How to Engage Employees with Digital Signage

For years, experts have stressed the critical role of employee engagement. Yet, despite some progress, only about one-third of US employees are actively engaged at work. This starkly highlights that two-thirds remain disengaged, missing out on a deeper connection with their jobs and organizations.

So what, you may ask? They work to earn a paycheck and that should be enough. That might have been true many years ago, but today, employee surveys show that people will actually take a pay cut for what they see as a better work environment. Clearly, money isn’t everything, or even the main thing.

Engagement Matters

We spend a lot of our time doing things related to work – commuting, attending meetings and tackling tasks. Remote or hybrid options can cut travel time, but the hours still add up. If we’re not engaged, those hours drag on endlessly. In today’s world, achieving work-life balance is crucial; being truly engaged in our tasks makes all the difference.

By now, there are scores of studies that show that engaged employees:

  • Will voluntarily work longer hours (and not mind it)
  • Are more productive, innovative and collaborative
  • Increase profitability
  • Are more committed to the organization
  • Remain in a certain job longer
  • Help form a feeling of harmony and community

The positives are clear, but so are the negatives, which heavily impact any organization’s bottom line. Take job retention as an example. Onboarding a new employee is costly and time-consuming. Frequent turnover means constant expenses that many companies can’t afford. It costs about 150% of an employee’s salary to onboard them, considering training time and reduced initial productivity. HR experts say it takes three to six months for a new hire to reach full efficiency, meaning in their first year, a company spends 15-18 months’ worth of salary on them.

Unhappy employees can poison the workplace atmosphere, creating a toxic environment that’s hard to quantify but easy to see. Research reveals that while top performers boost annual profits by $5,000 each, toxic workers drain $12,000 from the organization annually – excluding their salary and benefits.

So, engaged employees are vital to a healthy organization. And most people are just not going to get there by themselves; they need the company to motivate them. A comprehensive and flexible communications tool like digital signage is the perfect way to reach out and get people engaged.

What Motivates People?

There’s something called the Motivation Hierarchy, developed by Abraham Maslow, which defines five levels of motivation. Each level must be met before the next one can be activated:

  • Physiological – physical needs like food and sleep are met
  • Safety – no threats are detected
  • Social – acceptance and praise within the group
  • Esteem (Ego) – one’s sense of self-worth is gratified
  • Self-Actualization – improving oneself, and improving the other four previous levels as well

This has been seen all over social media as the Needs Hierarchy Pyramid.

AI and digital strategist Jay Deragon wrote an article some years ago titled Intrinsic Social Motivation that outlines six factors that enhance individual growth for adults using social media. In other words, how people engage in online digital environments.

The Learning Factor – People are drawn to new and exciting things, so they can learn about them and see if they “fit” into their own lives. The shine wears off pretty quickly, though, and people often move on to the next new thing if other factors don’t get triggered.

The Connection and Affinity Factors – Whether it’s with information or other humans, people crave connections. Once that’s happened, they see if they have something in common. People are always forming small groupings and associations, even if just temporarily.

The Business Factor – Sometimes, those associations go beyond simple talk and involve exchange of one kind or another. This can be considered the essence of “business”, and might be abstract (trading information, stories or items) or commercial (exchanging goods and services for money).

The Creative Factor – Even people who are not technically artists still have creative urges. Being able to create and play are important for people’s wellbeing.

The Expectation Factor – People often expect to receive something in exchange for their participation. This could be any of the previous factors – the ability to learn something, connect with others, form groups, exchange things of value or just play. Providing information in creative ways, fostering opportunities for connection and business, and offering recognition are all ways to meet and even exceed those initial expectations.

