12 Ways to Increase Engagement with Digital Signs

EPISODE 6 | Guest: Ellyce Kelly, client relationship manager for Visix

Effective communication drives employee engagement and improves financial performance. Digital signage is one of the most powerful communication tools an organization can use to help foster and maintain high engagement levels.

A Gallup poll showed that effective employee engagement leads to higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings. It also helps to lower absenteeism, turnover, quality defects and safety incidents. All of this leads to a happy, healthy workplace with measurable bottom-line results.

Engagement with your external audience is also important, creating higher involvement and event attendance, improved safety, increased revenues, a better sense of community and an improved overall visitor experience.

No matter who your digital signs are in front of, you need to engage them or you’re wasting time and money.

  • Understand why engagement matters to your organization
  • Explore concrete ideas on how to attract viewers
  • Learn basic design tips for creating effective screen content
  • Discover the advantages of interactive touchscreens
  • Get 12 tips to increase engagement with your digital signage

BONUS: Get our handy infographic outlining these 12 steps for quick reference.

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Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 2: Digital Signage Communications Planning


Derek Dewitt: Engagement, engagement, engagement. Oh my God, this term is thrown around so much! Is it abstract? Actually, it isn’t. Engagement is key. It’s vital to modern businesses. It’s no longer just enough to say, “Be thankful you have a job. Here’s your paycheck. Shut up.” People are no longer willing to work for companies that do that – millennials especially. We find it boosts productivity, engaged workers come up with more ideas, they stay in the job longer…. I mean, there are real no-nonsense, bottom-line benefits to having engaged employees. The most comprehensive communications tool for engagement is digital signage. And I don’t just say that because that’s what I’m doing right now; I actually believe this. And another person who is a true believer is Ellyce Kelly, who is the client relationship manager for Visix. Hi Ellyce.

Ellyce Kelly: Hi Derek. Thank you for having me.

Derek Dewitt: Thank you for being on, and thank all of you for listening.

Derek Dewitt: Engagement, right? It’s not just a buzzword. So, tell us about it. I’m told you have 12 steps to getting a highly engaged workforce out there, and you also have some statistics for us about why, in fact, it is important.

Ellyce Kelly: There was a Gallup poll. We did a little research and got a little information from them. And engagement through effective communications can drive a number of things, and I’ll just rattle off a couple of these. I won’t give you my whole list, but: 21% higher productivity, 22% higher profitability, and then I think also up to 65% lower turnover. That’s one that really jumps out at me because if you don’t have a lot of turnover, you’ve got a team of people who are working together and everything’s going to flow a lot better for your business.

Derek Dewitt: And you know, we’ve talked [about this] in other places. It’s expensive to switch employees, you know. It takes time. It takes money. It costs literally billions of dollars to the US economy every year.

Ellyce Kelly: Having people that are less frequently absent from work – these are all things that play into what we’re trying to achieve here with our communications.

Derek Dewitt: Think of your own personal experience, whether it’s being on a baseball team or being in a relationship or what have you, friendship. But a place of business, even a cafe or a pub you go to. I mean, Cheers was such a popular show (and yes, I just dated myself) because everybody knew your name. And that’s a feeling a lot of people like. They like feeling like they’re part of something. They like feeling that they are important and that they make an impact, and that they are better for being a part of it, and it’s better for them being a part of it. What’s the first step on that?

Ellyce Kelly: We’ve got to start with a champion.

Derek Dewitt: Okay. What does that mean?

Ellyce Kelly: You’ve got to have someone who’s going to own the digital signage content, right? Otherwise, if your people aren’t excited about contributing to it, they’re not excited about getting content on the screen that people are interested in, what are you going to put up there?

Derek Dewitt: Right? So somebody who actually cares, not just someone who was told, “Here, this is your job, goodbye.”

Ellyce Kelly: And a lot of folks, that happens to them. They find out one day – they walk into work, “Hey, guess what? I mean, all these digital signs we’ve been putting up. Well guess what? You’re the new owner of that.” So, hopefully that’s not the way it’s happening. But if it is, then take it as a challenge and run with it.

Derek Dewitt: Or, if it’s been just handed to you and you’re sort of a little bit at sea, find somebody who is that champion, that cheerleader, and say, “Hey man, inspire me.”

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. And usually, it’s a person who’s leading a team of people that then contribute. So it’s not just all on one person’s shoulders.

