Blog: Frank Kenna 

Frank Kenna (bio)
President and CEO
The Marlin Company

Monday, 15 December 2014

None of them.  Well… all of them.  Actually, it’s the wrong question to start with. Digital signage, iPads, smartphones and social media are not the answer to workplace communications. They are just tools and processes that can help you.

There are dozens of products popping up based on one or more of these new products, all claiming to be the answer to your communications problems. For a while they may be popular since they can be very cool and fun. But do they move the needle? Not really.

You can build a house with a hammer, screwdriver and handsaw. You can also go to the hardware store and buy the latest multi-tool band saw /circular saw/drill press. But if you don’t have the right plans in the first place, you’ll end up with a mess either way. New tools can help you do it faster, but not necessarily better.

Workplace communication is like that. Managers who need to communicate do so to build consensus and accomplish objectives. Having the latest app or some new gadget or web service doesn’t matter. Using them to address your particular problems does.

A strong, well thought-out communications strategy is way more important than the latest new thing.  Remember, the gadget is just a tool; it’s your master plan that really matters.

Posted by: Admin AT 04:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 17 November 2014

I write a lot about digital signage content because that's what digital signage is all about — getting the right content in front of your employees. Here are three high-level questions to help you figure out how good your content is (or isn't).

1. How relevant is the content to your objectives? Many digital signage administrators starting out use lots of "eye candy," that free or low-cost content floating around on the Internet. Sure it looks nice, but does it actually help you communicate your objectives? No. What it does do is help drive readership (see point #3), but that should only be one ingredient for effective digital signage. Your issues and objectives should directly drive most of your content.

2. How easily can you create and display the content? Once you've identified what your important objectives are, who's going to develop the content? Someone needs to own it to make sure there's fresh, relevant material on a regular basis. These admins need software that's easy to use and lets them post content quickly. Or they can access turnkey but issue-related content.

3. Will people actually read it? If they don't, what's the point? For example, posting an Excel spreadsheet with dozens of rows and columns won't cut it. You need to pick an important piece of data and focus on that, perhaps by creating a chart illustrating the point. Make it applicable to their jobs: If they're on the factory floor, show them production metrics, not sales or profit numbers. And at least 25 percent of your content should be non-business stuff, such as news, sports, weather and trivia.

Answering these three questions will get you well on the way to an effective digital signage system that really works. Whether you're searching for digital signage or already have a system installed, a little thought about content creation goes a long way.

Posted by: Admin AT 02:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Most of the stuff I read about workplace communications focuses on creating the right type of content. And rightly so; the phrase “Content is King” is a cliché these days, but clichés are very often true.

But I think content creators should also pay attention to their grammar usage. I constantly see errors in posted content, most of which is easy to fix.

I recently saw this piece at a blog called copyblogger. It sums up the most frequent grammar mistakes that people make. I recommend printing it out and leaving it near your computer for a few weeks to make sure you’re not making them.

Here’s a few examples of grammar misuse from the article that I see all the time:

Your vs. You’re – which is correct in what instance?

It’s vs. Its – when do you use one versus the other?

There vs. Their vs. They’re – Confusing, right?

Check out the article for the simple tips to keep these things straight, along with 10 other common goofs.

Making any of these mistakes causes even the most professionally-designed piece of content to look like amateur hour.

Posted by: Admin AT 01:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Thursday, 04 September 2014

Typical scenario: you’ve got a nice new, digital signage (DS) system and find that you’re not getting the readership you hoped for. After all, spreadsheets full of KPIs, and PowerPoints summarizing the last quarter’s results may not have quite the draw you’re looking for. You need something to attract people to the DS, something that they’ll find dynamic and interesting. How about sports?

Sports are a huge draw. Local, network and cable TV networks’ schedules are filled with various sporting events and bids for major events are in the billions of dollars. You can take advantage of this magnetic power in these easy ways.

Countdown clock – Assuming your DS has a countdown feature, set it to count down to the opening day of your employees’ favorite team. If you can paste the team’s logo in the background, even better (see example in photo above).

Team schedule – Copy and past your local teams’ schedules into a piece of content and put it in rotation for a week or so.

Play-by-play recap – Is there a big game going on during the workday? Find a website that does a real-time play by play recap (text, not video) and post it. People will be able to keep tabs on the game without disrupting their work schedules.

Golf leaderboard – Similar to the above, post a URL of a website that shows the leaderboard for the current tournament. This only has to stay up for one minute or less since the information is a quick read.

RSS feeds – Every major sports team produces at least one RSS feed that will automatically send info to your DS news in real time in text format. For example, here’s a page with feeds for all the Major League Baseball teams. I like this idea because they are a quick read and change very frequently, perfect for on-the-go DS viewers.

