sources like advertising
- Crisis communications plans and alert modes
- Future expansion of the system and scalability
Shop around for your CMS first, and then worry about hardware. The software is where everything will happen, and you want to make your content creators’ and managers’ jobs as simple as possible. For example, should you get an on-site, premise-based CMS, or would a cloud-hosted solution suit your environment better? You cannot answer a question like this until you’ve planned everything out.
Once you know the overall shape and objectives of the entire deployment, you need to plan for what sort of content you’ll display. Your goals should give you a good direction for defining your content – now you need to drill down into detail:
- Determine the number of people who will create, schedule and/or approve content.
- List the content to be created on a regular basis by topic or department.
- List content file types or sources – event schedules, RSS feeds, JPGs, MP4s, etc.
- Will you include interactivity like wayfinding or directories?
- Will you integrate social media into your playlists?
- Don’t forget alert notifications.
When it comes to hardware, getting higher quality goods will save you time and money in the long run. Once your digital signage system is up and running, your audience will come to rely on it for information, and you really can’t afford even a partial day with dark screens because you bought cheap equipment.
And find a vendor that has a track record of good service in the industry – make sure that digital signage is one of their primary efforts, and not just a side business. Go for one that has the most flexibility, good customer service and comprehensive training and resources. Your digital signage is going to last for many years, so your relationship with the vendor will also be a long one. Make sure you like interacting with them.
Really think about who the target audience is for each message and what is most likely to get them to do what you want them to. Also think about the time of day the message is being displayed – a message that directs people to “talk to Admin today” after that department is closed for the day isn’t terribly effective.
Some digital signage content best practices:
- Be clear, concise and specific.
- Focus on the benefits to the audience and common needs.
- Write at an appropriate level for the audience.
- Prioritize verbs, then nouns, and only use adjectives sparsely.
- Use vivid language, and imperative verb forms (commands).
- Include trigger words that are considered to be persuasive.
- Include a call to action in every message.
- Make taking the action easy.
- Create a sense of urgency to encourage immediate action.
- Consider adding a small reward for taking the action.
- Think about cross-promotion possibilities.
- Build some way to measure ROI into your calls to action so you can adjust future messages to be more effective.
Once you have everything in place, run a pilot program for 30-90 days. Adjust as needed, and make sure that everything is as good as it can be before deploying across your entire organization. This will involve not just technical issues (like, do these cables work or are there firewall problems to overcome) but also refining your content. Be sure to survey everyone involved in the planning and implementation phases, as well as your viewers, for feedback.
The reason you’re going to so much effort is to not only inform your audience of things they might need or want to know, but to actively engage them. Engagement is the key to all communications, and cannot be stressed enough. If your audience isn’t engaged, you’ve spent a lot of time and money for no return on investment.
You should concentrate on the user experience at every stage of planning, design and delivery. Here are 12 easy steps to help you ensure your digital signs are always engaging:
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