EMERGENCY ALERT: The Anatomy of a Campus Crisis

We don’t have the luxury of choosing the date and time of our next campus crisis. Assembling a core team to oversee campus emergency alerting is mission critical. Understanding the underlying dynamics of potential threats and preparing for any crisis makes for good policy. This session will explore the anatomy of crisis, who should be involved in the procedures to follow, how best to alert the campus and how we are expected to respond to multiple campus constituencies during an emergent event on campus.


Emergency Alert! The Anatomy of a Campus Crisis

We don’t have the luxury of choosing the date and time of our next campus crisis. Assembling a core team to oversee campus emergency alerting is mission critical. Understanding the dynamics of potential threats and preparing for any crisis makes for good policy. We need to explore the anatomy of a crisis, who should be involved in the procedures to follow, how best to alert the campus and how we are expected to respond to multiple campus constituencies during an emergent event on a campus.

Often we initially think of a “campus” as consisting of many individual students occupying seats in numerous learning classrooms.  If we attempt to look from a very high macro altitude we would find that there might be more than 20,000 colleges, universities and research institutions in the world and some might have multiple campuses under their sphere of influence.  Looking deeper at a more micro level, a typical campus might have the following characteristics: it might span an entire state with multiple campus, 518 buildings, 15,880 acres of land, an enrollment of 32,000 students, over 10,000 members of the faculty and staff, often over a thousand campus visitors on a normal day, 15 individual colleges and schools, 400 student organizations, several sporting facilities that seat tens of thousands of people per event.  It goes without saying, from a risk management position that a prime mission of any campus is to maintain a safe indoor and outdoor environment for every constituency on that campus 24 hours a day.  Unfortunately, problematic issues arise from time to time on every campus that require instant reaction and action; the clock is ticking and waits for no one.

Emergent events can take any form and in the course of a year it is not uncommon to learn of a campus forced to deal with severe weather situations (snow, flooding, hurricane, tornado), an earthquake, power outages, HAZMAT situations, fire, burglary, assaults, and unfortunately much worse.  In these types of unkind situations campus first responders obviously move quickly to manage the circumstances but “others” on campus must also have a prepared response plan at the ready.  Those “others on campus” should be a formal team that supports the first responders but also the many constituencies attached to the campus as a whole.  The team will need to provide quick and precise information to the campus and beyond.  They must communicate with students, faculty, staff, visitors, news organizations, student families and the adjacent communities.  How and when you communicate can have significant ramifications as any emergent event unfolds.

A team of communicators needs to practice long before an emergency occurs!  Certainly, it would be difficult to role-play every possible crisis but by gathering this specific group together periodically to discuss their emergency methods is a solid idea.  Understanding how various emergencies tend to evolve will assist you in preparing how to respond and message.  Each person fulfills a specific and mission critical role in assisting the campus community during a crisis.  In any given emergency things will happen fast and people are forced to sort through vast amounts of information coming in from many directions.  They have to determine what is pertinent, what is true, what is threatening and what is important to precisely message and also how often to update those critical messages.  Those people on your campus during the emergency want to know what is going on, what they need to do… and if they are safe.  Tell them!

In this day and age of social media (think Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) I can assure you that hundreds of messages will be issued within minutes of any emergency.  The most important of those hundreds of messages is YOURS!  We all remember the grade school game where the teacher whispered in the first student’s ear sitting in the front of the classroom, “Becky’s dress is red.”, and then instructed each child to repeat and pass her message to the kid beside them in their row… we also remember that by the time that message got to the last student in the back of the room the message had changed to, “Spence is a stinker!”  The intended original message had suddenly been co-opted by others due to either an innocent misunderstanding of the message or outright ulterior motive.  Regardless, it was now a false message.  This is also a very real brand management opportunity; it can go well or it can get ugly quick.  In an emergency you have to control your messaging in a timely manner and also provide regular updates so that only true messages are being received.  The second you let down your guard someone else will become your unofficial voice, to your detriment.  One suggestion to see how this happens would be to do a hashtag search on Twitter of a recent or past emergency event on a campus and follow the stream of messages and look to see how the campus officials and campus “unofficials” messaged during the crisis.  I can assure you it will reveal examples of good messaging and flat-out bad messaging.  You can’t control ALL of the messaging but you CAN control YOUR official message and do the best to protect your brand.

