How often have you come away from a conversation with family or friends, only to later find that someone had a different interpretation of what was discussed? That’s because communicating effectively can be challenging—both personally and professionally.
That’s why it’s especially important to get someone’s attention when professionally addressing colleagues, clients, students, faculty or employees. It’s equally important to make sure they were sufficiently engaged to understand and act on the message, especially when it is critical that the information be distributed in a timely manner.
This is why many businesses, universities, government agencies and others have invested in digital signage communications networks to ensure they have the ability to address key audiences with information that is relevant to viewer situations and locations accurately.
You may be the person charged with overseeing, coordinating or managing your organization’s customer-facing or employee communications network, your own DOOH (Digital Out Of Home) network, or are an integrator acting on behalf of clients. If so, you know that today’s digital signage software makes it possible for an organization’s network administrators to have password-protected access for content management and distribution. With complete control, a digital signage software gives you the ability to upload content, design (sometimes), and send out immediate or scheduled messaging updates. Software allows for efficiencies and specificity with templates or easy to use applications for “zone” or full-screen distribution of messaging system-wide or to specific displays. Why? Because all stakeholders now expect information to be delivered electronically, to the right audience, at the right time.
Digital signage and out-of-home networks, now present in all aspects of daily life, are one of the most effective ways to reach audiences whenever they leave home. However, the real challenge for any network operator is determining the best tool/s to create, distribute, and update effective content. The digital signage software selected is by far the most critical tool in achieving your communication objectives--it will either ease your way to success or quite possibly derail the entire vision. Let’s cover some of the biggest factors to set you up for the best chance of success with the right software for your network.
What is Digital Signage Software?
Since you have made the decision to look for the best software package to meet your organization’s or your clients’ needs, you already know that content is distributed across a digital signage network employing digital signage software, This is called a Content Management System (CMS), which enables network administrators, managers, operators and other approved users to manage the content for their digital signage system.
The CMS is the communication foundation for the network. It enables users to customize content by uploading original images, videos, or other dynamic content as well as add news or other RSS feeds. Many software will have a user interface allowing you to design content within the platform as well, though the presence of features and capabilities will range from an easy to use limited-power interface to requiring a developer level of knowledge to leverage the unlimited potential of possibilities. Scheduling the content within a single playlist, or many playlists (timeline or rule-based) to one screen or thousands is the next critical feature (more on that next). Lastly, the software should allow for monitoring the status of every display within the network as well as troubleshoot content across an entire deployment of displays.
Seven Key Things to Evaluate when Choosing your Digital Signage Software:
Some things are basic. Every software will allow you to upload an image or video and push it to your screen. We’re here to help you sift seven key categories in order to quickly filter the thousands of digital signage software on the market. No joke, we’re aware that there are somewhere between 3,000-5,000 different options out there. Let’s narrow them down shall we?
1. Not all Playlists are Created Equal
When considering which CMS to choose, remember to look for features that will allow you to run your messaging at specific times of the day. You should also be able to control the number of times each message is repeated for screens in specific locations. A CMS should allow administration-approved users to schedule in a couple of different ways. A user should be able to create internal scheduling of digital signage content as playlists for all of the digital signs within the network. Additionally, they should be able to use the flexibility of the CMS to dedicate content scheduling for specific messaging to appear on particular display locations. This would include display groups or “zones” within the digital signage network. Most importantly, users should be able to remotely manage, change, refresh or update content instantly.
Playlists are a predetermined series of messages designed to run content in a specific order at a particular time of day. Depending upon a display’s location and the dwell time of its audience - how long an average viewer will be available to engage, the content may be looped or timed to repeat messaging to address new viewers. Alternatively, if some messages are more important than others or need to be updated more frequently, some software may allow you to weight the content using features like ‘tagging’. This means assigning higher percentage values within the playlist to ensure those are repeated or replaced more often than others on the list. Really advanced software, typically used for networks looking to leverage the power of advertising, will take things to another level by allowing for rule-based content triggered or filtered based upon certain criteria--such as not allowing a Pepsi ad to display within the screen in a restaurant chain that only sells Coke products.
