Guest Post: Ellyce Kelly, Visix
Data drives everything – employee performance, business decisions, marketing strategies and more. It’s likely that you’re already collecting, collating and sharing lots of metrics, so why not put them on your digital signs? It provides transparency and can help to both educate and motivate employees, customers and visitors.
Data mapping for digital signs is simply pulling data from an external source into your content management system. It could populate an entire zone on the screen (like a webpage or stream), or it can feed custom templates and tickers that you’ve set up in advance (like event schedules and news feeds).
Most digital signage software allows you to customize the presentation of the data-mapped content, so you’re guaranteed to have a uniform look across all your communications, regardless of the source. You can also choose when and how often content is displayed, augmenting and fortifying your playlists.
The best part about it is that your screens show real-time content automatically – all you have to do is set the initial parameters and let the system do the rest. You’ll still have to do a little research, but once you’ve made your data choices and set everything up, you can concentrate on your overall communications strategy instead of daily content creation tasks.
There is virtually no limit to the kinds of things you can display on your digital signs. Whatever is relevant to your organization’s audience can probably be found and mapped to in your digital signage CMS without much effort at all. Since there’s such a vast array of data to choose from, you’ll need to narrow your focus.
Obviously, different types of organizations will focus on different things. Hotels and convention centers might show realtime flight information, a bank can display stock market data, and a corporate hub will feed real-time KPI data to their screens. As with all communications, you have to tailor your content to your viewers’ interests.
One wouldn’t think that shipping agents would be interested in a Puppy of the Day feed. But until you ask, you won’t really know. Puppy of the Day (which is a real feed, by the way) might not have anything to do with the actual work tasks in the warehouse, but if a large enough portion of the audience enjoys it, then why not include it in your playlist? If they’re looking at the puppy pictures, they’re also looking at your organization-specific messages as well.
So, find out what your audience is interested in. You can do this formally through surveys and polls, or you can find out more informally, in casual conversation or by asking managers. Once you know the subject matter, figure out if there are existing sources your CMS can pull from. Here are some of the more popular data sources for digital signs:
Things like current date, day and time are great for getting people to regularly check your digital signs. Local weather is also a great option, especially with animated icons and backgrounds. If there’s a limited time for an event or topic, think about sprucing it up with a countdown clock.
Local traffic feeds can also be useful to your audience, especially around close of business and near exits. This helps them plan their commutes and make them rely on your digital signs for valuable information that directly affects them.
All of these data sources will grab your audience’s attention, so they see your other messages and learn to rely on your digital signs for current info. Data mapping your date and time are simple, because they pull from your local server. Weather needs to tie to a source like AccuWeather, and can be configured to show only the forecast data you want. For all of these attractors, you simply need to localize the information.
Meeting and event schedules are one of the most ubiquitous things shown on digital signs. The advantage here is that all of your schedule maintenance is done in your calendar app, like Exchange, EMS, Google Calendar, etc., so you can do it from anywhere. And the data automatically updates on screens when changed in the app.
Since your calendar app has a lot of options, you’ll want to map to only the relevant fields for your digital signs – meeting name, room number, start time and end time are the most common. You’ll also need to create an event schedule layout for your signs, since the data will import in just a raw format. You’ll also need to make decisions about what to show on which screens – events for one room or multiple rooms, how many events at once, the timeframe you want displayed, and whether or not to show cancelled events. (If you can indicate a cancelled event on screens, it can relieve confusion for participants instead of simply leaving it off the schedule.)
Excel, XML and JSON
If you’re keeping track of information using an Excel spreadsheet, XML or JSON, that can also be mapped to your digital signs. This is a very useful tool, as almost every organization has Excel available to them. You simply map to fields in the file, and when you change data in your Excel sheet, it changes on screens.
You can also use these sources to create countdowns (by entering dates), show progress to goals (by showing current totals and the goal amount), and listings (like directory data). Having the option to import XML and JSON data means you can integrate with a lot of the systems you’re already using to run your business.
One of the most powerful uses of data-mapped content is to show artwork or data visualizations that change as the data changes. As an example, take an energy dashboard: as power and water usage fluctuates throughout the day, that data is displayed in an attractive graph. People can take in more information visually than by reading text, so as much visualization as possible is a good idea.
Some digital signage software is sophisticated enough to let you tell your CMS what images to show on screen, based on data from your source. This is known as data-triggered content, it complements data-mapping. A great example is a fundraiser. If you have two cells in an Excel sheet with your current donations and your goal, you can map those to show on screen. At the same time, you can use conditional logic to tell the CMS to show different graphics as your donations go up – a thermometer filling up or a gauge moving a needle. You simply tell the CMS that when your donations are less than, greater than, or equal to a number, it should show a specific image. It’s simple “if this, show that” logic that automates visuals as well as text.
There are literally millions of RSS feeds in the world to choose from. As with all of your content, make sure you’re serving your audience by choosing feeds they’re interested in. In your CMS, you’ll usually just point to the URL of the RSS feed, and then format it as either a message or ticker. Different CMS systems will allow different display options, like how many characters to show, whether to truncate or display the entire text, scrolling options for tickers and font styles.
Here are some popular feeds you might consider:
Webpages and Streams
Webpages and video streams can be displayed either by data mapping to a URL or an MRSS feed. HTML5 browser content is the best option, because it scales correctly to whatever screen size it’s shown on. You’ll also need to set a refresh rate for webpages, so they’re always up-to-date.
One thing to consider with webpages and streams is audio – do you use it or not? Obviously, if the content is dependent on an accompanying soundtrack, you’ll need to use it. But consider where the displays are, and don’t add to busy, noisy spaces by showing loud programs. (Keep in mind that a lot of webpages now launch video ads that auto-play each time you refresh.)
One of the benefits to digital signage becoming so widespread is that there’s an ever-growing marketplace of companies that want to help you add interesting things to your digital signs. Think about adding some infotainment subscriptions, especially if you cater to visitors. These are fun, and are already optimized for visual communications with high-quality photos that grab attention, short videos and bullet lists.
Some ideas for content subscriptions could include:
- Community news and events
- Flight boards
- Local health conditions
- Health, diet and exercise tips
- Inspirational quotes
- Fun facts and trivia
- Safety and customer service tips
- Social media feeds
- Trending topics
- Sports scoreboards
- Box office and music rankings
- Top five lists
The burden of designing lots and lots of content isn’t entirely on your shoulders. There are many options available to help streamline the creation and scheduling process, allowing your digital signage team to spend more time concentrating on specific messages and campaigns. Data mapping is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal.
When choosing data sources, you’ll want to see how often the source refreshes, and how often the author posts new content. If they update infrequently, then schedule that content only once in a while, so your audience doesn’t get bored with it. You’ll also need to keep in mind your screen resolution and orientation if the feed doesn’t let you change the design parameters.
Whether your organization is large or small, has had a digital signage system for a while or is just starting out – data mapping to external sources gives you an efficient, automated option to always keep your screens fresh and your viewers interested.