Any institution’s emergency and communication team needs to include key first responders and campus communicators.  As the Boy Scout’s say, “BE PREPARED.”  They need to understand how each of their roles relate and support the others.  Serious discussions need to be held as to what constitutes an emergency; in other words, when does someone push the button?  Emergencies can vary in intensity, while at the same time a balance has to be found so as not to become seen as “The Little Boy Who Cried, Wolf.”   A hierarchy must be established as to who is responsible for various pieces of information and exact messaging and in turn how the local media and social media aspects are to be handled.  One person cannot handle all of the dissimilar functions.  Is your emergency messaging consistent across your local media, social media, official website, emails, and text messaging?  How and where will you handle “the media” throughout the duration of the event?  Have you already discussed with your local media contacts how best you will communicate with them so that they can not only do their own job but that they also assist you handling your own?  How will you track your own messaging via social media?  Do you have some pre-prepared tweets ready to use during any lull in new information gathering?

Developing a solid team that consists of not only first responders in the area of your campus (includes campus police, city police, county police, state police, fire departments, hospitals and ambulance services) but also your own administrative and support “key communicators” is truly important.  Every year or so, conduct a table-top exercise where the group takes an hour or so and has the campus police provide a scenario of an emergency situation on a timeline of emergent events and work through that scenario what each person will be doing in their specific roll.  Create a working document that explains the details and roles of each person on the team.   West Virginia University holds these periodically and has found it to be beneficial in understanding the stressful dynamics of an emergency situation and how we can best perform the important role of communicating to and protecting our campuses.

SpenceGraham   Spence’s Profile

For more than 30 years, Spencer W. Graham has led a myriad of teams of people inside and outside of the workplace. His engaging and down-to-earth style of organizational management seeks to maximize the efforts of each individual on the team in a manner that builds loyalty, passion and enjoyment within the group. As a Digital Signage Certified Expert, conference speaker and professional technologist, he was integral to the creation of a very large, high-tech digital signage network at West Virginia University that now spans four campuses with more than 125 digital signs, wayfinding, video walls, walls of honor, donor recognition walls and a 24/7/365 emergency alert feature in addition to standard WVU messaging and marketing content on the WVU Information Stations network. Steady and controlled growth of the network, budget management and team leadership are key components to the success of the WVU Info Stations, and as manager of operations, Graham has guided the network’s growth from 10 digital signs to more than 125 in eight years.

Graham has presented numerous Sessions and Industry Round Tables in previous Digital Signage Expos in Las Vegas and also at the University Business Tech Conference (UBTech) in Orlando and Las Vegas and at the International Sign Association Conference (ISA) in Las Vegas focusing on creation and management of digital signage networks in higher education. He serves on the board of directors for the international Digital Signage Federation on the Executive Committee and was the Past-Chairman of the DSF Education Committee and was nominated to the Digital Signage Expo Advisory Board End-User Council. Spence resides in Morgantown, W.V., and enjoys amateur radio (WT8WV), is an avid outdoorsman and spent a month in West Africa assisting on a medical mission project.

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Digital Signage in Higher Education Network Operations (Suggested Resources)

My personal digital signage blog  (Mountain Mists)


This blog is a representation of the journey of our digital signage network over the years.  It also has topical information about specific technologies involved in digital signage and personal insights.  I lay no claim to having all the answers but I try to provide our personal experience to shed light on the unique vertical market of Higher Education deployments.  My past presentations at the Digital Signage Expo and UBTech Conferences can be found on the website.  If you suffer from insomnia my blog should offer a potential cure!

The West Virginia University Information Stations webpage for clients


This is our WVU InfoStations webpage for our university clients.  It lists requirements and examples of content design.

