When a college looks at what strategies rivals use to attract prospective students, its mentality parallels the response to Sally Albright’s famous lunch in When Harry Met Sally: we’ll have what they’re having.
Hence the boom of digital signage in colleges across the country, a secret weapon in higher education that keeps brick-and-mortar campuses relevant and popular among today’s students.
Aside from catching the eyes of prospective students, colleges use digital signage solutions to teach classes, recap sporting event scores, demonstrate live operations, and welcome visitors to campus buildings. Others use the technology to pump up their athletes, showcase students’ artwork, provide wayfinding outlets for campus wanderers and even engage students with interactive gaming components while on their way to class.
Digital signage has proved its worth in benefitting campus life, and is anticipated to continue planting its roots in more colleges. However, like with any good thing, there is always a potential Achilles’ heel that gets overlooked.
In the case of digital signage, the biggest weakness often lies in the hands of the decision makers. Sometimes, decisions makers have their eyes on the digital signage prize, but cut corners before and during the installation.
Other times, decision makers wrestle with tight budgets and hire the cheapest and quickest labor to get the job done. Or perhaps they pick a solution that is two times as large as the space they want to put it in.
While making mistakes is a part of life, it’s a part of the reason why digital signage solutions can fail on a college campus and why hiring knowledgeable integrators can help avoid such pitfalls. The good news is mistakes are easy to sidestep when it comes to installing digital signage.
Chanan Averbuch, vice president of marketing & sales at display solution provider Primeview, says colleges can start on the right foot by gathering a solid team of experts that will work with them past the first time a digital signage solution is plugged in.
“Have them help you develop the solution, build the solution, and help you find the right partner on the installation,” he says. That way, they will “help things get installed properly, and will have the expertise and pedigree to nail these types of projects in a positive way.
You want someone to come help you, hold your hand. I think that’s another thing that helps your project last longer in education.” Following are five more considerations for higher ed clients seeking digital signage solutions.
What’s Your Sign?
One big mistake colleges make is not knowing which form of digital signage to deploy. Doug Fortney, chief technology officer at Zenith, says colleges shouldn’t go with large-scale, multi-boarded projects when all they need is a video wall, for example. He says digital signage oversights like this can cost colleges big money.
“This is a very expensive way to make it a digital sign,” Fortney says. “You don’t want it to just be a digital sign, because if you do, you’ve spent a lot of money needlessly.”
Keeping Content Creative
Technology traditionalists can sometimes fall into the trap of reverting back to old ways of conveying messages, such as through PowerPoint presentations or displaying content through a “website feel.” Fortney says colleges should avoid crafting boring content for their digital signage, especially if they want to stand out and attract prospective students.
“You don’t want it just to be a big website,” he says. “Think about it in terms of taking advantage of … getting people this ‘wow,’ fun experience that you can’t have just on your computer desktop or even on a regular digital sign. That’s not easy to do.”
Trouble Fitting In
Colleges can sometimes suffer from the “eyes are bigger than their stomach” syndrome, and choose a digital signage solution that won’t fit in the space they want to install it into. This is especially common when installations are planned for older spaces, or when new construction isn’t available to accommodate the solution.
Fortney says that colleges should choose a space that can best support a digital signage solution, and vice versa. That way, the solution can operate well while also getting the school’s message across to the campus.
“You have to start thinking about it while there’s the opportunity to accommodate the structure and connectivity needs, and also heat requirements of a [solution],” he says. “It’s very difficult to add these halfway through a project or at the end of a project because of the structural requirements, and to make it feel like it fits the building.”
It may seem obvious, but sometimes big egos get in the way of asking for help. During a seamless plasma video wall installation at North Shore-LIJ University Hospital, for instance, Averbuch says the integrator accidentally broke some parts of the video wall. He says sharp attention and alertness are needed during such fragile installations, and egos need to be checked at the door.
“I believe the integrator even broke something during this process,” Averbuch says. “It was $14,000 MSRP per unit; that’s a big bullet to bite. Even if you have a custom mounting solution, and even if you have the best integration staff, if you’re spaced out for one second, you can have a $25,000 mistake on your hands.”
Hire the Right People
Sometimes people can forget that old saying, “you get what you pay for.” When colleges do, or if they hunt for a cheaper solution price, the results can be insufficiently durable or even broken equipment, or unsatisfactory content. Averbuch says colleges should stray from reliance on their purchasing channel and get the right people involved early.
“Engage the manufacturer as early on as you can to help design the system with you,” he says. “A lot of times people say it’s something like a TV, but it’s not just like a TV. It’s a very fragile unit, it’s expensive technology. When you put a big investment into a technology, it’s important that you don’t just go with whoever is the cheapest bidder to install this. The reality is, when you’re dealing with a fragile product like this, you need to have twice as much patience.”