These 5 ideas are all tried-and-true; they’re easy to implement and change constantly, which is exactly what you want for drawing employees to your DS, where they’ll also read the important workplace content you’ve included. The cool thing is that you’re able to leverage the 100’s of billions of dollars spent annually on professional sports to attract your employees to your DS… for free.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:14 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Two of the most frequent questions we get from our customers are:

1. How many minutes should a piece of content run before going to the next one?

2. How many days should I leave it in rotation?

Here are the ways to figure both out.  To answer the first question start with the ‘read time.’ Assume the viewer will be right in front of the display when the piece starts running, then calculate how long it will take to read.  Read it out loud a couple of times to estimate this.  Then you have to add some time because viewers will not usually be just standing there; they’re walking by or not paying attention, starting to read the piece after it’s been up for a while. So for short pieces with a read time of less than 30 seconds, add a minute.  For longer pieces add more time, say an extra 2 minutes for a one-minute piece.  By the way, you shouldn’t post pieces with a read time of more than one minute. From our research (we produce thousands of pieces of workplace content every year), the ideal read time is no longer than 12 to 15 seconds.

An alternative approach is to use ‘billboard’ timing, which means to leave the piece up for a relatively long time, say 10 minutes.  Doing this ensures that everyone walking by during that interval will see it and be able to read the whole thing.  I like this one best for the hallway locations since most viewers are walking by and won’t read more than one piece anyway.  And it prevents the chance that a viewer will start reading when there’s only 5 seconds left and won’t be able to finish, which gets frustrating.  For areas where the viewers are seated, like a cafeteria, the read-time method is better.

To answer the second question, you want to leave the piece up for enough time for your average viewer to see it at least 4 times.  It has long been established that a person needs to see an ad or piece of content 4-5 times for maximum learning (see previous blog for the science).  Example:  You’ve got your display mounted near the main restrooms. The average person will visit about 4 times per day.  The quantity of content in rotation dictates how likely a person is to see it on any given visit.  While there are precise ways to calculate this on a spreadsheet, you can get close by estimating.  For example, let’s say you’re using billboard timing and running 4 pieces of content.  That means that, with 4 restroom trips a day, any given person will see each piece once that day.  Therefore you want to leave each piece in rotation at least 4 days to get the maximum retention.

If you don’t want to bother with all the calculations above, my down-and-dirty recommendation is to time each piece for 10 minutes, and leave it in rotation for a week.  If you have 5 or more pieces in rotation, leave them up for 2 weeks.  And of course be sure to schedule time-specific pieces, e.g., ‘Happy 4th of July,’ to expire on a timely basis.  Nothing makes digital signage look older than content that’s obviously expired.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:05 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Yeah, I know. It sounds like a tenuous connection but there really is something to it. Here's the story.

A couple of years ago on a fall Saturday, I was cleaning my garage and drinking a cup of coffee. I placed it on the windowsill ... and promptly forgot all about it.

That Monday, when backing out of the garage I looked over my shoulder, saw the cup and thought to myself, "I've got to remember to take that in tonight." Coming home that evening I didn't see the cup and completely forgot all about it.

On Tuesday morning the same thing happened, and once again I forgot all about it by that night.

This scenario repeated itself for the next few days until I stopped seeing the cup altogether. It wasn't until the following spring when I happened to be in the garage tuning up my lawnmower that I saw my cup again. Why did this happen?

It's the law of repetition. For example, in advertising once you've seen an ad three or four times, you just don't see it anymore (see my previous blog about "The Rule of Three") — and this is where it ties into digital signage.

You see, the same thing happens with content that you place into your digital signage. Once people view a piece three or four times, they don't see it anymore. And if you have a digital signage system full of old, tired content, then they'll start to ignore your digital signage system altogether. That's why it's so important to change your content on a regular basis. The previous blog I referenced has some guidelines for doing that.

There's nothing better than a great cup of coffee in the morning. Think of your digital signage content like that — keep it tasty and fresh.

Posted by: Admin AT 09:32 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 29 April 2013

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

The headline above, a favorite of Warren Buffett, is a quote from Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet and philosopher.  Buffet refers to it when talking about reading annual reports but not realizing what they say at first.   I think it's also a good one to consider when thinking about what your employees "see" when they read your workplace communications.

Think about it: when employees look at your digital signage what do they see?  More importantly, what do they remember?  Because it's all about information absorption and the resultant change of behavior.  With that in mind, here are some points to consider in your communications:

* Does your digital signage have content that changes on a regular basis?  And by that I mean fresh content each day.  If it doesn't, your employees won't even see it after a while, no less remember anything.  If you had a TV in your house playing the same commercial over and over again day after day, would you pay any attention to it?  Of course not.  In fact, you'd probably want to throw a brick through it.  Don't alienate the people you're trying to educate.