Derek Dewitt: Right. I understand. So yeah, inject some enthusiasm and energy into the process to get you through the tedious points.

Ellyce Kelly: Absolutely. And then number two, we’ll say that is choose when to engage. So, you’ve got to use things like dayparting. One thing that I see a lot is messages will go up on a screen, they’ll get scheduled forever. I’m not going to get onto you about that on the first day, for example – you need to get some content in the play rotation. But maybe by the end of that day you’re not, you know, running things that ended on the 26th on the 30th.

Derek Dewitt: Or morning commute information at 5:00 PM.

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. And I’ve seen that get corrected. So, once they go up and then they have a little bit more time for everything to sink in, but you’ve really got to be careful about that.

Derek Dewitt: So one element of engaging that audience is, “Hey, the information we put up here is relevant and timely, and we’re not lame about it.” You know, if I start seeing stuff that is old and out of date, I just started thinking, “Well, if they don’t care, why should I care? Why should I pay any attention?” And you know, once you lose your audience, it’s very hard to get them back.

Ellyce Kelly: Very hard to get them back and they will get bored, and they will get bored very quickly. Absolutely.

So number three, we want to craft beautiful designs. So we want – we don’t just want messages – we want pretty and interesting messages. They’re going to get more attention than ugly ones.

Derek Dewitt: And that doesn’t mean that you need to overburden your design with way too many elements. A stark, bold design can be very effective.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, It can. My least favorite thing to see, I would say, on a screen is squashed or stretched content.

Derek Dewitt: Right. Make sure you’re getting your resolutions right and your aspect ratios. Sure. Because again, it looks amateur.

Ellyce Kelly: It does. Speaking of amateur, no clip art. That’s a thing of the past.

Derek DeWitt: Or judicious use of thereof.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. So layouts – those are your overall screen designs. Those need to change throughout the day. They need to change several times a day.

Derek DeWitt: Really?

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, oh absolutely. Those can go from full screen; they can go to the multi-zones where you have, you know, your weather hooks and your date and your time. Those are things that are always great to have on the screen. But then you might want to go full screen. It’s almost a pop-up or a program interruption where you’ve got different content that just plays. It can play for 15 minutes and then it could go back to whatever it was, whatever the layout design was. Or it could go to a totally different layout.

Derek Dewitt: A good way to think of it is… Maybe, if you’re in a waiting area or a lobby or a break room or cafeteria, you might actually even have an audience who is watching it for 10, 15, even 20 minutes at a stretch. Make it interesting for that person. If that person was watching 20 minutes of your playlist, would they be engaged most of that time? Or would they say, “Oh my God, this is killing me,” and go and pull out their phone. Why wouldn’t they? They already have it, and it’s way more interesting than what you’re doing.

Ellyce Kelly: Even just a layout change at that point where the zones on the screen might switch sides, or something as simple as that. Or a ticker might go up top instead of on the bottom.

Playlists – this is a big one. I get this question a lot. How many items should I have in my playlist? Can I have a hundred things in my playlist at a time? Sure you can, but…

Derek Dewitt: Well, if you’re displaying them for 10 seconds each, that’s – I don’t want to do the math on that.

Ellyce Kelly: You don’t want to do the math on that. So, if you have that many items in a playlist, I sure hope they’re dayparted – they’re playing on different days of the week in different times during the day – because we want to get it down to 7-10 items in a play rotation at a time, so that your audience can digest the message. Because in most cases, again, they’re walking by the screen, they’re on their way to a meeting, to class, to whatever it is. You’ve got to make sure you’re getting their attention.

Derek Dewitt: And should I, say, just catch the very tail end of something, and I think, “Oh gosh, I want to see that”, don’t make me wait an hour to catch it again.

Ellyce Kelly: You’re not going to stay. You’re gone.

Derek DeWitt: I’ve got places to be. I’m busy. I’m important.

Ellyce Kelly: So also, we want to make sure that we understand basic design principles. We’ve talked a little bit about this, but not everyone’s a graphic designer, right? I am not a graphic designer. So it’s a good idea to get some basic education or even use fill-in templates – pre-designed content…

Derek DeWitt: …made by graphic designers…

Ellyce Kelly: Yes – people who know – this is what they majored in and what they went to school for. So they’re great at it.