The Digital Signage Federation (DSF) website


I have been involved with the Digital Signage Federation for years and currently serve on their Board of Directors.  The DSF provides a shortcut to the resources you may need or to answer any question you might have regarding deployment of digital signage, content and network operations.  Widely known as one of the preeminent voices of the digital signage industry.  Very member oriented and wonderful people to work with!

The Digital Signage Federation Education & Certification webpage


Undoubtedly one of the quickest was to climb the learning curve in all things digital signage.  From newbie to seasoned veteran in digital signage this is a great place to learn.  I highly recommend the certification programs for anyone new to digital signage.

The Digital Signage Federation Board of Directors


The DSF Board is comprised of the “heavy hitters” in the digital signage industry and they bring a myriad of experiences to the DSF.  They represent knowledge from end-users, network operators, vendors and educators to the industry and advocate best practices for all.

The Digital Signage Federation In-Forum webpage


This is a GREAT resource anytime you are considering a Request For Proposal (RFP) and the DSF will assist you in your process!  It’s FREE!!!

The Digital Signage Federation Resources webpage


Excellent information on the various vertical markets within the digital signage industry!

The Digital Signage Expo  (DSE)


The world’s largest international trade show dedicated to digital signage, interactive technology, and Out-of-Home networks.  No doubt it is a MUST SEE conference in digital signage.  Our WVU digital signage team attends every year.  You can put your hands on the equipment, play with the software and speak to the vendors all in one place.  We do the vast majority of our research here every year and it saves us countless thousands of dollars every year.  Usually held each spring in sunny Las Vegas.  Great education sessions and several that pertain specifically to digital signage in Higher Education.  I often am a presenter at the DSE and speak to the Higher Ed groups.  If you are starting a new network, re-working an existing network or expanding a mature network… get there!

The Digital Signage Expo Advisory Board


This is another great group of players in the digital signage industry, solely focused on making the annual Digital Signage Expo the very best experience for all who attend.  I serve on the End-User Council and bring a focus and voice on digital signage in Higher Education venues.

Recommended Digital Signage Daily Reading Websites

These are websites I refer to every day surrounding digital signage.  Each one brings to light current technologies in digital signage, new products, new methodologies and even opinion!  Most have dedicated Higher Education sections.  I scan the list of articles and dig into the ones I need to use.

The Digital Signage Connection website


Digital Signage Today website


HigherEd TechDecisions website


The DailyDOOH website


The UBTech Conference



Yes, Twitter!  I follow daily tweets from people who provide insight, articles and knowledge about digital signage in a vast universe.  You don’t have to be a tweeter to benefit!  But feel free to join the conversation!

I can be found tweeting as @WVUSWG on the Twitter site…


Searching Twitter is a great idea to find information about what you are wanting to know!  It’s easy!  You can search Twitter using a person’s Twitter handle (i.e. @WVUSWG) or by hashtags such as:








Following specific people is also easy.  Often you will see other digital signage tweeters referenced in tweets and you can then follow who you want.  Also, most vendors have Twitter accounts and I follow some of them to stay up on technology in their realm.  You can follow your favorites or experts in digital signage tweeting such as some of the ones I follow daily:















The Digital Signage Expo also has a forum on LinkedIn that is very useful.




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Using Wiffiti For Social Media Engagement in Higher Education Settings

Using Wiffiti

at the

West Virginia University

New Student Orientation Events

June 1-30, 2015


West Virginia University embarked upon a “unique internal marketing campaign” for the annual New Student Orientation (WVUNSO) using Monster/Locamoda’s social media platform called Wiffiti.  We had used it effectively a number of years ago to reduce the perceived waiting time prior to a student event such as the freshmen mandatory-attendance WVU New Student Welcome event the night before the Fall Semester commences.  It allows the audience to use social media to interact with our digital signage, scoreboards and other large screen projections.  Students can email, text to the screens and also use Twitter and Instagram to have their content displayed in basically “real time”.  All texts, tweets or Instagram’s were humanly moderated through the easy to use web page approval process for appropriateness and to protect the brand.