Professor of psychology and psychiatry Steven Reiss has developed his 16 Basic Desires Theory, based on interviews with 6000 subjects. They are:

  1. Acceptance – the desire to be appreciated
  2. Curiosity – the desire to gain knowledge
  3. Eating – the desire for food
  4. Family – the desire to take care of one’s offspring
  5. Honor – the desire to be faithful to the customary values of an individual’s ethnic group, family or clan
  6. Idealism – the desire for social justice
  7. Independence – the desire to be distinct and self-reliant
  8. Order – the desire for prepared, established, and conventional environments
  9. Physical activity – the desire to work the body
  10. Power – the desire for the external application of will
  11. Romance – the desire for mating or sex
  12. Saving – the desire to accumulate something as a form of safety
  13. Social contact – the desire for relationships with others
  14. Social status – the desire for social significance
  15. Tranquility – the desire to be secure and protected
  16. Vengeance – the desire to strike back against another person

Each of these 16 desires can be a performance driver of its own, either by being strong in a particular person or by being weak. However, basic desires seldom exist in isolation and are usually combined with others.

These are different ways to think about motivation and engagement – going to the very heart of what it is to experience modern life as a human being. What better type of work-life balance is there than speaking directly to what motivates us as people?

And while there are many generalizations that can be made about what might engage people, each audience is a bit different. So, as communicators, you need to know who it is you are trying to communicate with, so you can say something that they care about.

Know Your Audience

Firstly, you can’t tailor your messaging to your audience if you don’t know anything about them. So, you need to find out whatever you can about what makes them tick – their interests outside of work, their tasks at work, some demographic information, this is all a good start.

HR probably has some of this data, though you can also just ask them. Conducting periodic surveys and polls are a great way to gather the information you need while also encouraging active participation. Just that simple thing itself is a type of engagement. Offering some sort of reward for filling out the questions quickly, or for the most interesting response, or whatever, gamifies the experience.

If what you’re showing isn’t relevant to their audience, why should they care about it and engage with it?

Digital Signage Is Inherently Engaging

Visual and dynamic, this tool grabs attention like no other. Gone are the days of static PowerPoint slides on a TV. Today’s technology offers interactivity, QR codes, automatic data feeds, auto-updating content and dayparting to create diverse experiences for your audience. With repeated messaging in playlists, it ensures maximum exposure and impact.

High-quality images capture attention instantly, far more effectively than text alone. Animations and short videos draw the eye, tapping into our instinct to notice movement. Smart use of sound can enhance this effect.

The realm of interactivity is always evolving: touchscreens offer searchable directories, wayfinding, training modules and more. Voice-user interfaces and gesture control eliminate the need for physical contact with screens. Scannable QR codes or native AR on smartphones extend these capabilities to personal devices on-the-go. Gamification injects fun and friendly competition, boosting engagement even further.

Fresh, timely content sparks curiosity and keeps audiences engaged. Integrating social media feeds fosters connection by showcasing real-time conversations. It lets employees feel like they are part of a dialogue versus just receiving information. Digital signs can also promote events and clubs, uniting people, creating community and bolstering company culture.

There are dozens of tricks for designing content that keeps people interested and coming back for more. You can get some advice on this with our free white paper, Step-by-Step Advice for Crafting Digital Signage Content and in this article.

As digital signs become more and more commonplace, people’s expectations about them change. Keep things interesting by coming up with creative ways to get your messages across.

Be Strategic

Once you find out more about who your audience is, you’ll certainly see that not every communication will engage every viewer. Be strategic by crafting messages for each group that appeals to them. Then, publish those messages only where and when they make sense.

Don’t send every message to every screen all day long. Instead, choose the best place to attract a certain audience, and schedule messages for peak time periods for them. (For example, don’t show factory safety reminders to your office workers, and don’t publish important announcements when everyone is at lunch.) Daypart scheduling lets you specify exactly what times on which days of the week you want content to play – take advantage of this to engage the right people at the right time.

Revitalize your messages by scheduling multiple dynamic layouts. Simply shifting an image from left to right can make a screen feel fresh. Avoid overwhelming your audience; it’s more effective to repeat 10 key messages than bombard them with 100. Opt for multiple short playlists of different visuals that you can rotate as needed, keeping the content engaging and digestible.

Be Local

Too often, internal communication is viewed as a top-down approach – we, the communicators or the managers, decide what’s important to you, the audience. This either creates bland, one-size-fits all messaging that has no personality or, even worse, can create messages that aren’t relevant at all.

