Ask the Board – July 2, 2018 | THOMAS KUNKA


“What are some of the ways to get employees involved in generating content (or content ideas) for a digital signage network?”

The growth of digital signage networks in both size and complexity demands a rethinking of traditional top-down content strategies. In environments such as university campuses where there are many stakeholders and many voices to be heard, responsibility for content must be delegated to the edge – to those closest to those with whom they are communicating.

The problem in many cases is that these contributors are not graphic designers or content developers. They may not have had training in or even access to proper content creation and management tools. They may lack the time and/or desire to invest in what many of us would perceive as the core prerequisite skillsets for content creation. It can be accurately said that for the vast majority of people, digital signage simply isn’t a primary responsibility.

So, how to “push” content creation and management to the edges of digital signage networks?  The key to engaging and making the edge productive is to provide tools and processes that enable participation. This may be as simple as providing “fill in the blank” PowerPoint templates that anyone in the organization can use with little to no modification. It may be providing an electronic drop folder for content creators to save images to along with published guidelines and best practices for file format, dimensions, font sizes, color palettes, branding, etc. 

However, I see this need being addressed with more sophisticated tools. These tools automate but also provide fine levels of specificity at the same time.  While requiring the most setup by those who manage digital signage networks, I find the idea of customized automation and compositing textual, graphical and even video content an exciting option for the future of content creation and management.

To explain further, most people think of creating digital signage content as merely creating a “slideshow” of sorts. But, imagine that we were managing a digital signage network for a research organization on a large university campus. If we were to ask our researchers to provide us with content related to their specific efforts to put up on a collection of digital signs in our lobby and outside each individual laboratory, our results may vary. Some submissions would be of high-quality, some low quality. Some would be consistent with the University and organizational branding, some not so consistent. Even providing templates does not guarantee results, and we may end up constantly reminding those who are submitting content about proper file formats, dimensions, color choices and other details relevant to good quality content. And it should be noted that those we are reminding may be scientists, researchers, support staff, graduate students, etc. –likely non-designers with day jobs.

But, what if the relevant data we wanted from each unit for our signs were stored as text in a database? A database contains very specific information common to our research groups that could be easily modified through a webpage by anyone with little-to-no training in or knowledge of digital signage. Our signage software could read that data and display it over the top of a series of images or videos provided by our communications/marketing team or even stock material. In such a system, we would have control over type size, font face and color and proper branding. There would be consistency across all our research groups despite the text being submitted from many different sources.

This “composite” approach takes more time and effort from those that are managing their signage networks, but the end result could be superior to the “submit a slide” approach to engaging the end users and community in the content development process. Fortunately, many of our digital signage platforms can support this in one way or another. Some systems can read from a data source directly and allow designers and control the layout and style of whatever text record is retrieved. Specific images associated with that record can be pulled in as well. Other systems may lack the ability to pull data directly but can be directed to pull in webpages, which themselves can be data-driven and controlled by a web-content management system rather than a digital signage content management system. 

While it may seem counter-productive to develop hyper-local systems to store content or in some cases augment one content management system with another, the ultimate goal is to allow the end users to participate in the creation and management of high-quality and relevant digital signage content. As our networks grow, the importance of this cannot be ignored. Enabling those closest to the content to contribute with as little effort as possible is not only the right thing to do in terms of obtaining the right content for our networks, but it also allows us to scale in ways that the traditional top-down approaches to content management simply cannot.


About Author

Senior Application Specialist
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

End User Council

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