How Wiffiti Works

Wiffiti, in a word, is… DYNAMIC.  It truly grabs your attention with on-screen energy and activity.  As a person tweets or sends an Instagram, that piece of social media needs to be moderated either automatically by the Wiffiti “machine” or by a human approval of each message.  (More later on how the important task of moderation is accomplished.)  Once the message is moderated it goes “live” on the screen.  As messages accumulate, each message “dances around the screen” as sort of a bubble.  A message bubble will be prominently featured extra-large sized every few seconds as the other messages bounce around subtly in the background.  You can time how long each large message is to be displayed before it pops back into the background as the next message explodes to large-size.  We play each main message for 8 seconds.  You can include your own branded background image so that every once in a while ALL of the message bubbles pull back to the sides to do a reveal of your brand.  We do the full WVU branded reveal every 50 seconds and it is left to reveal for 4 seconds, then all the bubbles pop back in and resume their dance.

You decide what message streams you want to pull the social media items from, such as email, Instagram, Twitter or the web.  You can select how you will handle image services and text services by an easy click on a box.  You then determine how you will moderate each message for text and images.  You can use Machine Moderation or Human Moderation.  On a college campus I would always set it for Human Moderation to avoid the potential for embarrassment.  Kids will be kids… and they always want to press against their boundaries.  (If you allow Machine Moderation you are hoping the Wiffiti algorithms are robust and up to date with all the latest inappropriate buzzwords and hashtags.  Also, I am not in favor of a machine making a judgement on an attached picture to a tweet or Instagram.  Yeah… been there, done that.  Could have been REAL bad.)   You also type in what “live” hashtags you want to have Wiffiti search for and pull to your moderation page on the web form for your approval.  You can also exclude certain hashtags.

As for branding, it is very easy to turn Wiffiti into your own branded social media campaign!  You are provided with an intuitive customization area where you can set your exact brand colors, insert your own branded logo image as a background, set the timings of how often you want the “dancers” to perform their gyrations, type in a call-to-action using your own selected hashtags and other lesser settings.

Another cool feature is that you can copy a movie URL of your on-screen content to send to someone and/or copy the embed code to insert your “live Wiffiti feed” into a web page.  You can also make multiple campaigns for different venues and simply save them and them launch them when you move to a different site or different type of event.

In less than a half hour you can be an expert in setting up your Wiffiti social media campaigns.  The only real effort will be to track down your own background image and set your branding colors to be exact. But you can also just leave the background as white and go with Wiffiti’s usual color pallet.

How and Why WVU Uses Wiffiti

It’s simple really… we use it to reduce the perceived waiting times prior to special events on our campuses.  As event attendees trickle into an event before it starts they are most likely bored to death and dread having to entertain themselves for the next hour sitting in their seats.  Wiffiti has proved to be a reliable and engaging experience as people arrive to wait for the main event.  The audience can’t NOT see it… it grabs attention and is quite engaging to watch.

Beginning on June 1, 2015 and running through June 30th West Virginia University conducted daily New Student Orientation sessions for incoming Fall Semester freshmen and their parents.  Every day saw 500 new faces in the WVU Mountainlair Blue & Gold Ballrooms where families were oriented to our academic advising, campus life and expectations, healthcare services, dining services, student housing, career services, financial aid, student employment opportunities, banking and financial counselling, and Information Fair and ultimately campus and student housing tours spanning all three Morgantown campuses.  The entire day was laser-focused to see that every incoming student understood how to succeed in their four years at WVU, how to track their academic progress each semester, to begin exploring a future career immediately and to graduate on time.  While students were being led to the various student residence halls for a tour, their parents listened about specific programs designed to assist the parents in understanding student life on our campuses, an audience Question & Answer period with various administrators on the program and how they can assist their child to enjoy a successful college experience which leads to a successful career upon graduation.

Each day began at 7:30 am in the Mountainlair Ballrooms where 500 students and parents were treated to coffee, juice, Danishes and other refreshments as they entered to find their seats for the day’s event sessions.  At 8:30 am the formal programs commenced with a rousing experience with the WVU Mountaineer mascot getting them excited to be the newest Mountaineers on campus and to encourage school spirit daily.  This was followed by a heartfelt welcome to the new students and their parents from our own WVU President, E. Gordon Gee.