Number four, we want to include motion and movement. Now, you may have heard me say before – video. As far as playing videos in a message playlist, sometimes that’s a great idea. Sometimes it’s not a great idea.

Derek DeWitt: But not a long one.

Ellyce Kelly: Pretty short, sweet, to the point. Even shorter than a TV commercial. I don’t even like them to be 30 seconds. But again, it depends on what we’re trying to promote. It depends on where the screens are, and our audience.

But I’ll tell you what I love about video and motion – animated backgrounds. Those are captivating, almost not hardly any person can resist walking by display and seeing, “Are those bubbles in the background that are actually moving? What was that?” Sharks swimming, bubbles, fish, whatever it is. So it depends again on your audience, but that’s something that I really love. They are literally eye catching. It’s just, it’s a great way…and transitions: that’s something else that you can put in between messages without scheduling a bunch of videos. You can put in broadcast, choose broadcast-style transitions. We’ve got those. You can even fade in, fade out, rotate up, down, left, right. Those are, that’s very eye-catching.

Derek Dewitt: Though, I would say, you know a lot of people have hands-on experience with this using PowerPoint. One of the things, each iteration of PowerPoint, is they have yet more transitions. But anyone who said – and granted it’s a different medium, so it’s a little bit of a different story. But anyone who’s has to sit through a half-hour long PowerPoint presentation that has every possible transition imaginable. It’s a bit much. It’s almost like you didn’t really…

Ellyce Kelly: That’s a great point, Derek. And so, what I like to do is, I like to, for a single zone of messages, let’s say I have a wide zone and then maybe I’ll have a tall zone of content. For my wide zone, I might have a rotate – up, down, left, right or something. That’s one of my favorites. But then maybe for my other tall zone that I have, I might just have a cut to where it’s not too much going on the screen at once. I mean I want to get their attention, but I don’t want to overwhelm them.

Derek Dewitt: Yeah. So, choose a couple for each playlist for that particular time period, and then feel free to change it later.

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. Again, just like you’re changing your layouts, you’re also changing those transitions.

Derek Dewitt:   So, let’s just give you a rule of thumb. No more than three transitions per playlist.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. That sounds like a great idea.

Derek Dewitt: I just made that up.

Ellyce Kelly: You did make it up and I’m going to buy it. I will buy that; I like it.

All right, we also want to – and this goes in with our including motion and movement – use attractors. So we want time, date, I’ve mentioned these before. Weather, event schedules are very popular. That’s always a good hook if you’re showing event schedules. Now, if you don’t have any events in your building, perhaps we don’t do that.

Traffic – you mentioned that earlier. I love traffic, but I’d love to see traffic really towards the end of the day. But it also doesn’t hurt, perhaps if you do have, you might have folks on different schedules, you know. And in fact, some of our manufacturing customers, even some of our higher ed, and even some of our corporate clients, they’ve got a lot of different folks on different times that they’re coming in and going. Keep that in mind when you’re scheduling your traffic feeds to show those maps and that’s it. Of course at midnight, you’re probably not going to have a lot of traffic, but you never know. There could be construction. So keep that in mind that you need to schedule that at various times during the day where you know you’ve got people coming and going,

Derek Dewitt: Or even, let’s say for example, a corporate hub at Timberlake Industries is hosting a conference for our industry. All of our branch offices are coming and people from other companies are coming in. We know this, you know, temporarily stick up a flight board so people can see, wow, this is this and this is this. I mean, you wouldn’t do it all the time if it’s not relevant, but even just for a temporary period of time, you could just say, “Hey, we know that during this week a lot of people are going to be going to and from the airport. Here’s some information to make that easier for you.” Well, I think that ties into your next item.

Ellyce Kelly: It does. So news and RSS Feeds. This is another great attractor. Switch them up though. Don’t just play the CNN or Fox News. Go with ESPN. Find out what your audience likes. A lot of us love sports; we want to see what those scores are.

Derek Dewitt: Yeah, that’s a very interesting point, because I think a lot of times content creators for digital signage, they forget that they’re not designing for themselves, you know?

Ellyce Kelly: I don’t watch E! News. However, someone in this building on a test player put up E! News in an RSS feed, and every time I walked by that display, I could not look away. I had to read the headline and I’m not even interested in it. But yet, every time I walked by it, I said, “Oh, E! News, I’ve got to see what’s going on.” And I would wait for the ticker to go by and get the latest story. So you never know.

