Using Digital Signage for Activism and Inclusion

EPISODE 48 | Guest: Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix

In this episode, we cover five aspects of incorporating activism and inclusion into your messaging: culture, education, trust, respect and events. Learn how you can use your digital signs to include people in your organization at multiple levels, educate your audience on what’s important to you, and reinforce what’s important to them.

  • Understand why you need to focus on people first
  • Learn to define and reinforce your organizational culture on screens
  • Explore how to encourage inclusion and respect in your facilities
  • Consider causes and how to advertise them correctly
  • Discover how to build trust and transparency by being accurate and timely
  • Get tips on how to support events with more than just schedules

Subscribe to this podcast: Podbean | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube | RSS

Get more content ideas in our Masterclass Guide 3: Digital Signage Content


Derek DeWitt: To be a modern organization, you have to meet people’s expectations. And we’ve talked about this plenty in the past. People today, they want transparency, they want collaboration, they want to know what their organization is doing in the world and what the impact of their business is on the world that we all live in and share.

People want to participate in culture and community. It doesn’t matter if it’s a corporation or a school or a university campus, hospital, a government office, manufacturing facility; it doesn’t matter. Everybody wants these things. Really these are just all about communication, different ways to communicate. Digital signage can certainly help with your communication efforts, which is kind of the whole point of this podcast. Digital signage is not just technology; it’s about communications and it’s about people.

To talk about that today with me is Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Hi, Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: Hi, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: I like to thank Debbie for joining me today and I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

Today is Election Day in the United States. Talk about mass communication. I don’t know, could you…I mean, you can use digital signage for, like, voter information even, couldn’t you?

Debbie DeWitt: Sure you can. You can show things like just encouraging voter registration, you know, Rock the Vote is very popular on campuses, things like that.

Derek DeWitt: Is that still going on?

Debbie DeWitt: I don’t know, but I’m old. You can present candidates and platforms, you know, if you’re okay with that. Obviously, you need to be sensitive to everybody that you’re communicating with. But you could certainly do basic things like give early voting, online voting, and vote by mail information and links. You could show where polling stations are or drop off boxes (and those hours).

The biggest thing [is] encourage people to vote. And, if you want to, you can certainly put up election results along with your other news.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. And this all kind of speaks to a larger question, which is, we always think about organizational communications in this kind of 20th century mindset of pushing out this, pushing out that. “Hey, everybody, here’s some information for you.” And we’ve talked about how you can use interaction and things like this to kind of create a two-way street there. But really you can even use these kinds of communication methods for more than that, to foster activism and inclusion and all these sort of modern buzzwords that are so important to today’s workforce, to today’s students.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely. You know, when it comes to activism and inclusion…. You know, I love lists, so when I was thinking about how we could talk about this, I came up with five different areas where digital signs can play a role. And those are culture, education, trust, respect, and events (the big one, events, everybody loves events on their digital signs).

Derek DeWitt: Okay, so we’ll save that one for last. So, let’s talk about the first one – culture. I know we’ve talked in the past about sort of understanding different types of organizational cultures, and how digital signage can be used to sort of promote and maybe even encourage people to participate in that conversation in the early stages. But how does that tie into what we’re talking about; activism, inclusion, sort of a participatory populace?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, when we talk about culture, it can be anywhere. It could be an office culture, a school culture, wherever there are people, there’s a culture. Like, you’re gonna…Whether you force it or try and grow it, or it just develops organically, you will have a culture.

Derek DeWitt: Even your bowling team has a culture, of sorts.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. I mean, it might be very carefully guided by your brand, by corporate, or it could be spontaneous where it’s just a group of values and beliefs and behaviors that become the norm for that group.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. I think that’s important too, is the behaviors part of that often gets missed. It’s not just attitudes, it’s how they treat each other, how they treat information and how they interact.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. And you know, there are times when your brand and your culture, hopefully they align, but they might be a little different. So don’t just rely on, well, we have a very, I don’t know, IBM or Google type culture that we present to the world; look at the culture on the ground, look at the culture where you are and communicate to that. Because that’s your audience. So like you said, we’ve got other podcasts on types of messaging you can use to either just present or reinforce your culture, and the big topic, there is always Human-Centered Design.