Our social media campaign using Wiffiti was used during that one hour period between            7:30 am – 8:30 am. and during breaks between sessions to reduce the perceived waiting time as people arrived in the Ballrooms.  (Every 10 minutes we would leave Wiffiti and play a short 1 or 2 minute WVU video targeting the audience with the great things WVU is going to offer every student during their years on campus.  When the video concluded we would switch back to Wiffiti for more interaction.)

Our social media campaign was using the social media hashtags #GoFirst, #WVU19 and #WVUNSO.  Displayed on a 20 foot square rear projection screen, Wiffiti was already dynamically playing all the social media interactions from the previous day’s WVUNSO events.  On the screen we had a call-to-action encouraging everyone to use the previously mention hashtags to get their messages on the screen.  Within a couple minutes the students and parents in the room were tweeting their own messages to the screen!  There was high engagement and everyone was watching to see if their message was next to be displayed.  People were taking “selfies” of them and their parent or student, pictures with The Mountaineer and iconic campus images.

Now For The Nitty Gritty

Wiffiti can be a powerful social media and internal marketing tool on a Higher Education campus but there are a number of caveats to consider to get the most out of your campaign.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, and the Monster folks were very gracious to answer any question I had, however I would consider the following items to be filed under the term… Best Practices.

  • Human Moderation ONLY!  Often a new freshmen, or any college kid is experiencing possibly the first time away from “authority” of their parents and consider themselves set free to do as they please.  They will test your moderation of Wiffiti, quickly.  If you simply allow Machine Moderation pulling on your university hashtag you can bet the ranch that within minutes an inappropriate message OR PICTURE is going to get past the machine.  Prepare for heartburn.  (Think “Girls Gone Wild” imagery, etc.)   Don’t allow someone else, with mercenary motive, to co-opt your brand.  We only use Wiffiti for special events and can afford to have someone we trust on our staff to humanly moderate the event to protect our brand.  What college kids think is “cute” can be damaging to your brand, especially if parents, donors and dignitaries are also in your audience.  Play it safe and smart… HUMAN MODERATION.
  • Don’t fall asleep at the switch! When you have opted for Human Moderation, your moderator needs to pay attention to every message coming in.  It’s not hard.  It’s not time consuming.  It doesn’t require the Wisdom of Solomon.  There will be times when a group of message hits for your moderation decision.  Don’t be hasty and just fly through the list clicking the green checkmark signifying approval… you can inadvertently miss something bad.  VERY bad.  Read the text part of every message and look at the picture, if one is associated with the text.  Make sure the message and pictures are appropriate and represents your brand in the best light.  I promise you, you WILL be tested often.
  • Hashtags and foolishness Pick a good hashtag to use for your campaigns.  But also note that anyone can use your selected hashtag!  That is why you need to read every message.  WVU was apparently not the first to use the hashtag #GoFirst, nor does WVU own a hashtag.  Hashtags are public and I saw several messages come through that used #GoFirst associated with other things not related to our WVU campaign… some of them nasty.  Pay attention when using Human moderation.  Also, there is a setting that disallows or removes URL’s to be included in the message.  The message still plays on the screen but the URL is stripped off.  You don’t know where the URL might take someone… maybe somewhere inappropriate… just don’t do it.
  • Look at Twitter and Instagram Names The message and/or the picture can be inappropriate to display but so can the person’s Twitter or Instagram name be HIGLY inappropriate, as well.  The names, messages and pictures are easy to see when they come in for moderation.  LOOK at them.  Some social media handles can be not only inappropriate but also quite politically incorrect and downright gross.  Don’t risk your brand on another person’s stupidity.  You’re going to get plenty of interaction, so don’t hesitate to unapprove any incoming message that might not shine a good light on your institution.
  • Positive Messages ONLY! You will get a few messages coming in that try to diminish your brand.  The student or person might have an axe to grind… or maybe it is another rival university student that is wanting bust your chops as they observe your hashtag trending on the internet.  It might only be a slightly negative comment or observation from someone… if it is in any way negative… pitch it out… don’t approve it.  Only let the excitement and loyalty to your brand be displayed!  Remember, there are people in your audiences that want to know they made a good decision to send their kid to your university or that the student made a decision that they are excited about.  Haters gonna hate… but not on MY watch!  Remember that the parents in the room may have other children they want to send to a great college someday… I want them HERE!