Derek Dewitt: You never know. “Wow! Who knew that the Smithsonian feed would be so interesting?”

Ellyce Kelly: The Smithsonian feed is fascinating. Okay – stocks. If it’s important to your audience, stocks is a great thing to show.

Derek Dewitt: Obviously in a financial institution that’s a given.

Ellyce Kelly: It’s a given. Yes. Very popular. And then also KPIs, key performance indicators, and other current data could also be of interest. Again, it depends on your audience. It depends on what you want to…

Derek DeWitt: Right, what you’re trying to accomplish.

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. So, the great thing about this content, it’s all auto-updating. So you set it up once, you schedule it forever, and that’s it. You’re done.

Derek Dewitt: Boom! It’s that company that you’re paying, and it’s not very much money.

Ellyce Kelly: No, and the RSS feeds are free. You can get whatever RSS feeds you want to find that you’re interested in.

Derek Dewitt: And there are literally millions of RSS feeds. But yeah, even content subscription services, I mean some of them are $1, maybe $2 a day. And they’re the ones who are, the burden is on them to come up with fresh content. They’re already designing it for digital signage as well. So that kind of just works out nicely.

Ellyce Kelly: Setting up one of those tomorrow, as a matter of fact. Very excited about that.

Derek DeWitt: “There you go!”

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. It’s going to take literally 10 seconds.

Derek Dewitt: Really? Boom, boom, boom! “Hey look. Fresh content. Pay me.”

Ellyce Kelly: They’ve already paid. So, yep, you just want to make sure that you’ve always got something current on the screen. You’ve got something interesting that’s keeping people up to date. That’s where I get my news too is in these hallways. I don’t watch news when I get home. I don’t need to.

Derek DeWitt: You don’t need to because you got your fill during the day.

Ellyce Kelly: No. I can just pass by a random display here and there and I’ll see it.

Now, number five, we’ve got to show folks what they care about, right? Which we have talked about. So survey them. Send out a survey, find out, “What do you want to see on these screens?” We’ve done that many times.

Derek Dewitt: Were you surprised by the answers? Some of them?

Ellyce Kelly: I mean, sometimes yes. There’s some interesting… “What is your favorite activity?” Well, there were some things that I had no idea that that person was interested in. It’s fascinating. It really is. And that’s also how you get to know everybody that you work with. And if you’re higher ed or you’ve got a student center, you want to find out – or even the Department of Biology – ask them, “What do you want to see?”

Now also, number seven – limit your playlists. And we talked about this too. No one’s going to sit through 50 messages. You said it yourself. Yeah, I’m not going to sit there and wait around for an hour and a half for that tail end of that message that I caught. So, we definitely need to keep things clean, and dayparting is so important, and so is this number of seconds.

Derek Dewitt: So, make sure that whatever CMS content management system you’re buying allows for dayparting. Because a lot of the simpler ones out there –and there are free digital signage solutions out there – but they’re real basic and they don’t have this kind of capability. So you’re kind of just stuck with throwing it up there and good luck.

Ellyce Kelly: You may as well put a PowerPoint up there then.

Derek Dewitt: Right. Exactly so. I mean you kind of get what you pay for.

Ellyce Kelly: Number eight is use campaigns. So instead of showing just the same message over and over, use campaigns. Treat your signs like ad campaigns where you have phases of where you’re showing different designs to reinforce your message, but you’re running an entire campaign over the course of whatever it is, a week, two weeks, three weeks, depending on what your end date is. And what is, what’s happening as the end date.

I’ve worked with a customer – we did this, and it was very successful – where they basically ran an ad campaign. They used some measurement tools and said, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do if you do this.” Take a call to action. And then they ran this ad campaign and they had increased numbers. That was the end result – increased numbers or social media signup for a big event that was happening. But that was a really great effective use of an ad campaign. And also using call to action, which of course we talk about all the time.

Derek Dewitt: Right. Well, I remember you guys had an award for 10 years – the Expression Awards. I remember one year there was a submission, which I think may have won. It was some university and they had done – I mean I know you said video – but they were doing five-second video clips. And basically, it was a single video of a person looking at their feet, stepping out on stage. It’s all silhouetted, so you can’t see who the person is. And it slowly rose up, you know, there were flashing lights, “bum, bum, bum”, you know this kind of music. And it goes up slowly, and then it finally reveals who it is, and this person was coming to perform on campus. And they showed five seconds, and then the next five seconds the next day, and the next five seconds the next day.