To be sure messaging is relevant, playlists should be structured to address the audiences who frequent the display locations. Since most audiences are moving targets, a prominent headline or video introduction designed to catch attention is important, as well as communicating a call to action (CTA) before the viewer steps away. For example, such a call to action could be an invitation to scan a QR or coupon code, accept or generate a text. Some software will even make it easier to track CTA results syncing with built-in or 3rd-party audience tracking technology such as mobile proximity (geo-fencing), sales performance tracking, or even allowing you to tie your marketing efforts online to your digital signage network efforts for a more holistic and cohesive communication strategy.
As a bonus, some software are starting to build mobile applications for remote and locally controlled playlist editing/contribution by authorized users. Look for these types of features to become more and more “expected” for playlist control and management in the future.
2. System Monitoring - “Black Screens, Screens with Errors… Please No”
This isn’t all that important if you’re in the same room as your screen all day but if you can’t see your screens, which is the case for 99%+ of our readers, how do you know your screens are online and healthy at any given time? Screens work one minute but then a million things could go wrong: someone turns off the screen or it gets unplugged, or the media player dies, or fails to reboot on a remote update, or the player gets disconnected from the internet etc. etc. So, this is critical to any healthy network.
If screens are installed in multiple geographic locations, a network manager is responsible to know that all displays are active and running the approved playlist correctly. That is why your CMS solution must provide automatic monitoring to pinpoint a problem when one occurs and enable remote troubleshooting, correction and restart options for a specific screen or player.
Because a CMS is a software solution, you also want to be sure that the program has a proven track record of performance, stability, and very little downtime. This means your next question should be about service support.
3. Service Support - “Who’s got your back when things go wrong, because they will”
There are times when networks require additional support to correct unforeseen problems. In these instances, it is important that your CMS supplier provides service and support, preferably seven days a week, 24 hours a day because network issues can happen at any time. Make sure that the provider you select is available, responsive and offers live phone or internet chat support options. A bonus would be such support being part of the license fee without any additional cost.
4. Security - “Don’t be that network that has a joker putting ‘funny business’ on the screen”
Unfortunately, there are occasions when a system’s downtime is due to a security breach or, in rare occasions of security negligence, unwanted content finding its way to a screen. To prevent ever having such a breach, ensure that your digital communications network has the physical security necessary to prevent intrusion both on-premise and, if using a cloud-based solution, at the host site as well. Do not overlook media player-server communication protocol, which should support encryption. Media players should be installed in a way that prevents both tampering and unauthorized access.
Always ensure that your CMS is password-protected, allows external drives to be locked out, can be updated remotely and is always up to date. If you have deployed media players, ensure that there is no way for an unauthorized individual to upload third-party applications, spyware or viruses into the players and that the players cannot receive inbound signals.
To help prevent these issues, network security should include firewalls. The software should have a robust personalization engine to create and enforce role-based security and authentication, which is why protecting authorized user passwords are so important.
With the proper forethought and preparation, many of the risks can easily be mitigated to a very high level of certainty giving confidence to even the strictest of compliance/security officers at any company.
5. Future-Proofing Your Investment
While considering a software solution, also consider potential organizational growth. Once the CMS is ingrained in your organization, all administrators will have taken the time to learn how to operate and rely on the system. This will create difficulty getting buy-in for a new system if one is needed in the future. Instead, be sure that the CMS you choose will “scale” to accommodate probable growth and still be able to operate as efficiently. While you don’t want to buy a solution that is more expensive than you truly need, neither do you want to be in a position where your organization has outgrown your choice of solution.
Try to think ahead. Will you want to be able to build interactive touch screen solutions? Will you want to have multi-level tiers of authorization to certain features? Will you want to control abnormal LED resolution screens or video walls? Do you want to be able to trigger events and content based upon certain conditions? Do you want to pull in content from Screenfeed or other 3rd party data sources? If so, then these features and more should be added to your checklist of requirements on day one.
6. SaaS Model vs. On-Premise Hosted Model vs. Somewhere In Between
These days most digital signage platforms are cloud-based, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS) or web-based. Web-based software options are fairly robust, offer a wide array of features, can be quickly implemented throughout an organization and operated by multiple users from computer desktops with just a password login.
