Blog: Frank Kenna 

Frank Kenna (bio)
President and CEO
The Marlin Company

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Is buying a digital signage system for your company on the to-do list for 2015? If so, here are three important items to consider.

1. Correct fit – You wouldn't buy a pair of jeans without trying them on, right? The same applies to digital signage. How do you try on a digital signage system? Get beyond the sales-and-marketing stage and ask for the names of companies that are using the system you're looking at, then talk to the actual administrative users. If you can't easily get a bunch of names, that's a huge red flag; keep looking.

2. Ease of use – Give some serious thought to who's going to use the digital signage system. Are they tech savvy? Do they know how to create content? Are they good with Photoshop, PowerPoint and scheduling software? If you answer "yes" to all these questions, then ease of use might not be quite as important to you. But if your company is like most others, the people who will use the digital signage include executive assistants, front desk personnel, HR managers, operation managers and c-suite execs; in other words, a mixed bag. Because their core skills are all over the map, you need to have a digital signage system that's very flexible and easy to use. And those users will likely change as people change jobs, so you want a system that takes the least training possible.

3. Objectives – This is by far your No. 1 consideration; that is, to make sure the system you buy will fulfill your (or your company's) objectives. That may sound obvious, but many buyers get entrenched in the technologies and features and lose sight of the all-important objectives. For example, if improving safety is a primary objective, then the system you buy should have ways to promote safe work practices, with safety-related templates and stock content.

While there are many other factors to consider, these three will get you 80 percent of the way there.

(Cover image courtesy of Andrew E. Larsen.)

Posted by: Admin AT 09:51 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 13 January 2015

First, let's start off with my 2014 predictions and see how I did.

I said:

  •     New embedded computers and 4k displays would be insignificant. Check.
  •     Many more companies would realize they need digital workplace communications. OK, that was a no-brainer, but check.
  •     More c-suite execs would start the search for workplace digital signage, as opposed to operational folks instituting it and trying to get the concept to bubble up. We certainly saw that — check.
  •     There would be a continued evolution of digital signage to mobile, e.g., iPads and smartphones. I was a little ahead on that one I think, but still believe it, so I'll make that a push to my 2015 predictions.

That was pretty much it for specific predictions, so giving myself partial credit for that last one, I get an 85-percent correct rating.  I love being able to grade my own tests…

Now on to the 2015 predictions:

1. Connection of company data to their digital signage will become very important. Yes, this could just be KPIs, financial data and the like, but I think it'll go deeper than that. Simple stuff like work schedules, price lists and cafeteria menus exist in company databases today, but most digital signage systems require the user to go find it, convert it, then send to the digital signage. There's got to be an easier way, and companies will start looking for that way in 2015.

2. Communications will have to be instant, or at least much faster. The schedule-driven metaphor that most digital signage systems use takes too long to get the message in circulation and too long to take it down. In an age of more than 5,000 tweets per second, waiting to get a piece of content on the digital signage and then having it drone on for days is getting old.

3. Hyper-local messaging will start to happen. I don't think anyone other than industry geeks like me will call it that, but managers will want their messaging to get to their employees wherever they are, whether they have email, smartphones, desktops computers – or not. This is a real challenge, but those managers are experiencing advertising everywhere. If national brands can do it with their sodas and sneakers, managers will want to know why they can't do it with their safety and teamwork messaging.

4. Managers will look for ways to get more and faster feedback from their employees. With all the smartphone and tablet apps floating around, and online discussion forums and interactive TV becoming commonplace, it makes sense that managers will want to get information from their people in real time. This means that employees will need a way to get the requests and respond to them digitally, and whatever system is being used will need to summarize the findings as they arrive.

5. This last item is what we won't see: The list includes 4K TVs, beacons, NFC, and 3D and curved displays. If you don't know what some of those items are, you're proving my point.  Most other people don't either, meaning the technology is still too early for the workplace.

While technology gallops along, the typical corporate communicator is behind the technology curve, and really, always has been. And that's as it should be. The bleeding edge of technology is fine for the early adopters and gadget geeks, but shouldn't be designed into workplace products until they are well understood and technologically rock solid. The iPad is a good example of this. Last year was when we first saw our customers asking for tablet-based communications products; the iPad was announced almost exactly five years ago, in January 2010.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Thursday, 18 December 2014

You may be wondering what I mean by a “second screen.” It refers to the smartphone or tablet that people use while watching a primary screen. For example, a recent Nielsen report stated that 86% of smartphone owners use their devices as second-screens while watching TV. If they’re doing it with their TVs at home, then they’re doing it at work with your digital signage (DS), too.

So how can you take advantage of this phenomenon? That same report notes the importance of the “three Rs”—reach, resonance, and reaction. Let’s take a look at each factor and see how you can make them work for you.

Reach – The reason you use DS is to broadcast your messages to as wide an audience as possible, right? Knowing that many of your employees have a second screen, you want to be thinking about ways your messaging can also appear there. One way to do this is to use QR codes on your content. For example, let’s say your HR department posts a piece on your revised 401k plan. Put a QR code on it that’s set to download the piece onto the employee’s device, who can then forward it to a spouse at home. That’s a great way to increase reach beyond the workplace.