Derek DeWitt: Right! Yeah, yeah. We actually have blogs and I think we have a podcast about Human-Centered Design, which basically is just like what it sounds like, it’s putting people at the heart of all the decisions that you make when designing the physical layout of a facility, designing how processes and systems are going to work, what kind of stuff you’re going to put up on your digital signage, all that kind of stuff. It’s really at the heart of your communication strategy. It’s got to be people.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And since this is about putting people first, it’s a natural fit when we talk about inclusion. You know, the fact that your messaging grows from your culture, and supports the ideas or beliefs of your audience means it’s inclusive by nature. But you always need to make that effort, you know, make sure you’re representing everyone’s viewpoint and values. Don’t just close in on the C-suite or what they tell you to do. You need to make sure you take your audience into account.

Derek DeWitt: Right, this is a conversation. This is not brainwashing. This is not Big Brother says, “We’re at war with Oceania, we have always been at war with Oceania”, right? It’s more, “Are we at war with Oceania? When did we start that war with Oceania?”

Debbie DeWitt: Well, when it comes to digital signage messaging and creating your content, this is going to sound repetitive and maybe a little basic because we’ve said it a thousand times, but use imagery that includes genders, different ages, different races. You know, that can go a long way to making your messages more inclusive.

Derek DeWitt: How do I say this delicately? I know that sometimes older people get a little cranky about this because they say, “Oh my God, we have to put, you know, these different mixes of races and we have to put more women in the pictures and all this is just political correctness gone wild.” I mean, should you just do it willy-nilly, just put anything up there?

I always kind of thought you should take a look at your audience. So, for example, if you’ve got (whether you’re public facing or it’s all internal communications), so let’s say that your audience has a large number of Filipino people. Putting up a bunch of pictures of American Indians isn’t really going to do much for them. You should try and find images of Filipino people.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely. You want to represent your audience, but you can look at this two ways. You not only want to represent what is, but also what might be. There could be a current small office somewhere that is all primarily male, all primarily, I don’t know, 40- to 60-year olds. Well, that’s not going to stay that way. So, it’s also about creating a culture of, even though this is who we are, we are open to more women, more Filipinos, more American Indians, whatever you said.

Derek DeWitt: First Nations. I’m sorry, everybody. First Nations people.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. Sorry about that. So, I think that you can do both. This is one of the things that certainly television, movies, advertising have been doing for a long time, which is exposing people to other groups in order to foster more inclusion.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Kind of make it feel like the new normal. Because the thing is it isn’t the new normal, it’s the normal. It’s always been this way; we’ve just ignored it.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. To a point. I think that, honestly, this started in the, I’m going to say late 80s. So, this is not a new idea in any way. And the other thing to think about is it’s not just pictures of people.

Think about your color palettes, your patterns, the locations (if you’re showing, you know, imagery for different places), the language you use, all of it. Like, you may not want to use corporate speak if you’ve got a primarily younger generation who’s looking at your screens. It’s great that the faculty writes messages at your campus, but…

Derek DeWitt: And they’re all English majors.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. But your students know slang. They know acronyms. They’re using that and why not use their own language to appeal to them?

Derek DeWitt: However, be a little bit careful. Nothing is worse than the old out-of-touch squares, or fuddy-duddies, trying to sound cool and hip and modern and kind of flubbing it. So, if you’re going to do something like that, make sure that you’re using it correctly.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I grew up when LOL meant lots of love.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, right!

Debbie DeWitt: So, be careful.

Derek DeWitt: Sorry you broke your arm, LOL!

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, exactly. Not good. But basically, if you want people to feel included, ask them. You can also do a survey, do an anonymous survey, but don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s always, I think, a problem for a lot of communications departments is, (and even HR) that they just, they try think to themselves, “Ooh, maybe we should do this”, and then they do it and it doesn’t work, or they have no way to measure so they don’t know if it works. And it’s not a vacuum. If you want to have a participatory culture, which is essentially what we’re talking about with inclusion, why not have everybody participating right from the very start?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And you’ve got a team. It’s very rare that you’re working in isolation. So, it’s as simple as throw it up in front of a few people and say, “What do you think?”

Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure, sure. Or if you were going to shift to this or change this, what would you change?

Debbie DeWitt: Right.

Derek DeWitt: What about causes? Causes, charities, nonprofits, things like this?

Debbie DeWitt: So, activism. You can reinforce your culture by advertising the causes you support. You know, if you regularly donate to some charity or an arts organization or a theater group, then advertise that.

You know, if people donate to you, like you’re a campus or you’re a hospital or a nonprofit, have some donor boards that show off these are our donors and thank them. And also tell other people, this is how you can participate, this is how you can donate. And that’s whether they’re donating to you or you’re donating to someone else. If you do Toys for Tots every year, make a big deal about it.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Make a big deal about it, but do it in a way that doesn’t seem, oh, how do I want to say this?