* What are you posting in your digital signage that employees actually want to see?  Let's say your most important recurring issue is getting corporate announcements in front of employees.  Keep in mind that they won’t pay much attention if that's all you post, even if it does change daily.  There's got to be something in it for them.  So spice it up with some fun and interesting stuff like sports or entertainment news that will attract attention.  Then they'll read your announcements.

* Repeat your message in fresh formats.  For example, if your company has a change of direction that you need to communicate, one memo or PowerPoint won't do it.  You need to repeat the message using different methods and timing, such as a memo this week, a photo of the CEO along with an article next week, and projected sales figures the next.  

* Consider your communication strategy prior to actually starting to communicate.  How important is this particular subject? How much time do you have to communicate it? What methods will you use, how often will the message change, and what's the actual schedule?

Just a little thought and planning will make your employees really "see" your message, not just look at it and instantly forget.

Posted by: Admin AT 04:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 03 January 2012
"Feeding the beast" refers to the insatiable content appetite of a digital signage (DS) system that's on 24/7. At first, many new users assume they'll have plenty of content to post in their DS system, but soon find out the constant need for more can be a ball and chain keeping them from doing more important work.  

If you're thinking about starting up your own digital signage system, the amount of content you'll need is an important consideration.  
Here’s a simple formula we developed which will help you get a good idea how much content you'll need:
Content Formula: (C/A) x B = D
A.  # of pieces rotating = 6
B.  # of days in month = 22
C.  # of days exposure = 5
D.  # of pieces per month = 18.3
In this example there are six pieces of content rotating at any given time, content changes only on business days (i.e., Mon – Fri), and each piece stays in rotation for five days. Based on this, 18 pieces of fresh digital signage content are needed per month. 
This also assumes that your DS will display only one piece of content at a time. However, if your screen has two frames, double the final number (D); if three frames, triple it, etc. That’s a lot of content, especially if you want to make it specific to your organization as opposed to generic web news or entertainment feeds.  
For our customers, we produce about 44 pieces of fresh, animated content per month, based on two content panels, and then they can decide how much of their own to add. We base this on the above formula, the amount of times a person needs to see an image before it sinks in, and the amount of time, per showing, that the image will be displayed.   
The main objective with this, and any DS system, is to always make it engaging for the viewer ... whether you have time to administer it or not. Because when viewers start realizing that you have lame or repetitive content on your system, the readership will rapidly drop off. And once that happens, it's difficult to get them back.  
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
In my last post, I addressed the first three items from my list of five things to look for when sourcing digital signage (DS). 
1. What are you trying to communicate?
2. What is the source?
3. Is the information accurate?
4. Can you get permission to use it?
5. How does one get it into a format compatible with his DS system?

Today I’m going to address No.4.

Here’s the scenario: you’re looking for content for your DS system, and you find some great stuff after searching the Internet. You found it on a site that you trust. Just one problem; you don’t have permission to use it. Your options are to get the needed permission, or just go ahead and use it anyway.

Many people use the second option and get away with it. After all, what are the odds that the creators of that content are going to walk into your facility and see it? It’s like downloading bootleg music; many people do it and most get away with it. However, if your DS content is Internet accessible, be aware that some content producers are out there policing their copyrights. There was a landmark case a few years back where a woman posted a YouTube video of her son riding a plastic tricycle in the kitchen. In the background a song by Prince was playing on the radio. Although the woman had only posted the video for the amusement of her close relatives, the music publisher’s computers identified the song and notified YouTube that she was using it illegally.

Regardless, maybe you have an ethical problem with not getting permission (I do). Or you have your digital signage in many locations where the “wrong” people might see it. Or you have a legal department that insists everything be done correctly. If that’s the case, there ARE ways of getting the permissions needed.

While they may require a little extra time or money, it can be well worth it for peace of mind (not to mention avoiding legal problems). Here are three techniques:

"Contact Us"
If you found the information on a branded news site, then it’ll be fairly easy to find a point of contact on the "Contact Us" page. Look for someone from the editorial or legal departments. Once you make contact, it’s fairly easy to get a quick yes or no. The answer will often depend on what your purpose is. For example, if you’re asking to use it in a safety promotion at your workplace, you might get a "yes." Conversely, if you’re going to use it in a sweepstakes promotion at your 15 locations, you’ll probably get a "no." That’s because organizations are much less willing to let you use their content for anything having to do with you making money.

Contact "Him or Her"
If you found the content on someone’s personal site, you can try to contact that person. This is usually harder since many are one-man operations. And even if the person does call you back, he or she will probably not know how to grant you legal permission, or may have an inflated sense of how much it’s worth. All in all, probably not worth your time.

