During my marketing internship at Poll Everywhere, I had the distinct honor of interviewing technology evangelist and digital signage guru Brad Parler. Brad is the Head of Content Strategy at Screen.Cloud and an active social media user. Recently he produced a video series on user-generated content. In the third video of the series, Brad touts the benefits of live polling in the workplace.
Aubreyanna: Can you give me a little snapshot of how you got to digital signage?
Brad: I didn’t start there. My career path in digital signage started with an e-commerce company called Blinds.com, which is now owned by Home Depot. While I was there, before the merger, they were experimenting with digital signage and really just jumping into that technology. My background in broadcast design and video production gave me a competitive advantage and helped me create a new position at the company. That really got me into the digital signage world. I started speaking at conferences because of the success of that project, and now I’m working at a digital signage company.
Aubreyanna: For our readers who might not know, can you describe what digital signage is?
Brad: Digital signage is the use of digital screens. In quick-serve restaurants you’ll see consumer televisions or commercial televisions. “Large format displays” is what the industry likes to call them. You are putting up information using that technology outside of a home environment. One of the acronyms that you’ll come across in the world of digital signage is DOOH, which stands for Digital Out Of Home marketing.
Digital signage is definitely a form of communication that we’re seeing a lot of corporations use. They’re putting up tens, dozens, in some cases hundreds of screens along their open office plans. So don’t think of digital signage as something that is only customer-facing.
Don’t think of digital signage as something that is only customer-facing.
A huge leap over the last three years has been where it’s internal communication-facing. So it’s not seen by the customers at all. We’re seeing an expansion in restaurants having screens in the back of the house letting staff know how are they doing for that night, how many tables have they turned, or the front of house saying there’s something that needs to be cleaned, or this party has just left. All those types of analytics can be leveraged in the back of the house. So there’s a lot of different applications for that. The thing is, we all have these screens around us. I’m holding my iPhone. An iPhone or an iPad can be used for digital signage. Something that we have with us all the time, and we allow it to run our lives. That’s one of the things I’m trying to get through to the industry – I’m a firm believer that the next big thing in digital signage is the small screen.
I’m a firm believer that the next big thing in digital signage is the small screen.
Aubreyanna: Can you tell me about a time when there was an obstacle in communication?
Brad: When it comes to breakdowns in communication, a lot of it is in trying to get the right information to the right people. In general, big corporations have had this downward flow of communication. Digital signage is a technology that really disrupts that downward flow, and makes communication flat.
It’s usually in an organization that’s trying to raise employees’ net promoter score of the business they’re working in. Sometimes you have to address tough subjects, and by addressing it universally on a flat technology, you can do it in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re trying to have these weird, closed-door meetings, with one person telling another person, then that person telling another person. Digital signage can disrupt all that. You can use it to your advantage, to create a flat organization.
Aubreyanna: How did you know you needed to find a new solution?
Brad: A lot of it was driven by one of the executives seeing the success of a six-screen digital signage pilot. They really wanted to double down on that in the customer engagement center. Some people would call it a call center, but that’s not what they had created. They created a culture of helping customers do things they never imagined possible. The new signage strategy came from one executive saying, “We’re seeing this working in a small study. Let’s leverage this a lot deeper in another area.” And then, that led to other expansions.
I watch Twitter like a hawk, and I see so many people trying to manufacture culture. But culture is something that’s grown over time.
There is some alignment between workplace culture and the technology you use to help that flourish. I watch Twitter like a hawk, and I see so many people trying to manufacture culture. But culture is something that’s grown over time. There’s no quick way to get there. I think some technologies can help spark those things, but ultimately if you don’t have your core values and mission clearly defined, you’ll be throwing darts at a dart board you can’t even see.
Aubreyanna: What communication inefficiencies or biases are you able to overcome using technology?
Brad: I think a good example of that was the research being done at one organization. They were always collecting feedback data from the same people, a very small sample set. But when you use a technology like Poll Everywhere and put that question on a screen, you completely democratize the data set, and you encourage more people to become engaged in the question.