Debbie DeWitt: Obligatory.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, obligatory or like, you know, “Ooh-what-a-good-boy-am-I” sort of a thing. Like “Hey, look at us, we’re so good, we’re such good people, we gave all this money to this charity.”

Debbie DeWitt: Virtue signaling?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah! Virtue signaling. That’s exactly the term. Don’t do it for virtue signaling, do it because it’s sincere.

Debbie DeWitt: Well, yeah. And I would say this, I’d say, if you’re donating to someone and you champion that, it is sincere if you’re advertising it. The causes you champion say a lot about your culture, so you definitely want to advertise them. And have a way for people to suggest causes they care about, just like we talked about, that goes back to inclusion.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I know, I’ve read about some companies that, like one of the perks for employees is they can choose (either by individuals or by departments or I guess it just depends on who we’re talking about) but they can choose a charity. And then the organization will donate to that charity or match donations to that charity and things like this. So that’s actually a great way because, of course people will care because that’s a charity they suggested. They already give it to that one.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. We actually did that at Visix. Years ago, we were giving to sort of a very giant nonprofit, and we asked employees and they said they’d rather give to local causes where our headquarters is in Atlanta. They said, we’d rather do some more stuff on the ground here. So that’s what we did. We didn’t cut funds. We basically just shifted them to something that people cared about.

Derek DeWitt: There you go. And it’s always nice, I think, to be integrated into your local community where the people that you’re trying to reach live and work and raise their children. So, how are trust and inclusion connected, in this context?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, I think you build trust by being transparent and being timely and accurate in your communications. And the more people trust your information, the more included they feel. The more they get from you, the more they know, the more included they feel in the whole process. Also, the more feedback you ask for makes people feel more included.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Even if they don’t participate, hey, it was nice to be asked.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. Yeah. And in terms of activism, there’s usually more than one point of view around a cause or an issue. I think we know there’s always multiple points of view.

Derek DeWitt: At least two!

Debbie DeWitt: Right, right. And sometimes people can get confused or overwhelmed by all the different viewpoints.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I think one way you can build that trust is you put up those facts and you can also guide people to where they can get further information, accurate information, from good, reliable, trustworthy sources.

What about false information? I mean, there’s plenty of false information out there. Should you disavow it? Should you just, “Hey everybody, this is something that people are saying about this”, whether it’s in the break room or in the news media or on social media or what have you. Should you take that extra step and say, “Hey man, this is not accurate?”

Debbie DeWitt: I think that’s a decision each manager will have to make, but personally I’m for it. Because the fact is, if you have an IT manager and there is a spam email hitting all of your recipients on your system, they will send out an email saying “This is spam, do not open it, it is wrong, it is bad”. I kind of feel it’s the same thing with your signs.

If there’s disinformation or misinformation, and you’re absolutely aware that it’s being spread around, why not say this is not true? But don’t just say that. Because you know, people don’t trust someone; it’s just, you know, he said, she said at that point. Put up the real source. Put up where they can find more information on whatever the topic is.

And in a lot of cases, especially if you have content subscriptions with news in pictures, or even news feeds, some of that’s going to come across there already. So, some of it’s going to be taken care of for you.

It’s not so much about after the fact, it’s in advance. Make sure what you’re putting out is accurate. Especially if it’s a cause with controversy or confusion. I mean, the worst thing you can do is shake people’s trust by putting up something that’s wrong or misrepresents a cause. And you need to be open to scrutiny. There’s a fact that, you know, we all make mistakes. We’ve all shared that thing on Facebook and then gone Oh no…

Derek DeWitt: Oh, that’s an Onion article. Whoops.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. So, if you make a mistake, you know, pull it down and then say so. Instead of just having it up and then having it disappear. Everybody’s going to remember, “Yeah, remember they shared that Onion article thinking it was true?” No, put up “Ha ha, that was an Onion article”. That’s goes back to transparency. So, you know, if it’s inclusion, activism, branding; trust is about sharing good information. It’s kind of that simple.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. Respect. I mean, a lot of these things kind of come back to this idea of respecting differences, respecting other cultures.

Debbie DeWitt: R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Derek DeWitt: You want me to leave that in?

Debbie DeWitt: No. I just had to do it!

Derek DeWitt: One might be tempted to say that respect breeds inclusion and inclusion breeds respect. It’s kind of a virtuous gerbil wheel.

Debbie DeWitt: Very wise.

Derek DeWitt: What does that mean though? To be respectful in communications?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, I mean again, when talking about digital signs, you can promote respect just like you do inclusion with messages about respect on screens. I mean, sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer.