  • Lag Times Regarding Messages There can be a delay from the time someone tweets, to the time it hits your web page for the approval process and then until it is actually displayed “live” on your screens.  This back and forth has to travel the internet.  This time frame can range from seconds to minutes depending on things like general internet traffic congestion, bandwidth available at your site, the cellphone carrier and even if you are connected to the internet via Wi-Fi or a hardline connection.  Be patient.  It is not unusual for it to take several minutes for the round trip.
  • Promote your Campus and Programs Look, it’s all about marketing.  Plain and simple.  Universities need students and students need universities.  There are a myriad to pick from on both ends of that equation.  There is a difference between overt advertising and building brand loyalty.  Most colleges and departments within your university have their own official Twitter accounts and use them regularly.  Have them use your event hashtag and you can also display their good message, too!  Especially for orientation session and new student welcome events!  It spreads the word about all the good things your university has to offer to your target market!  You are marketing your own unique university programs.  I would NOT allow outside, non-university advertising tweets… it is ALL about YOUR brand… not theirs!
  • Who can we promote? In addition to all of the student and parents’ tweets we also displayed tweets from various official WVU colleges, departments and organizations.  Here is a list to give you some ideas.  Colleges within the university promoting their degree work and recruiting efforts.  Career Services to encourage students to begin building a resume` immediately.  Dining Services to let the students know what their dining options are.  Student Housing letting students know about their residential options.  WVU has more than 400 student organizations that want new members.  The Mountainlair (student union) has programs every day and night of the week!  ROTC recruits.  Libraries promote their hours and programs.  Campus initiatives such as sustainability, internet safety, club sports, fraternities and sororities, Financial Aid Office, Admissions Department services, WVU Arts & Entertainment shows and concerts all want to get their targeted message out.
  •  No Re-Tweets I did not approve any retweets.    You will get tons of retweets in any social media campaign.  Retweets are GREAT in marketing campaigns but when using Wiffiti I feel it can become a distraction.  My reasoning is that retweets would only clutter the many original tweets dancing on the screen with a redundant message.  You want to display all the original messages content.  You’ll get plenty of original content, so don’t worry about nuking retweets.
  • Prime The Pump! Every morning of our WVU New Student Orientation I would go out into the hallway where the refreshment tables were set up and I would take a few pictures of the new students and their parents getting coffee and Danishes, interacting with other students and getting pictures with The Mountaineer mascot.  I would then send them to the screen with my own Instagram and Twitter accounts.  I had other WVU folks in attendance do the same.  I had the upper classmen/women who were the tour guides each day do it, too!  Soon the people in the room started seeing their pictures up on the screen and they began tweeting their own “selfies”… shots of their new student ID’s… pictures of them with their parents… them with their new roommate… in front of campus iconic buildings and statues… them with The Mountaineer!  It went viral every day within minutes.  I would add some funny text to my Instagram photos as parents were getting coffee at 7:30 am saying, “Ok… stand back… give me coffee and no one gets hurt!”  “The early bird gets the… coffee and Danishes!”  “COFFEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE !!!!”  “Here’s the newest Mountaineer on campus!”  I found Instagram to be the best layout for us since it does not restrict you to 140 characters and allows you to do some way cool formatting things to the pictures from your cellphone.  I also tried to be inclusive of diversity in the pictures I shot.
  • Wiffiti Reporting Features This is another cool feature you can take advantage of to judge student engagement.  It can be arranged by date range.  You can click a button and get a full report in .cvs spreadsheet form that tells you the date and time of every tweet, the type of message either Twitter or Instagram, the user’s name, the body of the text, how the machine would have rated it, how you actually rated it, whether you approved it or disapproved the message, media / picture URL, and a unique message ID.   We have had 3,036 interactions so far… and we have two more dates in July to use Wiffiti.  This report feature gives you a real sense of engagement and message penetration.  I had an issue with the reporting not liking to play with Office 365, so I used my Gmail account and the report came to me in seconds!