Go Shopping
Then there are the websites that sell content. These are the easiest to deal with, as they’re set up for online commerce and immediate purchase with a credit card. And here’s a tip: if you’re buying photos, or audio or video clips, buy the lowest resolution that you need. These sites tend to sell resolutions for both print and web, and the versions for web can be as much as half the cost of the high resolutions needed for print. (And those huge resolutions would just clog up your site anyway!) Then of course, you can buy made-for-DS content that’ll work right out of the box from companies like us.

So there are some strategies for sourcing content. Next time I’ll tackle No.5 on my list, getting content into the right format for you digital signage system.

Frank Kenna
The Marlin Company
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 03:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
In my last post, I started to discuss the question of where digital signage (DS) content can be found. At first glance it really does seem as though there is an unlimited supply of information on the Net, but when you really start to examine it, things get murky quickly.

Let’s start with a real-world example. If you’re looking for reliable news, you can count on the New York Times, Associated Press or The Wall Street Journal. Once you get away from those top tier publishers, it gets more questionable. For example, are you 100 percent certain about something you read in the supermarket tabloids? Maybe you think some are a little more reliable, some less. Some occasionally do break a “for-real” story, but then what about the ‘Obama-is-an-Alien’ stories? Doesn’t that taint all the other news? If you needed hard, reliable news you would probably steer clear of that neighborhood.

Sourcing workplace communications presents the same dilemma. There are the rock-solid sources, such as the American Red Cross or OSHA, but their content is most likely not in the right format for use on DS. And you don’t have permission to use it. Do you even need permission? Would they give it to you if asked? These are the types of considerations that make digital signage content sourcing get tedious very quickly. I know firsthand because we produce several hundred pieces of fresh, original content every month.

So what’s a manager looking for DS content to do? Start with a list of five basic considerations.

1. What is he trying to communicate?
2. What is the source?
3. Is the information accurate?
4. Can he get permission to use it?
5. How does he get it into a format compatible with his DS system?

Looking at the first consideration, he needs to start with the problem to be addressed. For example, maybe his company is having customer service issues, so he needs to try to modify his employees’ behavior when in contact with customers. He Google’s “excellent customer service” and gets the predictable 120,000,000 results. I just did the search, and here are the top five sources:

Recognize any of them? I don’t. Are you willing to use information from their websites? I’m not, and most likely our fictional manager isn’t either. Those websites may be great, but he just doesn’t know. He wouldn’t risk putting up unvetted content in front of his employees, and he again runs into the issue that he’d be lucky if any of them had DS-ready content.

Of course if he’s willing to spend the time and do the research, he will eventually find a reliable source, such as 7 tips for excellent customer service found on Microsoft’s site via the Google search above. He assumes the information is good, otherwise Microsoft wouldn’t have posted it, and I’d tend to agree.

So far I’ve addressed the first three points from the above list. Next time, I’ll tackle #4, getting permission to use content (or not!).
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 08:06 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 04 April 2011
Creating digital signage content in the workplace that actually does the job.

Ok, I think we’ve all got it by now; digital signage in the workplace is almost worthless without a steady diet of content. It might be internal, i.e., company-generated material, or external feeds such as news, weather and sports to draw readership. But whatever it’s going to be, it needs to reach a certain quality threshold if it’s to be effective, engaging and legal.

So what is content? A great explanation by columnist Timothy Rutten recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Rutten mapped out an interesting relationship between information, journalism and content. “Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use. [What many websites] actually provide is ‘content,’ which is what journalism becomes when it’s adulterated into a mere commodity,” said Rutten.

Unfortunately, many owners of digital signage systems actually mean journalism when they say content. That is, they’re looking for information that will help them do their job better, whether that means managing people or selling products. Just sourcing content doesn’t cut it, since that term covers such huge territory.

When people say they’re looking for content, they first need to define what it means to them. For example, let’s examine what a company safety manager might need to do. He’s charged with providing a safe workplace for his employees, and needs to get information in front of them that’s relevant to the potential dangers they face daily. That’s his definition. So to find content that’ll work, he needs to list what those dangers are, and then source information that will be relevant, which will turn out to be his content.

He might start with the National Safety Council, as they are a well-known and trusted source. But they only have limited materials which aren’t in the correct format for his DS system. So either he has to convert it to the right format, or look elsewhere. That could mean moving down the ladder to the less well-known sources and less reliable information. The problem now begins to get murky. Who or what are these other sources? What are their motivations for providing this content? How are they getting paid for it?

These are important questions that I will explore in my next post.

Frank Kenna III
The Marlin Company
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 11:22 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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