Localization is crucial for effective communication. Imagine a Finnish company bombarding its Denver office with messages in Finnish – it’s impractical. English should be the medium there, but it doesn’t stop at language. Content must resonate locally too. Why discuss Finland’s Midnight Sun Film Festival with Denver staff or Colorado’s Cherry Creek Fresh Market with Helsinki employees? However, occasional cultural exchanges can bridge gaps – like sharing news about Golden, Colorado’s Scandinavian Midsummer Festival or updates relevant to traveling American employees heading to Finland for meetings. This fosters a unified and vibrant company culture across borders.

Crafting localized messages demands careful thought. What captivates and engages people in this specific area? If you’re incorporating gamification with prizes, ensure they’re locally usable. A Starbucks card could be a hit in Denver with its 97 stores but falls flat in Finland, which has only three nationwide.

This sort of targeted relevance in messages can apply to the same physical location as well. A university shouldn’t show student registration deadline messages on screens that only staff see, and third shift workers at a manufacturing plant don’t need to see messages that only matter to the first shift.

Boston thrives on its rich cultural landscape, with MIT and Harvard at its heart. Promoting public events through the Boston office fosters community spirit and integrates an organization into this vibrant setting. However, these efforts hold little relevance for the Seattle branch.

For more on this topic, listen to our podcast with Ray Walsh, communications and localization expert: Localization & Why It Matters

Be Transparent

It’s important that your audience trusts you, which means you need to be open and transparent about as many processes and policies as possible. Employees want to know and understand your mission and values, financials, progress toward goals, future projects and plans, and so on. Basically, anything you’d put on your intranet can go on digital signs.

When it comes to public-facing digital signage, you can certainly share your values and plans with visitors. This lets them know what you stand for and where you’re headed in the future.

Having visibility into your organization will make viewers feel like they are part of it, which creates a sense of inclusion, investment and engagement.

Be Consistent

Make sure that everyone is on the same page and always has the correct information. A lot of morale problems come from gossip and crosstalk – nip all that in the bud by reinforcing accurate information across multiple channels.

Use your digital signs, social media, intranets and other communications methods to ensure your audiences always have the most up-to-date news, deadlines and event schedules in front of them. If your intranet says one thing, and your digital signs say another, people will either become confused, or just assume somebody, somewhere doesn’t know what they’re doing. This erodes trust that people have built around your communications.

If people can’t rely on what you tell them, they’ll stop paying attention. Because digital signs can be updated instantly, or show auto-updating content from data sources, it’s easy to get the latest information in front of people.

Promote Company Culture

Any news or updates worth sharing? Is there a new CEO? Is there an update to the benefits package? Are there job openings? If employees learn of something important from an outside source before they get it from their own organization, it can make people feel like they’re being kept out of the loop somehow, or even that the organization is trying to hide something. So, anything that affects the company as a whole should be shared internally before being sent out in a press release or posted on socials.

Standards, procedures, training requirements or opportunities, and other aspects of working life that affect a large number of people would also be useful items to share. If your company is invested in being eco-friendly, remind people. In production environments, safety reminders have actually been shown to reduce accidents.  

Every organization has its own culture and personality. Make sure yours comes through on your screens through your unique voice, visual style and content. Again, knowing your audience and localizing your messages will play an important role in supporting employee communities and cultures.

Tell a Story

Having at least one long-term campaign playing out on your digital signs is a great way to keep interest peaked. A story that unfolds episodically, over several messages (and maybe even days or weeks) will make people pay attention as they wait for the next part. This even creates buzz and conversation away from the screens, as people compare their theories and impressions.

Even individual messages can be grouped into “stories” by type using common design elements – similar background colors and fonts, similar images (like a mascot), similar layouts. Like using green for messages about sustainability efforts, blue for sales updates and red for important deadlines. This visual consistency helps people immediately identify the overall topic, so they can tune in and engage with what interests them most.