When you start doing qualitative questioning, like, “How did you feel when you saw this?” or “What was your response to that?” you’ll see deeper engagement. You’re using flat technology that makes for a flat organization like digital signage and live polling, and you’ll get deeper results. I think as more companies become aware that this technology can be used beyond just a presenter on a stage getting responses from his audience – that it’s something that can be leveraged throughout the organization, and it’s really powerful when it’s used that way.
Aubreyanna: Do you have any particular poll or activity you consider the most effective?
Brad: The most effective uses I’ve seen for Poll Everywhere were two kinds of polls – a clickable image poll using a map. This was a breakthrough experience, because the company I was with had such an amazing, diverse workforce. We could suddenly see where in the world everyone was from, and have conversations like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were from that region!”
The other I absolutely love is word cloud. Being able to ask someone a recurring question: “What is your word for the day? I steer people away from things like, “How do you feel?” or “What are you thinking?” Instead I like to have people grab hold and claim a word they’re working toward for that day, or that week. Just watch out because people might try to game the system, like by posting hundreds of Adele lyrics into the word cloud. That’s fun too. People are laughing, having a great time, asking “Who’s doing it?!”
Aubreyanna: Any memorable words from that question?
Brad: The one other one I remember was an inside joke in the accounting department, between them and one other department. It was the word “Struggle-Bus”. It was consistent, showing up every day. I guess sometimes the struggle is real.
We’re leveraging these tools, making organizations more flat, allowing conversations to happen. We stopped shouting at people to try to get them to grab hold of the message. Instead, now we’re making it a conversation.
Aubreyanna: What has changed with digital signage and live polling from when you started until now?
Brad: The biggest change we’re seeing is the way in which we’re communicating, the way we’re looking at organizations. We’re seeing more organizations become more flat because of technology. In the past we saw that flow of communication from the CEO to executives, and from executives to middle management.
Then we learned technology shouldn’t be used as a megaphone, and shouldn’t require forced participation. We’re leveraging these tools, making organizations more flat, allowing conversations to happen. We stopped shouting at people to try to get them to grab hold of the message. Instead, now we’re making it a conversation.
Tools like Poll Everywhere allow for that conversation to happen. One of the great ways we see it being used is in Ask-Me-Anything events with executives. We’ll have eighty people attending, live, in the room, with their phones out. For the first 30 minutes there are hundreds of questions flying into the PollEv Q&A. Then you see people realize they can just vote up a question instead, like they do on Reddit. Then the top ten questions are already sourced, and really relevant to that group of eighty people.
They become very meaningful experiences, not meetings. When you have a staff that can walk away and feel they’ve been heard, it feels less like, “I attended a meeting,” and more like, “I was part of that experience.”
It feels less like, “I attended a meeting,” and more like, “I was part of that experience.”
I think a lot of it is rooted in the idea of HR teams all focusing on engagement, while in marketing we focus on the user experience. I think there is a growing trend where HR is not just about engagement but about being the employee experience team. They rethink the way a team member is onboarded, introduced to the new team, how you create new experiences for them in the office. They consider what tech they’re using to foster conversations and grow that employee experience. When we shift from meetings to experiences I believe we’re latching onto future of work. Through that I believe companies become employers of first choice rather than last resort.
Aubreyanna: What would you say is a barrier to entry for solving communications issues in the workplace?
Brad: I think the biggest barrier in tackling comms challenges is that institutions are focused on the exact ROI of what they’re doing, and that can muddy the waters in what technology you choose. ROI is important. We have to be good stewards, especially if we’re answering to stakeholders.
That being said, the ROI goes back to that Gary Veynerchuk quote, “What is the ROI of your mother?” Or “What’s the ROI of a piano?” In the right hands a piano is a magnificent tool. When you put an eight-year-old in front of one it’s just noisy. By being so binary and linear, you could really miss out on something that can add an edge to your company.
Rather than just ROI, look at return on objective. Did you reach the objective? By how much? Instead of looking for ROI, look at it as creating a new metric to track. How much more effective was the communication on your team? Then you can be binary about it – yes, it worked, or no, it didn’t. If it didn’t work, you may need to get a little help, because you might not be leveraging that technology correctly. Going back to the piano analogy, you have to ask, are you an Elton John on that tool, or are you an eight-year-old ?
– Guest post by Poll Everywhere Marketing Intern Aubreyanna Murray