May 11, 2017

3 Steps to Developing a Digital Content Strategy for Higher Education

Digital signage has been on college campuses for a couple of decades, but only recently has it skyrocketed in popularity. Why? Because universities have sharpened their content strategies for maximum impact. These are the questions to ask as you tailor digital signage content to engage students, faculty, and visitors on your campus.

Step 1: Where? Consider location.

That’s right, where. Where are the digital displays you need to populate? Thinking about location is the first, and most often forgotten, step in developing a content strategy. If your displays are in the campus center or the dining hall, people may be in a rush. That means the content you pick should be easy to read as people walk on by. Static announcements about deadlines and events may work best to engage. Eye-catching still imagery, even if it’s just quality stock photography, will be your friend. Think of digital content in busy areas as more a school noticeboard than a video presentation.

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On the flip side, digital signage in areas where people linger, like admissions offices, department offices, and places where lines often form is the perfect platform for slightly longer content. Short videos, animation, and multiple-part messaging can work to attract and maintain attention. Not only can good content engage in waiting areas, it can also reduce perceived wait times. That counts for a lot when you’re trying to woo applicants (and their parents) or boost satisfaction among the student body.

Step 2: Who? Define your audience.

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Before you pick specific digital signage content, think carefully about who your target audience is. The more you understand their habits and motives, the better you can cater to their preferences. Are you talking just to students or including faculty and visitors? Maybe you’re talking to students on their way to class during the day, and faculty headed to department meetings in the evening. You can use digital display content scheduling tools to court different audiences at different times.

Audience definition is an ongoing process. Is your digital signage already up and running? It can’t hurt to spend some time watching who it engages and how people react to it. In the adjacent realm of commercial advertising, people have spent a lot of time collecting granular statistics on the age, income, and purchasing habits of digital signage audiences. In higher education, the most useful data points may be more anecdotal. For example, the people passing by one display may tend to be freshmen trying to figure out what events to attend. The people passing by another may be upperclassmen more interested in student-generated social media content. You want to be designing content to reach and resonate with the broadest, most clearly defined audience possible.

Step 3: What? Choose content that accomplishes your goals.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 4.43.39 PM.pngAll right, you’ve clarified how location impacts the types of content you choose, and who your target audience is. The last step before you go shopping for content (the fun part!) is to match your communications goals with the content itself. Think back to the goals you set when you installed the digital displays. You’ve been thinking about them subconsciously this whole time—“activate the hallway leading toward the auditorium,” “deliver timely announcements and reminders to faculty,” or “entertain students in line to buy tickets,” to give a few examples. What kind of content will accomplish that best?

An easy way to determine this? Ask your audience. If students are your target, students are the most likely to have strong opinions about what’s most useful and entertaining to them. In fact, many colleges involve students in curating their digital signage content on a regular basis. It’s easy to do if you can set permission levels in your content management system. And students know what they want to see. Particularly with a younger audience, viral and user-generated content trends can change at the drop of a dime. Instead of constantly pivoting your strategy, put your audience to work for you.

Another tool to inform digital content design: ask the experts. At an academic institution, you’re surrounded by them! Say a goal of yours is to manage student stress during exam season. You can ask a counselor or psychology professor about strategies and resources available, then integrate those with audience-generated content. Still have questions about which content matches your goals? Here are a few examples:

  • High-traffic area + broad student and visitor audience = dashboard for event announcements and weather
  • Work lounge + subject-specific student audience = student-generated graphic content and wayfinding
  • Dining area + lingering student audience = side-by-side wayfinding/safety announcements and engaging imagery.

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