You can put up things about respecting individuals, respecting your community, respecting the environment. Some places go as far as to have policies or value statements about respect. Or in their values they’ll list, you know, we respect blah, blah, blah. And you can put those up on screens.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Again, if you’re giving money to a charity, obviously that charity is a cause that you care about for some reason.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. The environment or, or…

Derek DeWitt: Or whatever. Breast cancer research or whatever it is.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. Exactly. So, another thing you can do when it comes to respect (and this is very true for schools, I think in a lot of places, but corporate as well), you can talk about what you will and won’t tolerate in your venue. Intolerance of profanity, sexism, ageism. You know, how you expect respect in verbal and written communications at your company or at your school. For K-12 certainly bullying, you know, gets into the respect area.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I was going to say in schools especially, especially the K-12 realm, this is a big, big deal.

Debbie DeWitt: Tolerance.

Derek DeWitt: Tolerance, and hey, you know, give everybody a chance before you slam them down, wouldya?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. We actually have K-12 clients (I think we’ve talked about this before), but they actually asked the students, what do you want to see on the screens. And their number one thing was we just want positive statements, we want motivational quotes, and we want stuff about treating each other well; being nice. You know, not…

And that’s the thing, it doesn’t always have to be “Don’t Bully”. You can actually work on that culture by other things. You know, you don’t want bullying, so, of course you might have, once in a while, something about anti-bullying, but you can also just put up positive statements and, you know, “be kind to each other” and “help a buddy” or “sign up for a mentoring program”. So, things like that can all be about respect.

Derek DeWitt: Okay, but. I will say that when you put this kind of stuff up, someone in that audience, I mean, obviously if it’s a 30, 50 person audience, maybe not, but if you’ve got a large audience, especially if the public is part of that audience, someone out there is not going to agree with it. If it’s not that they don’t agree, they’re not going to care. Hey, we’re giving money to, whatever autism research. Well, I don’t care about autism research. So, what should you do? Should you just do a shotgun approach out there and try and hit everything? Or what do you do with that?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, I kind of think that’s true of everything you put up. There are going to be some people who don’t care. And this goes back to strategic planning, really. I mean, you have to decide why are you putting it out there and why should your audience care? Now, if you’re putting up something about autism, you need to be doing that because either your audience cares about it or your organization does and you want people to know that, and stand by it. If someone says, “Well, I don’t know why you care about that”, be prepared to answer that question.

Derek DeWitt: Not just ’cause I said so!

Debbie DeWitt: Right. And more importantly, if they don’t care about it, they’re going to tune it out. You know, more than likely. I mean, if they take umbrage with it, then that’s a wider thing. And I would say one of the ways that you can address that is to have a wide array of causes. Appeal to your whole audience. And again, we’ve talked about before, ask your audience. You know, this is part of a communication strategy. This is not just, “What do I put on my screens?” You need to be thinking about your audience in terms of everything you say to them.

Derek DeWitt: And it’s constantly evolving. This is not set-it-and-forget-it stuff.

Debbie DeWitt: No, it’s not. I mean, going back to what you said before, about respect breeding inclusion, I’d also say respect breeds respect. I mean, it’s what lot of people call the Golden Rule. You know, treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s what we’re talking about.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Up at the top, you said events, and we know that the number one thing people want to put on their digital signs is event schedules. I mean, an event is obviously inclusive by its very nature. People are going to it, right? Whether it’s online or in person, it doesn’t matter. People are nonetheless taking time and making some small effort to participate in this event. So, obviously that’s the inclusion aspect. What about the activism aspect of, I don’t know, a town hall meeting or a training session or some other kind of an event?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, this can get a little tricky because, especially somewhere like a campus, there’re going to be a lot of events and a lot of causes that may have even opposing goals at times. Like as an example, say, a student group is organizing a Black Lives Matter march, and they want to put that up on your screens. You know, you can put up the event advertisement, obviously, but you need to state if the event is just supported by that group or by your whole university. People need to know who’s supporting the cause. You can also put up a link to the BLM website so people can get the facts on what’s behind the action.

You know, this goes back to facts and good sources. And you could, you know, if you’ve got an event, whatever it is, you also can supplement that with messages around it that highlight important activists for that cause, you know, just different examples of things that tie into the cause.

But I’d say the most important thing for events that deal with political and social causes is to be accurate and guide people to good sources, and make sure they know; you know, if you put it on screens, they’re going to assume you endorse it. So don’t do it unless you do endorse it or make it very clear that it, you know, I hate to say it, you can say this is not endorsed by the university, this is endorsed by the student activism club or whatever.