Motivate with Goals

Showing metrics and KPIs in dynamic, easy-to-read visuals conveys a lot of information very quickly. Let people see just where relevant projects and goals stand, and if they’re on track. If you’re making great progress, it will lift morale. If not, it can motivate your audience to work harder toward the goal.

If your organization is pushing sustainability, show energy dashboards on screen to encourage recycling and reduction in power usage. If you want more followers on Facebook, show a running count of followers and reactions to posts.  The list of things you can show is almost endless, so make sure you choose metrics that are specifically relevant to your audience.

Gamification can also be used to not only convey progress, but also encourage changes in behavior. If two teams are working on a project, create a little friendly rivalry by offering a reward to the team that completes the goal first. Reward the department that recycles the most. Offer a food truck day if you reach that Facebook goal. Whatever the goal – showing it, the progress towards it, and the rewards of reaching it on your digital signs is sure to engage viewers.

Motivate with Recognition

One of the most commonly mentioned motivators for modern workers is recognition. When a person or team does well, give them a shout out on your digital signs. This makes people feel good and costs the organization virtually nothing. Recognition is especially important to millennials and Gen Zers, who have grown up with the internet and social media, and are used to getting “likes” and comments on things they post almost immediately in their normal lives.

Instead of waiting for the end-of-year review, make recognition a regular part of the work environment. Recognize birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones inside and outside the workplace; give kudos for hitting a target; or just say thank you for a job well done. As long as the recognition is sincere, you can’t go wrong.

Whether you’re recognizing an individual, a team or a whole division, those people will feel noticed and appreciated when they see their names on your digital signs – which means they’re engaged.

Encourage Action

You’ll need to incorporate a way to measure engagement for every message on your screens – a call to action. This can be something as simple as a coupon code for the on-site café, a QR tag for a new intranet webpage, a URL for a survey, or an interactive quiz on a touchscreen.

If people take the action that you ask them to, then you know for certain a) they saw the message, b) they read and understood it and c) found it interesting enough to take the action. Plus, you get built in ROI right there – simply count how many people took the action, and you can measure how effective your message is. (Be sure to use a specific trigger, like a unique URL, so you know which actions came from digital signage viewers.)

Be Interactive

Your communications should invite your people to engage with you and participate in your brand and your dialogue. Static digital signs can do a lot to support those efforts, and interactive signs even more so.

With touchscreens, you can present huge amounts of information in progressively deeper layers. People get to choose what they see and when, so the process of getting that information becomes individualized, which in turn creates a subconscious feeling of ownership. All this leads to engagement.

You can even include a way for people to take your call to action right there on the screen – a button they push that takes them to an online form, or a QR code they scan to see a webpage on their phone. This lets you get instant feedback on engagement – if they take the action, then they are certainly engaged.

Bring In the Outside World

Your digitals signs can also show things going on outside the confines of your facility and organization.  A news ticker or news-in-pictures subscription will appeal to many. Your organization is probably not the only one of its kind in the world, so why not share industry news that lets people see what’s going on in their business sector? This helps remind people that they’re part of something much larger than just their specific tasks in their specific job at their specific company.

Many organizations are now sharing social media feeds and online reviews, so employees can see what’s being said by the public. This helps employees understand the reputation and happenings of their company, and can heighten their feeling of ownership and investment in its success.

Always Be Improving

With well-crafted and engaging digital signage, you can create an atmosphere of constant communication and engagement throughout your facility, your organization and your community. But constant engagement requires constant adjustment. Your audiences and their interests will change over time, new people may drive your communications strategies, and technology will continue to evolve.

You should be constantly measuring your successes, examining the failures, and adjusting your digital signage strategy. Looking at ROI and responses to calls-to-action can help you determine which messages are engaging your employees and which ones aren’t. Conducting some A/B testing can help shed light on which formats get better response, and you can then adjust your messages for maximum impact and audience engagement.

You can also conduct a walk-through audit, which is when you move through your spaces and see which messages grab your attention. Literally, put yourself in the same position as your audience and see what engages and what could use a little tweaking.

Just like how people change over time, your communications should also change. Engagement is a moving target.