 Wiffiti performed flawlessly on a daily basis in a mission critical event and the folks at Monster offered sound advice and encouragement as I moderated from a laptop.  I was physically present every day in the Ballrooms but could have just as easily moderated it from my office.  However, I wanted my own eyes to confirm what was going on the screen.  I will be using Wiffiti at several more annual events on our campuses, hopefully for a long time!

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Higher Ed Digital Signage Google Hangout Video 1 (June 24, 2014)

This is the first installment of an upcoming and ongoing series of Google Hangouts sponsored by the Digital Signage Federation specifically aimed at Higher Education Digital Signage Networks for solid “How To” information for network management, content creation, finding the best resources, finding reliable vendors and integrators, hardware, software and Best Practices.  I currently serve on the Digital Signage Federation Board of Directors and am Co-Chair of the Education Committee.  (For more information go to the Digital Signage Federation webpage http://www.digitalsignagefederation.org/?emulatemode=2 )

Watch on YouTube…


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Wayfinding Solutions for your College (Higher Ed Tech Decisions article)


5 Tips to Choosing Wayfinding Digital Signage Solutions for Your College

Follow these suggestions on how to keep your school up and running with wayfinding digital solutions  By Jessica Kennedy

Higher Ed Tech Decisions article… check out the slideshow!  (Click link below…)


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Calling All Screens! (Integrating emergency alert systems with campus signage)


This article appeared in Sound & Communications Magazine in the twice annual IT/AV Report written by contributing editor, Dr. Shonan Noronha.

(Click link below for full article…)


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Creating a Playlist for Digital Signage in Higher Ed

Digital Signage Expo Advisory Board

Question of the Month

April 2014


Spencer W. Graham, II MBA DSCE


                           What is your recommendation for creating a playlist                                for your digital signage audience?

Know your audience and your environment!

Understanding who your intended audience will be is mission critical to the construction of any successful playlist.  Make no mistake; you are in the business of impressing your intended audience!  You are marketing to them.  You are competing for their attention in a world swimming with visual content.  Consider that we are literally bombarded with information as we go about every day when we drive by billboards, pass store fronts, watch television, listen to the radio, view websites, in every store we enter, in every building we enter and a myriad of other visually cluttered environments.  What makes YOUR message standout above the sea of information muddle?  Why will or should they remember your message?  Some questions you may ask during the development phase of the playlist creation process might be used to drill down to the end product.

What are the demographic characteristics of the viewers you want to target?  Are they male or female, or both?  What is the age range that you are wanting to reach with the overall messaging contained within the playlist?  Is the content “appropriate” for young and impressionable children that would be in the viewing environment?  What type of environment will the digital signage be deployed?  Is it a hallway, a bank of elevators where people congregate while waiting, a waiting room, a reception area, a point of sale, a check-out area, etc.  Different environments need special thought as to specific types of content and the duration of each message.

Concise Messages

Stay on message!  Most of your audiences are not going to “camp out” in front of your digital signage unless they are in a waiting room of some sort.  Messages should be “short and sweet” so that the most important information is transferred to the usual pedestrian viewer quickly.  Let the content design tell the story, too!  If you want to dump more intense and in-depth information to them, drive them to a website, a magazine, a brochure or an information desk for the larger amount of information and content.  Your playlist messages should raise awareness that triggers more action on the viewer’s part such as making a mental note, jot down the information or encourage them to seek further information about the message.