Derek DeWitt: Just tread carefully.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, and when I say all this, I’m talking about a controversial cause. Events can be anything. Events can be, you know, a pep rally. So, it’s not always going to be controversial. And so that’s certainly, when it comes to activism or inclusion, if you’re having some, I don’t know, blood drive, people probably aren’t going to be confused or conflicted about that. So, it’s not a problem.

Derek DeWitt: Vampires. Vampires might have some kind of an issue with it.

Debbie DeWitt: They might. I would think they’d be into it.

Derek DeWitt: Well, that’s true.

Debbie DeWitt: Central source of blood.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That’s true. And what was your fifth category? You said education. What do you mean by just like….

Debbie DeWitt: E-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n… You’ve never heard that word before.

Derek DeWitt: I guess educating is informing. I guess, in communications, you’re either informing (which is educating) or you’re reinforcing something that you’ve already put out there. So, either the information you’re putting up is new or it’s not new. And on something like digital signage, there’s no way to know when somebody first encountered it. You may have had a repeating message for the last two weeks, you know, in the playlist. But I don’t know, Marcellus…

Debbie DeWitt: Just got hired.

Derek DeWitt: Just got hired or was off sick or what have you, and came in, or just noticed it for whatever reason and went, “Oh, that’s interesting”. And then mentions it in the break room and everybody else goes, “Yeah we know, dude, that’s been up for two weeks, what are you talking about?”

Debbie DeWitt: Right. But when I’m talking about education, in this context, what I mean is like a lot of this is mindset. And I know if you listen to this podcast regularly, you’ve heard us talk about this a lot. But if you think of your communications as educating and reinforcing, as opposed to dictating policies, it can really change your whole communication style.

I’d say education encompasses everything we’ve talked about in this podcast. In terms of activism, you know, you can educate your audience about the cause, the history, how it developed and the facts versus disinformation, how to get more info.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I think that that’s a very important. And how do you do that? How do you send them to things? Because you stick a big old website up there. It’s going to be wreeah. No one’s going to remember it. QR codes seem to me to be the easiest way to go, “Hey, go to this, whatever, Wikipedia page or what have you to get more info.”

Debbie DeWitt: They can be. But keep in mind, a lot of screens are mounted high up or someone’s passing by and in truth, the QR code’s great if they’ve got the time and certainly if your message is on screen long enough that they can see it, register it, pull up their phone, take a picture. I’d say more of a friendly URL. Like use or use your own. You know, it would be You know, make it something very easy to remember. Or better yet, somewhere that they know where to go already. Find information on our intranet.

Derek DeWitt: Right. You guys, you know, this, you go there all the time. So just go there. And there’s more information that we just put up today.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. In terms of culture, you can educate people about your culture by putting up your mission, your values, and just the content you choose to show, honestly, reflects that culture (just like we talked about what you include in messages and things). You can also educate people about how you’re working to earn their trust by putting up your policies, ask for feedback. You know, ask them what they want to know. You want to be transparent? You might think you’re transparent, but there’s some, you know, there’s a group of people who are like, “we never hear about…

Derek DeWitt: X, Y and Z.

Debbie DeWitt: I don’t know, the vending machine. You know, “We never hear, how does that get ordered?” I don’t know whatever it is. But you’ve got a group of people who are like, they’re not telling us about this. So ask, and if it’s something you can share, share it.

Derek DeWitt: I would think that this ties back into events, too. If you’re having some kind of an event, don’t just say, “Hey, this is it.” Why not stick more information up?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Like I said, if it’s a Shakespeare play, throw up some Shakespeare trivia. If it’s Hamilton put up some history messages. If it’s a food festival, get some nutritional facts in front of people. You can always do simple did you know? messages about anything. In terms of activism and inclusion, it’s really about educational messages created within that Human-Centered approach that we talked about.

Derek DeWitt: Well, this education mindset is absolutely a two-way street. It is not, as we said, set up and forget it. This is a constantly evolving, constantly changing thing. Just like the world around us is changing. And even the people you’re trying to communicate, may be changing. Not just new people come in, old people leave, but they’re human beings going on their own journeys and they may be going through things in their own lives that make them start to view things differently.

Don’t just put stuff out there. If you’re a communications manager or the manager of the digital signage, make sure that you know who your audience is, know what they care about and what they like to spend their time and money doing, and make sure that there’s some way for them to respond and interact and be included.

Debbie DeWitt: Yep. Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Well, I’d like to thank Debbie for talking to me today. Thank you, Debbie, for talking to me today.

Debbie DeWitt: Thank you, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening.