Digital signage a growing trend in internal comms

Do your employees delete email messages unread? A billion-dollar (and growing) industry grabs eyeballs in cafeterias, elevator banks, and break rooms.

When Atlanta-based AutoTrader Group recruits employees to volunteer at the local food bank or at Ronald McDonald House, it messages them through digital screens by the elevator banks.

When it welcomes new salespeople to its Atlanta headquarters for training, the news flashes on wall-mounted screens.

“It’s a very simple way to reach a lot of people,” says Billy Auer, associate communications manager.

Although much of the discussion of internal communication focuses on smartphones and social intranets, a new generation of digital signs is sweeping away bulletin boards and posters.

The global digital signage market will increase more than tenfold—to $13.8 billion from $1.3 billion—from 2010 to 2017, says Betsy Jaffe director of public relations at InfoComm International. She cites a global study by InfoComm, a trade association representing the audiovisual and information communications industries.

“This is a very aggressively growing industry overall right now,” Jaffe says.

Cheaper technology

The growth has been spurred by cheaper technology and the more accessible content through the cloud, InfoComm reports in an International Global Market Definition and Strategy Study. Displays have doubled in power even as prices halve every year.

Internally, signs reach people where desktop computers don’t: waiting for elevators, filling orders on assembly lines, munching sloppy Joes in the cafeteria, or staring at the wall in reception areas.

Digital signs are also popping up at information kiosks, and archdioceses use them to provide location-specific messaging at hospitals. Digital signs broadcast quarterly meetings, chirp announcements, and tout top employees.

Since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a gunman killed 32 students and faculty members, many organizations have also installed digital signs to warn people in emergencies, Jaffe says.

Reaching staffers on the go

Digital signs can keep employees on the factory floor in the loop about safety or open enrollment for insurance. A nurse or forklift driver could easily miss an email from human resources or internal comms.

“They’re not sitting in front of a computer waiting for an email,” says Chuck Gose, vice president and global practice leader at RMG Networks. “Their job is out and about and on the go.”

RMG Networks, which acquired Symon Communications this year, is a global provider of intelligent visual solutions providing clients with end-to-end digital signage solutions.

Increasingly, organizations are seeking ways to integrate the wall screens with other digital communications, such as the intranet and internal social platforms, Gose adds. RMG and Ragan Communications are forming a Digital Internal Communications Alliance to promote integration of digital platforms and tools used by providers.

The alliance would be analogous to airline partnerships allowing a traveler to fly, say, from Chicago to Singapore, even if there’s not a flight between the cities, says Steve Nesbit, chief marketing officer for RMG Networks.

“They make it very easy in a seamless way for multiple airlines to work together for a flyer to be able to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish,” says Nesbit. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in internal communications.”

Global pharmaceutical giant F. Hoffmann-La Roche, headquartered in Switzerland, makes extensive use of digital signs to reach those who don’t work primarily at desks. Drivers are in and out of buildings, and production employees spend their time doing quality checks as they search for impurities in liquids.

“Because of the nature of the jobs they do, a considerable amount of employees do not have access to the network,” Fischer says. “Informing this group of employees in a timely way is what we support doing with digital signage.”

‘The main gate is closed’

Roche internal communicators use the platform chiefly for short news messaging. The messages are adapted locally for the global company. It can warn employees that the main motorway near a site is clogged with traffic, or can state, “Starting at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the main gate is closed, and you need to use a different route going back out,” Fischer says.

Headquarters controls the global news feeds, and local communicators mix in content that is shown on the screens, Fischer says. This could include menu displays in the canteen and memos detailing where and when an event will take place.

“Surely, intranets are the main medium for electronic information,” Fischer says. “Yet in the sheer amount of clutter we got, digital signage can have its own place. … We needed to find a way to reach out to everyone in a cost-effective and sustainable way.”

Nesbit says a new generation of technology is driving employee communications. Companies that communicate best with their employee base tend to have the highest levels of productivity and most loyal employees. In addition, the world’s most recognized brands tend to employ staffers who consider their company to be a great place to work, and thus become vocal brand ambassadors.

“It’s digital,” he says. “It’s connected. And most people are multitasking and multi-screening to get their information.”

AutoTrader Group, which operates America’s largest digital automotive marketplace, used digital signs to post pictures of employees doing volunteer work, inspiring others to take part. The company also uses the signs for more serious messages, as when it promotes the quarterly town hall webcasts.

The screens, Auer says, are “a great way to reinforce company announcements and things that you want your employees to see because they’re running out the door or on their way to a meeting.”

Trends suggest that more and more workplaces are going to see guys in coveralls on ladders installing the digital screens in hallways, cafeterias, and lobbies.

“A lot of people think of digital signage and they think of the Jumbotron at a sporting facility or what you see when you go to the retail shop or the mall,” Jaffe says, “but there are a lot of internal uses as well.”


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