Dwell Time

This is pseudo-psychology stuff!  We need to understand the “flow” of the pedestrian traffic within the environment that the playlist will be presented.  Understand the pedestrian dynamic of their movement as they intercept your content in your playlist.  People intercept your creative content as they are moving from Point A to Point B to Point C, etc.  How long do they dwell in front of that particular message?  Are they walking and only getting a glimpse of a few seconds of the intended message, or are they stopped in a line as they wait for an elevator, or in a waiting room, lounge, etc.?  How many messages do you intend for them to consume during that dwell time?  Most static messages should be able to be consumed for a matter of 5-10 seconds in most situations.  With such short dwell time durations your message needs to stay on point!


Grab their attention!  While a picture is worth a thousand words, motion in your content design draws and hold the viewer’s attention longer.  Motion backgrounds can assist in this concept and are readily available to purchase in reasonably priced DVD packages in various formats.  You will need to determine if your content management software supports motion graphics and that your digital signage system video cards have the horse power to leverage motion graphics.  You may want to consider beefing-up your next computer system with a video card that can handle the heavy lifting required for more intricate video content creation.  Don’t get too carried away with BIG and FLASHY motion to the point that it distracts from your intended message.  You can also effectively use subtle background motion graphics to insert your own branding elements for your organization.


Video content is a nice addition to a creative playlist.  Again, you need to understand the dwell time of your audience so that the length of the video is appropriate to support your messaging.  It is NOT television!  Your videos should short in duration and can be used as a transition from one message to another and a great way to break-up the playlist in an attractive way.  Make sure it is a quality video.  Sloppy and choppy video ruins your intended impression with your audience.  Will your content management software support full video?  I suggest you experiment with several types of video types and codecs until you find the best one that works with your software.  You will need to determine what codec best works and what wrapper to use such as a WMV or AVI, etc.  My suggestion is to keep your total run time of each video to 20, 30, 45 or 60 seconds depending upon the message.  The purpose of the video is to tell a short story or support an intended message.  Also, understand that the longer and more intricate a created video is, the larger the video file size will be.  This can create ugly issues if your content management system can’t handle video well or if your computer video cards are not robust enough to play the video in a seamless manner.  Don’t overstay your welcome with your audience when inserting video into a playlist; it should be a concise message that can stand on its own within your playlist.

Video with associated Audio

Does the video HAVE to have audio associated with it to convey the message?  If you creatively design a quality video, it will tell the story by itself.  Laying down an audio track can nicely compliment a video but you must remember that in some environments people don’t want to hear the same audio track multiple times every hour.  Often digital signage is deployed in areas where there are reception desks, classrooms, quiet areas and other offices.  Your creative content should not become a distraction or interrupt that environment more than necessary.  You may want to consider day-parting that type of audio content to specific times of the day such as lunchtime, before or after normal operation hours or evenings and weekends.  Also, the addition of associated audio tracks to a video will add to the overall file size of the video when inserted into the playlist.

The Genre of Content

Your playlist has value!  That value is derived by the impression your playlist makes upon the information-consuming public.  A playlist of twenty-five 30 second static Power Point slides may seem like a good idea but I feel there is more to it than that.  Be strategic in your marketing impressions!  While you are NOT creating a television station, you ARE creating a loop of content to be viewed similarly.  When we watch television there is a flow and transition between the content we watch throughout the viewing session and programming.  Your playlist needs a smooth tempo and flow likewise.  When I go into some of the local stores and see some of the poorly designed (crappy) playlists of content, my IMPRESSION is that their store doesn’t care about their marketing message at all.  That then equates to a waste of money and resources on their part since I now find their digital signage playlist irrelevant to my experience while in their store.

Your playlist ought to flow in a fluid manner with good transitions between types of content.  Pages of content within the playlist can vary in duration.  You could create a playlist that includes a 20 second local weather report, then transition into a 30-60 second current events page that pulls an RSS feed from your organization’s calendar database, then transition into a 30 second video promoting a special program within your company or store, then transition in an announcement poster database that plays a series of posters for 5-10 seconds each, etc.  The key is to break-up your playlist so that it is attractive to the eye and grabs the audience’s attention, and supports your brand.


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