Ellyce Kelly: Video teasers – love it.

Derek DeWitt: Video teasers. So by the time the day before, like the day tickets went on sale, you saw who it was. It was some comedian.

Ellyce Kelly: That’s a great use of video.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And everybody went crazy because they were all wondering, “Who is it? Who is it?” And they kept schtum about it, right? Nobody knew who, because it was quite a famous comedian.

Ellyce Kelly: Oh, I hope everybody heard that story.

Derek Dewitt: They said they sold out. They sold out in like a day and a half.

Ellyce Kelly: I believe it. That is a brilliant use of video and an ad campaign.

Derek Dewitt: Because people were crazy by the time tickets were on sale and you finally saw who it was. Everybody was dying to know.

Ellyce Kelly: That’s impressive.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s quite clever.

Ellyce Kelly: I feel like I remember the music. So, we also want to gamify our messaging.

Derek DeWitt: That’s a buzz word these days.

Ellyce Kelly: Gamification – so much fun. Adding fun to your campaigns by offering kudos or prizes. Praise or prizes. People love rewards. I love rewards. I’m going to go ahead and say it – I’m a big fan.

Derek DeWitt: Have a cookie.

Ellyce Kelly: Well, I don’t know if I need that!, But yes, even just even just a shout-out makes me feel good. If you can give them prizes, points, shout-outs just for being the first to act, you’ll get more people involved.

Derek Dewitt: Uh huh. So make it a game of some sort. Okay. I mean that’s certainly obviously engaging, because you’re asking people to actively participate.

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Okay…

Ellyce Kelly: All right. I’ve mentioned this before. This is number 10 – always include a call to action. So, if you ask people to do something, how are you going to know if anybody is reading your messages? If you don’t put a call to action in it, if you don’t say where to go to get more information or what to do, how are you…? This is a great measurement tool for you to see if your audience is engaged.

Derek Dewitt: Right? If they took the action, obviously they were engaged.

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. So you can send them to a webpage, you can send them to the intranet, you can do a QR tag. You could do a short URL. I’m a big fan of if you can put in there like, “Hey, you need to go to the intranet,” and if you go in and have it on the homepage of the intranet.

Derek DeWitt: So it’s easy.

Ellyce Kelly: You’ve got to make it easy.

Derek Dewitt: Same as I think if you’re going to do a short URL, you should take the time to make it a vanity URL and something simple. Not www.timberlake.industries.com/blah/blah/blah –  I can’t remember that, you know. Or even Bitly. Bitlys are a random series of numbers and letters – I can’t remember that. But if you change that to – Bit.do is one of those that does it for free – you know, bit.do/Timberlake-promotion. Oh, that’s easy for me to remember.

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. One of my favorites is you can snap a picture and then if you show up somewhere and you’ve got the picture on your phone, that’s, I mean, that’s a call to action. You can, you know, note how many people…

Derek DeWitt: What, do you get like a…?

Ellyce Kelly: Yeah. To get a free Starbucks or something at your, you know, at the college campus student center.

Derek Dewitt: Right. “Look, I took a picture of the screen. Where’s my muffin?”

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. Number 11, we want to make it interactive if we can. Everybody expects [it], because they walk around with touchscreens in their pockets. They’re disappointed if it doesn’t do anything. So if you can get a touchscreen, then that’s great. And in fact, that’s kind of where things are going. I think that’s where…the direction that we’re moving in.

Derek Dewitt: I mean, you see it already. Especially younger people, children – the moment they see a screen that’s at their level, they just start touching it all over the place. They just kind of assume that everything’s touchscreen, right? So that’s actually, I think that is 12, in fact, because attractors was one as well. So that’s, I mean, so that’s it. So if you did all of these things, you would have, you think, a pretty engaged audience.

Ellyce Kelly: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: And then all those benefits that you said up at the beginning would come to your company. It’s magic!

Ellyce Kelly: It is magic. You get those great Gallup numbers.

Derek Dewitt: And who doesn’t like a good Gallup number?

All right. Well, thank you very much for talking to us, Ellyce Kelly, and thank all of you for listening.