Resonance – Using the QR code idea above also helps with resonance, because bringing that content into the home will cause discussion and action on it. Or another example could be to set the code to redirect the employee’s device to a related website for more information. The website can have much more information on a subject than you can fit onto a piece of DS content, causing more time spent on the subject and more thorough understanding. For instance, using the 401k example above, the code could open a website on the employee’s device of the investment choices and real-time performance of the plan.

Another idea is to have a contest on a particular subject. Let’s say you have a health issue with people lifting properly. Ask employees to take photos of proper lifting with their devices and email them to a particular email address you’ve noted on a piece of content. This will make the photographers much more involved with thinking about lifting, and the resulting photos will make your subsequent content much more resonant because they’re from, and of, fellow employees.

Reaction – Most managers want to get feedback from their people. Using the second screen is a good way to do this. One way is to simply put a “respond to“ email address on any piece of content that you post. This works well since any employee can use this even if they don’t have a smart device. Or use a QR code and set it to automatically open a blank email pre-addressed with the correct email address. Or set it to launch a brief survey. (I know I’ve mentioned QR codes a lot in this blog. If you’re not sure how to use them or even what they are, give us a call and we’ll be happy to explain.)

Using these concepts can make a real difference in connecting with your employees, and getting your messaging widely distributed and better understood. Give them a try!

Posted by: Admin AT 09:07 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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  |  
Wednesday, 01 October 2014

More and more of our customers are uploading video into their digital signage systems, because they're discovering it's a great way to communicate with employees. They're also discovering that some videos work better than others, and are wondering what the difference is.

To help figure this out, here are some tips for making great videos culled from my personal experience and a good article on the subject quoting editors from The Times (of London) and The Wall Street Journal.

1. Shorter is better. Just because you have a 15-minute video of your CEO talking doesn't mean you have to use all of it, or even most of it. For typical workplace digital signage, you've got your viewers' attention for about a minute or less, so you want to heavily edit that video down to the key points.

2. Tell a story. You want to include emotion, humor, action or insight. For example, compare a typical PowerPoint about a charitable company event to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos we've all seen. They have suspense, humor and action, all in less than a minute. Those are big reasons why they went viral so quickly.

3. Let your employees be the videographers. After all, most of them are wearing a video camera (a.k.a. a smartphone). Let them know you want their videos, and then use them. You'll be pleasantly surprised by their ideas and creativity. Of course their videos won't be professional or polished, which leads to my next point…

4. Don't worry if it's rough around the edges. In fact, you'll probably get better readership with videos that are a little shaky since they're perceived to be more real and authentic. Again, think of how many of those Ice Bucket Videos were taken with wobbly smartphones.

 And in my next blog I'll cover some of the technical things (editing, titles, sharing) you can do to make your videos even better!

Posted by: Admin AT 09:13 am   |  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, 08 July 2014

That title is from a June 9th article in The Wall Street Journal, which examined the trend of employees going off on their own – around corporate IT – to get their jobs done. It’s an important development because of the way it’s transforming the software industry, companies’ IT departments, and the companies’ financial results.

A typical scenario is this: A group of employees is working on a document that resides on the company network behind the corporate firewall.  The problem arises when those employees are on the road or working from home where they may not have access to the network. So they go around the firewall by saving the document on Dropbox – problem solved. Or is it?

The obvious issue is that the firewall is there for a reason, to protect the company and the integrity of its information. But if that protection prevents employees from doing their jobs, it becomes counter-productive. Which begs the question: Which is more important, data security or productivity?

There isn’t a clear answer. Both sides of the argument are important. But new research  from PricewaterhouseCoopers adds credence to the need for companies to embrace these new mobile technologies one way or the other.

Their 5th Annual Digital IQ Survey of more than 1,100 business and technology executives found that companies that embrace new technologies were more prevalent in their “Top Performers” (TPs) group. For example, nearly twice as many TPs (32%) say they have everything [their employees] need on their mobile platforms compared to 17% of other respondents. And TPs are much more likely to invest in public cloud applications than non-TPs, by a margin of 69% to 47%.

To me, the future is clear.  Using the new mobile and cloud technologies is a trend that’s gaining momentum quickly, creating excellent outcomes for work groups and their companies. Organizations that don’t adapt are being left behind as illustrated by PwC’s study.  But even managers who agree with this may be in a quandary due to concerns about controlling company information. What those managers need to realize is that the information is out of their control anyway, and really has been for years. After all, employees have been emailing documents outside of the company to their home computers, associates and personal email accounts for over 20 years.  

Clear policies on sharing and moving company information are a big part of the solution, for example as outlined in this Huffington Post article. Managers have been through all of this all before, as the introductions of the telephone, fax machine, personal computer and email all presented similar concerns. But the important thing to remember is they also created huge productivity gains and are now part of our workplace fabric.  

Posted by: Admin AT 09:15 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  

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