The role of digital signage in HE

Lee Gannon, Marketing Manager at TrouDigital, discusses the various uses of digital signage at universities, and how it fits into the smart campus

The higher education sector has undergone something of a period of transformation in recent years. The emergence of the smart campus is becoming a hot topic with universities leveraging new technology to create innovative and sustainable spaces of learning and research. At the centre of a wide range of projects is the student body itself.

A technology that can be found on almost any university campus in the UK today is digital signage. This is a category that encompasses everything from digital information screens to video walls and freestanding interactive kiosks. The digital world’s answer to old-school posters, leaflets and banners, this communication platform allows universities and student unions to circulate information to footfall on campus – not only to students but to staff and visitors too.

The importance of effective digital communication cannot be overstated. Many students today find themselves with limited face-to-face time with university staff (especially in the humanities). Bulk emails from the administration are often lost in cluttered inboxes.

Digital signage provides a unique way for university administrators to get in front of their students while they are travelling between classes and lectures. What’s more, screens deliver content in a format that millennials are used to consuming. Dynamic displays can act as an extension of popular mediums like video and social media.

EduTech’s latest study

When it comes to students and young people in general, too often we make assumptions without taking the time to speak to them and ask their opinion. This is what inspired a recent study into the state of digital signage at universities.

We took a sample of 115 students and recent graduates from universities around the UK and investigated their engagement with the technology. The results were worth sharing.

The industry’s suspicion that young people are especially receptive to digital mediums was validated with 95% of respondents feeling that digital information screens enhanced the flow of information to students. By implication, the technology has a positive impact in keeping students and staff connected.

What was surprising, however, was that only 10% of the same sample felt their own university was using this platform effectively.

In fact, 1 in 3 hadn’t even noticed any screens around campus, which should alarm those universities that have invested in a digital signage solution. Either screens are being used too sparingly, not in the right locations, or the content is just forgettable. A disappointing 56% of all interviewed students and graduates felt the platform was being under-utilised, which would suggest that content is a problem for communications teams.

What students want to see

The question becomes: how can digital signage be used more effectively by universities to engage students and provide real value around campus? Rather than hedge our bets, we thought we would just ask them and clear trend emerged…

The content that students most wanted to see was employment related. 81% of respondents were interested in graduate scheme information and job adverts, with 79% similarly keen to learn more about work experience opportunities such as internships and part-time roles.

This begs the follow-up question: how many universities are using their digital signage as dynamic job boards? It would surely be an idea worth considering for careers departments.

The great thing about the platform is screens can be multi-purpose (unlike posters) thanks to the ability to segment presentations and also schedule content. Considering this, what other types of content were of interest to students and recent graduates?

Universities will be pleased to know that reading about university services and news was popular with 64% and information from sports clubs and societies relevant to 62%. This would suggest that digital signage can be a mouthpiece for higher education institutions and student unions, an opportunity to reach students in the ideal setting – on campus.

Brands and advertisers take note

When we set about creating this study, we wanted to provide an insight for our university partners and others in the industry. But one statistic that surfaced will be of interest to those outside of HE too.

That was that almost two in three students and recent graduates were interested in businesses such as local restaurants, events and venues advertising on screens around campus. The important factor was that advertisers should be relevant to the student demographic and able to provide value, for example, in the form of promotions.

With a combined spending power of over £10 billion, the student population is an invaluable market to countless different businesses. Advertising on digital signage networks at universities marks a unique opportunity to get in front of this target audience.

While the type of advertisers would necessarily need to be regulated, and the content properly vetted, student unions would be mistaken to overlook third-party advertising as a revenue-generating strategy. All of the great types of content already discussed (from graduate job information to university services and news) could be interspersed with adverts, or share screen-time, to achieve the best of both worlds.

A lesson to higher education

Smart campuses around the UK are investing in technology to better serve the student body. But in the case of digital signage at least, according to our latest study, there seems to be a disconnect between intent and effectiveness.

While it’s great to see digital signage playing an increasingly prominent role on campuses, it’s potential is far from being reached. Speaking to students and learning what kind of content they want to see is going to be the key to providing maximum value in the future and enhancing student engagement.

For more information about TrouDigital, visit their website at https://troudigital.com/