West Virginia University’s digital display network started a decade ago with just ten monitors that’s just ten monitors to cover an institution of more than 30,000 students.
Today, we share messaging built from centrally managed databases with more than 200 users and more than 375 pieces of content to 120-plus screens across our entire system of the main campus and three regional campuses. Those messages aren’t simple one-offs that were slapped together for our screens. They are purpose-driven communications that lift our overall university brand and add real value to the digital signage experience on campus.
Digital Signage Content Problems
The idea of a digital signage network started as a way to highlight emergency messaging, but emergencies don’t happen every day, so we needed to come to grips with what was going to be displayed 99.9 percent of the time. We got started just like so many others we’ve talked to in higher education who are dealing with digital signage.
Our first response was reactive. We would see those lovely 8 ½” x 11” posters taped, stapled and pinned to the walls of the University and ask was THIS was messaging we needed to put on our signs? The problem? Most of those posters didn’t fit our brand, much less our horizontally mounted HD monitors. We spent countless hours redesigning those messages to match the University’s brand and the monitor orientation.
That put us in the path of another problem: now we had two messages for the same event. That’s two messages with two different designs, which meant that each message would play for a shorter amount of time before it expired.
Communications as a Solution
We needed a solution, so we turned to and spent quality time with the communicators in the schools, colleges and departments of the University; our web, video, news and print teams. We found that our best approach was to make digital signage part of the University’s Communications and Marketing plan from the beginning of a project rather than an afterthought.
By doing this, we started getting more heads up on the exact messaging everyone wanted to push to the digital signs and even found some finished graphics we could share.
Even so, every piece of content had to be inputted by one of the two people centrally managing the content management solution. It was a hang-up, and we realized that we needed to take ourselves out of the equation.
We had already leveraged some live data in the form of news RSS feeds, twitter handles and weather reports. So we set out to create our own live data sources from the communication partners we already had in place. Our team created web forms that populated SQL databases and then fed out those databases as multiple XML feeds.
Now, our simplest web form allows a user to input an item with a title, description, start date/time and end date/time. We’re able to bring in the XML feed to our content management solution and determine the look and feel of that messaging. No longer are those messages outside the University’s brand.
And there is another substantial benefit we have by leveraging our own live data: there are only two people trained to use our content management system. That’s right, two people managing more than 80 unique feeds to our screen. The best part? There is a direct avenue for communicators to get their information on the digital signage at WVU. No more asking for content. No more creating individualized designed content. No more middle man.
We are now over the ten-year hump for our digital signage network. From our ever-expanding number of databases for various types of content, we average more than 375 pieces of content and it’s all centrally managed with the ability to distribute to a single screen or the entire network at the touch of a button.
At the Digital Signage Expo 2018, our session, “Stop Creating Content: Leveraging Existing Communication Avenues for Your Digital Network,” will look at these and other avenues we have found for getting content for our digital signage network. We haven’t figured out the best way to use digital signage – we’re still working on that – but we’re getting closer to pulling in content that’s truly valuable and that works to tie our signage into the messages our students, faculty and staff are seeing campus wide.
Author Steve Stavar will co-present “Stop Creating Content: Leveraging Existing Communication Avenues for Your Digital Signage Network,” at Digital Signage Expo 2018 on Thursday, March 29 at 9 a.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information on this or any educational program offered at DSE 2018 or to learn more about digital signage go to www.dse2018.com.