10 Quick Digital Signage Tips for CMS Managers

EPISODE 40 | Guest: Ellyce Kelly, client relationship manager, Visix, Inc.

Everyone loves a top 10 list, so here are 10 quick digital signage tips for any CMS manager. Whether you’re in the planning stages, or have had your digital signage system up for a while, this expert advice is sure to help you invigorate and even revitalize your communications, no matter who your audience is.

  • Clean out your playlists
  • Design a new layout
  • Refresh recurring messages
  • Automate as much as possible
  • Pull in social media
  • Use animated backgrounds
  • Change-up your calls to action
  • Walk around
  • Survey your audience
  • Try gamification

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Get more advice in our Masterclass Guide 2: Digital Signage Communications Planning


Derek DeWitt: Who doesn’t love a top 10 list? So, here’s a top 10 top tip list on digital signage. I am Derek DeWitt, your host. And this is Ellyce Kelly, client relationship manager for Visix. Hi, Ellyce!

Ellyce Kelly: Hi Derek!

Derek DeWitt: How are you?

Ellyce Kelly: I’m doing great. I love that intro.

Derek DeWitt: Here we go. I’d like to thank Ellyce for talking to me today. And I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

Derek DeWitt: All right, so everybody’s always looking for quick, quick, quick, quick. We love top five, top three, top this. Give me some quick tips. So, here’s some quick tips for people. I got 10 of them.

Ellyce Kelly: Okay.

Derek DeWitt: I’m going to read them out, and we’ll talk about them. Number one tip, clean out your playlists. Meaning?

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. So, you do not want to dig through 100 messages in your playlist to try to find something, right? Plus, not only that, but why do you have 100 messages? Are they all scheduled to play at the same time? Have they expired?

Derek DeWitt: Ah, that’s it, isn’t it? Because they automatically expire and drop off. They’re not being displayed. Out of sight, out of mind. People forget you do have to go in there and clean them out.

Ellyce Kelly: You have to clean them out unless you’re using great scheduling discipline. So, if you don’t schedule every single message to play always and forever, maybe put those on a recurring schedule, that’s of more interest to your audience. You’re maybe targeting your messages more. Then they’re just going to fall out of the playlist, so you don’t have to do all that cleaning,

Derek DeWitt: Let’s say I have a bunch in there just sitting, they’re not being displayed. Will it slow down my system?

Ellyce Kelly: It absolutely can slow down your system. And then you know, you might have some server managers not very excited.

Derek DeWitt: That 4K video you’re so proud of, suddenly it’s dropping frames and the frame rate’s reduced because you’re overloading your player.

Ellyce Kelly: Highly possible, yes.

Derek DeWitt: I knew a guy, years and years and years ago, who called me into his office (I worked in an office). He said, “Hey Derek, my computer’s really, really slow.” So, I looked in his email inbox and he had, I’m not kidding, 8000 emails. And it took us two hours to delete them all.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. I believe it.

Derek DeWitt: And then he said, “Oh my gosh, look how fast my computer is!” So, this is an issue guys. Nobody likes clutter. Don’t be a hoarder with expired messages. It’s ridiculous, yeah? How often should I do it? Best practice?

Ellyce Kelly: Once a month at least unless you’ve got some really great scheduling discipline (as I mentioned before). So maybe once a month you could set aside a little time to make sure you don’t have anything outdated or that you’ve got too many messages in a playlist.

Derek DeWitt: All right, so that’s number one: clean out your playlists. Number two: design a new layout. Eh? What?

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah, so listen, you walk by a display, you see a layout. It’s been playing the same weather in the same place. It’s been playing the same messages in the same place. They’re all using the same transition. How bored are you already after seeing that a few times?

Derek DeWitt: Well, the truth of the matter is, I probably will no longer notice it.

Ellyce Kelly: And that’s exactly what happens.

Derek DeWitt: We notice novelty.

Ellyce Kelly: We notice the new and fun and exciting and all those nice rotations and things that get your attention. But once you’ve seen it a thousand times, that’s it, right? You’re not interested anymore. And if that content is not dynamic, it’s not changing and not refreshing on a regular basis, your audience will stop looking at those screens. They will look at their phone to get whatever they need.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I say this all the time. It’s like the job of digital signage is to stop people getting their phones out unless they absolutely have to.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: What do you think? So how many kinds of layout should I have sort of in my quiver, in my arsenal?

Ellyce Kelly: Well, one thing that’s nice is if you have several layouts that you’re rotating throughout the day itself, so you’re actually switching up the content, not just the messages, so the overall look of that content. But if you can get, you know, two or three new layouts and then get them into the rotation, that’ll absolutely help. Maybe do two or three rotating a day. And then if you can get maybe, you know, try a new background color, try…

Derek DeWitt: Make it an obvious choice.

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah, make it something obvious.

Derek DeWitt: Not just like “Well I changed it from a 12-point font to a 13-point font.”

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. And don’t just move the date from the top left to the lower left.

Derek DeWitt: So, make it obvious.

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. Do something that’s different visually that kind of grabs attention.

Derek DeWitt: Okay, I like that. Number three: refresh recurring messages.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, so this is similar to layouts. You’re showing the same recurring messages, they’ve been up for more than a month. People are tuning them out. So, you really need to redesign those recurring messages. Just like you’re going to redesign your layouts. Just give them a different look. It’s okay if the content is of interest to your audience, but they’re not going to look at it if they keep seeing the same overall look and feel continuously.

Derek DeWitt: This is not just… Like you said with the previous thing, it’s not making some small thing. Maybe make it a big deal.

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. Just shake it up a little bit.

Derek DeWitt: Gotcha. All right. Four: automate as much as possible. What do I automate?

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. So, we’re not just talking about date and time here. Those are obvious automating things that will auto update, right? That’s what we mean by automating. Weather, events; these are very popular items. So, you know, that’s a timesaver, right? But see if there’s other things that you can automate.

So, you know, countdowns, countdown clocks, or you know, countdown to the holiday party or countdown to a big trade show event that you have every spring. There’s things like that that you can actually get people interested in. Or if you’re having contests or anything like that that you want to get people excited about. But you also can pull data from things like Excel, XML, JSON, RSS feeds, and those can even be a subscription.

Derek DeWitt: Right, there are these content subscription services that have all sorts of, in a rather large number of categories,…

Ellyce Kelly: A huge number of categories.

Derek DeWitt: That’s already designed for digital signage.

Ellyce Kelly: It’s already designed for digital signage. It’s already got all the right look and feel. I mean, you’re literally just, it’s a one schedule deal and that’s it.

Derek DeWitt: Right. You set it up and then let it go. And now your content creators aren’t swamped.

Ellyce Kelly: They’re not swamped. It looks good. And it’s always, it gets my attention every time I walked down the hall.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. Five: pull in social media. Really?

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. Everyone looks at social media. When’s the last time you looked at social media?

Derek DeWitt: About 45 minutes ago.

Ellyce Kelly: There you go. We all look at it, right? It doesn’t matter what your age is. Everybody’s got social media, right? Whether you’re five or whether you’re 55 or 105, you’re going to look at social media.

Derek DeWitt: Maybe not the 105.

Ellyce Kelly: Maybe not.

Derek DeWitt: Maybe though, maybe.

Ellyce Kelly: You never know. So, put it on your screens. Mix it in. Just mix it in with your other content. And if you’re tying that into some things that you’re doing, that also gets attention, right? So especially if you, the company, so let’s say Visix is promoting, you know, something going on at the office that they want to share with the outside world, and got that on social media and then everyone’s like, “Oh wow, my company has got me on their social media!” Right?

Derek DeWitt: It’s true. There’s an instant gratification kind of, you know, I got three seconds of my 15 minutes of fame that Mr. Warhol predicted everyone would have. You can use the digital signage also to try and increase, get more followers and so it’s like they help each other out.

Ellyce Kelly: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. Six: use animated backgrounds. And this is an interesting thing because we all know motion… I think there’s this statistic on something like motion captures the eye, or is noticed by the brain, it’s something like 60 times faster than still images. And even from memory, when people ask about recall and stuff, people remember it, again, it’s a ridiculous number; it’s like 80 times more.

Ellyce Kelly: That’s great to know. I don’t even know if I knew that stat.

Derek DeWitt: I know, it’s crazy. Because that’s how we evolved. We evolved to look for danger in the tall grass, and so motion has a tendency to immediately make us go, “Did I just see something?”

Ellyce Kelly: It does. It absolutely does. If you think about it, it’s just like, I don’t know, if a coyote or a deer runs past you really fast. “What was that?” It’s the same. You’re right, it’s the same thing with digital signage.

Derek DeWitt: Whereas a picture of a deer is not going…

Ellyce Kelly: It’s not going to draw your attention quite the same.

Derek DeWitt: Though it would be weird to see a big picture of a deer in the forest.

Ellyce Kelly: It would be kind of odd to see that.

Derek DeWitt: “Who did that? Why would you do that? You freak.”

Ellyce Kelly: They must have some digital signage in the forest somewhere.

Derek DeWitt: But the thing here is, specifically backgrounds. Why the backgrounds?

Ellyce Kelly: Yup. So, well, you don’t necessarily need all the texts and everything else moving, or just one message, because that can be distracting in not a good way. You might not actually retain the information. However, if you even have just subtlety in your animation and in your layout backgrounds, that looks great because it’s subtle but it’s still enough to get your attention. And especially if you have the kind of moving graphics; whether they’re moving fast or slow, it’s still going to be enough to get your attention and pique your interest. And you want to switch that up too, of course, in those layout designs, make sure you’re doing some different things.

Derek DeWitt: Right, yeah. It makes the whole frame, the whole screen seems like, “Oh that’s much more than just a one small content zone.”

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. One little small message.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. All right. Change your CTAs, meaning your calls to action. Why change them? I spent all this time getting it just right now. You want me to change them?

Ellyce Kelly: Well, I’ll be quite honest with you, Derek. I’m not a big fan, personally me, of, for example, you give me a small or tiny URL, right? You tell me to go to this URL.

Derek DeWitt: Right, one of those vanity URLs.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. But that works great for a lot of people. A lot of people would rather have that. I’m a big fan of, “Hey, why don’t you take a picture of this screen and email it to this or post it here…”

Derek DeWitt: Or text it or whatever.

Ellyce Kelly: Or text it or whatever, to get you involved. And so, the call to action is going to be different experience for different users and viewers. So, we want to kind of expand that. And you want to measure which ones are most popular? What’s working and what’s not? Or is there a combination of different types that work better?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. If you’ve got, I don’t know, let’s just say you’re doing a public-facing digital signage deployment, you guesstimate (or estimate or maybe even know) that you get, whatever, 2000 people a week and the short URL is only getting three; maybe you can just drop that altogether.

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. But maybe you do a “take a picture of this message and send it here or post it here” and you get 50, maybe you get more.

Derek DeWitt: What’s your opinion on QR codes?

Ellyce Kelly: So QR codes are, they’re actually becoming, I think, a little more popular. I feel like they…

Derek DeWitt: I feel like they’re here now in the States. They’re being used.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. They actually weren’t very, it took a little while, I feel like, for those to get going. But it’s very easy to use and I do see a lot of our customers are using those and having some success with that.

Derek DeWitt: Right. So, you’re saying change it up so that you target different types of audience and also, it kind of lets you do like an A/B testing, almost.

Ellyce Kelly: It lets you do A/B testing and plus, too, you’re covering everybody, right? So, you’re getting the people like me that don’t like the short URLs. That’s just a personal weird thing, I don’t really know why.

Derek DeWitt: You’re not doing it.

Ellyce Kelly: I know, I’m not doing it. Well I don’t know if it’s that I wouldn’t do it, but you give me a QR code, or “take a picture”, do something kind of easy like that, and I’m in. I’m game.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. Number eight here is: walk around.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. Oh, I cannot tell you how critical this is. So everywhere I’ve been onsite, right, you cannot run a successful digital signage system without seeing what is your audience doing. Are they walking past all your displays and doing nothing (by not looking at them)? I have seen, though, people walk right past those signs and nothing happen, and then we get some content change that’s got some animation, or we make some big, big changes to that message content and all of a sudden people are looking.

Now obviously, if they see you standing around in front of the screen and you’re staring at it and taking pictures of it, they’re going to look at you and be like, “What are these people looking at?” So, then they are going to look at the screen.

Derek DeWitt: “Am I in trouble?”

Ellyce Kelly: I’m not saying you need to spy on your audience, but take a step back and just watch people walk by.

Derek DeWitt: Just make a note, yeah.

Ellyce Kelly: You’d be amazed, though. And it’s so refreshing when I see people turning their heads to see what’s on a display. I saw that recently at a local university, a big university, and just heads turning to look up to see what was projected on the wall. I loved it. It was great.

Derek DeWitt: That’s cool. And you’re also putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, and so you can kind of go, “Huh, that’s interesting. I thought for sure when we designed this that this would be the element that was stand out. But actually, my eye’s falling here first.”

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. Yep. And you can even see that with your audience. You can kind of see where they’re looking.

Derek DeWitt: And then, sort of an extension of that, to get more feedback and allow you to improve, and constantly be fixing and improving your offering, is number nine: do a survey.

Ellyce Kelly: Surveys! I mean, why wouldn’t you do a survey? This seems so logical.

Derek DeWitt: Because nobody will do, it because it’s too long, because it’s a pain in the neck.

Ellyce Kelly: So, let’s maybe make it an interesting…let’s give them something for doing the survey. Like we’ll have a big drawing or a winner that, you know, we’re going to pick 10 people that replied to this survey and we’re going to give them a $25 Amex card. Or if it’s not that, maybe…

Derek DeWitt: A new car!

Ellyce Kelly: A free coffee.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. First off, not too long, right? I think it’s better to do more frequent short ones than one, like once a quarter do a 20-question survey. I don’t think you’re going to get as much response as if once a month you did a four-question survey.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. And one of those questions would be “What do you want to see on the screen?” Now some people will need some prompts, but can you imagine just, “Derek, what do you want to see on the screen?” Just tell me. We’re going to make it happen.

Derek DeWitt: Food pictures.

Ellyce Kelly: We can do that. Got some great menu boards over here in the…

Derek DeWitt: So okay, you’re going ask what people want to see. What else? What else would you ask on there?

Ellyce Kelly: Well, see if they remember certain messages or calls to action that you’ve already put out there, so that you can repeat those again.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, right. In the last week or two weeks, name three things you remember seeing.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. What are three things you remember seeing? And if they can only remember two, at least you’ve still got that information to move forward with.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. I mean that’s pretty direct ROI right there, right?

Ellyce Kelly: It really is.

Derek DeWitt: And number 10: gamification. Try gamification. It’s such the buzzword. I have to wonder how many US companies, or even any companies, are doing it. What do you think? Should they?

Ellyce Kelly: Who doesn’t love games? Everybody loves games. This is how you get your audience engaged. I love gamification and I’m terrible at games. I’m terrible at winning games, to be quite honest. But run a contest, you know, give out prizes, points. Create a leaderboard, who’s in first, how much time is left. Don’t worry, there’s still time to play, right? It just gets everybody involved and it creates culture and it’s just, it’s a fun thing to do.

Derek DeWitt: And in order to really focus it on the digital signage…. Or maybe not, I don’t know, is it a good idea to also throw it up on your social media and your intranet and all this, or just the digital signage?

Ellyce Kelly: You know what, that’s a great point. You really, if you keep it limited, and really “limited” is not the right word, maybe “exclusive” to your digital signage…

Derek DeWitt: Nice. That’s very high class, that word.

Ellyce Kelly: It is, isn’t it? Yes. That that way you can judge success, right? You’re not going to be able to judge it if you’re posting it and using a bunch of other mediums.

Derek DeWitt: Right. How are you going to know which one was the successful one?

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. How do you know which one?

Derek DeWitt: Right. Okay. That is fast and easy! 10 tips: clean your playlists out, design a new layout, refresh recurring messages, automate whenever you can, put in social media, use animated backgrounds, change your calls to action, walk around and see what’s going on, survey your audience, and finally gamify what you’re doing. Thank you very much for talking to me, Ellyce.

Ellyce Kelly: Thank you, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you, everybody, for listening.