The combination of features and lower cost of entry makes it harder for an organization to substantiate the cost of investing in and supporting a proprietary on-premise hosting option. While there are still large organizations that employ and support enterprise-based solutions in-house, the popularity of cloud-based digital signage software is growing. Why? Because cloud-based software is usually sold as a license based on a number of media players. It is also hosted remotely on servers operated by the service provider, making it accessible by any compatible device in any location via an internet connection with all data saved in the cloud (i.e., on the provider’s servers). This makes cloud-based software an ideal solution for small, medium and large organizations, deploying signage across multiple locations.
That said, security, control and self-reliance is still an issue, particularly for larger organizations or those organizations dealing with highly sensitive information. SaaS networks simply aren’t an acceptable security option so on-premise hosting and all the additional costs/work associated with it are still necessary. In some cases, certain software will provide hybrid solutions with SaaS for the scheduling/management of content while hosting everything on private servers within a company's ecosystem.
7. How Much Does a Digital Signage Software Cost?
Before considering the cost of any solution, first, prioritize the “must-have” features along with those that may become necessary in the longer-term. Once you know which features you are willing to pay for, it will be easier to make a realistic comparison between offerings.
Most cloud-based software is available with a monthly licensing fee based on the number of digital signage media players - ranging between $5 and $60 per media player, per month. These fees usually include access to a range of features that may include apps, templates, tutorial videos, playlist managers and, in some cases, 24/7 technical support. The majority of CMS solutions are “agnostic” which means that they support most operating systems, so due diligence must identify whether or not a specific system will only work with particular hardware platforms such as Windows PCs or Macs. In many cases, the adage of “getting what you pay for” typically holds but that is not always the case. Depending on your network objectives, there are some fantastic options out there offering all the features you may need on the lower end of that price spectrum.
On-premise systems are generally available on a one-time buy-out, which can be funded as a capital cost instead of an ongoing operating expense, but the purchaser needs to be sure that such a purchase is fully vetted by IT ahead of time to be sure that it will be compatible with all other in-house systems.
There are also CMS systems that market themselves as “free digital signage software,” provided on an open-source framework. Also called “Freemium,” they generally offer limited functionality that can be upgraded for a monthly price. Tip, keep an eye out for hidden costs, such as device management tools, or hosting fees, that may incur a monthly cost per display or fixed fee.
When calculating the cost of the CMS, consider software upgrades. Most providers’ software updates automatically while others may still charge for system upgrades. In addition to confirming this ahead of time, determine how often the provider will supply updates. Frequent updating addresses any system inconsistencies or “bugs,” and ensures the software will work more efficiently.
Screenfeed’s Software Partners
Screenfeed partners with well-established software providers whose CMS solutions offer a variety of different features and templates designed specifically for different industry sectors supporting different network objectives. When looking for a solution for your organization, evaluate not only the comparable features but also the solution that will be most effective for you.
For a list of reliable software providers, check out our partner pages! Screenfeed is partnered with Signagelive, Omnivex Ink, Vistar Media, Media4Display, Embed Signage, Raydiant and Yodeck.
Is Screenfeed a Digital Signage Software?
Screenfeed is not Digital Signage Software. The feeds or applications provided through the service easily plug in to just about any software on the market via the playlist. In addition to many partners who offer a variety of CMS solutions, Screenfeed provides over 75 content feeds designed specifically for the digital signage medium. Network subscribers can choose from a variety of content such as weather, social apps, news and other licensed infotainment designed to keep screen content fresh. Keeping content fresh is one way to help attract and engage your audience and Screenfeed serves over 150,000 screens around the world every day.
A Checklist for Choosing a Content Management System
a. What features do we need now?
b. What features are we likely to need in the near future?
2. Ease of Use
NOTE: The more intuitive the set up and easier the software is to use, the more quickly it
will be adopted throughout the organization
3. 24/7 Monitoring
4. Cost and Availability of Service & Support
b. Media Players
8. Open or Closed Ecosystem:
a. Will it allow real-time updates?
b. Will it integrate with other web-based applications?
a. Licensing fees?
b. Any recurring costs?
10. What resolution will it support?