The Courtship of Digital Place-Based and Social Media

November 19, 2013 | Blog | By Lightbox

A long-promised benefit of digital signage is the ability to keep the content fresh. So, as more traditionally-static venues switch to all-digital, the Homer Simpsons’ of the world need no longer wait for the first of the month to bask in the glory of New Billboard Day…

…with digital place-based everyday is New Billboard Day!

Unfortunately when you’re updating messaging weekly, daily, or hourly it can become a herculean task to generate that new content at such a breakneck pace. Fortunately for us, an entire industry has arisen whose sole purpose is to generate large volumes of snackable content: social media.

With agencies and brands pumping millions dollars into social media, they’re undoubtedly looking for other ways to benefit from the massive amount of sharable content being produced. A brand’s social footprint is increasingly becoming the main point of contact with consumers, as well as the main driver of word-of-mouth recommendations. Unfortunately Followers, Likes, Shares, and all the other currencies of social media can only take them so far until they hit a saturation point with their current circle of influence.

Marrying the content of a brand’s social media accounts with the reach & frequency of a digital place-based ad buy is, at first blush, a match made in heaven. Ad creative can be kept shockingly relevant and be a vast improvement on the static ads consumers are used it. However not all social content is created equal.

Designing for out-of-home has always been about brevity. A single, clear message with an engaging visual is often the best route for a successful campaign; even with all the advancements brought on by video and the digital revolution, the basic rules remain the same. So as advertisers begin to integrate all types of sharable content into their ad creative, it’s important not to lose sight of what’s important: the message. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few thoughts and suggestions for using social content in digital place-based media.

  • How it’s done. The technical hurdles of linking social media to these digital screens are typically trivial. Often it’s just a matter of writing a few simple hooks into a service’s API and you’re set. What’s far more challenging is determining how to use this content once you have it.
  • Know your audience. Depending on what network you’re buying, your social media accounts might be targeting a different demo than your digital place-based buy. The messaging might not translate well as a result.
  • Is it an ad with a tweet, or a tweet that’s an ad? A tweet is short, but so is a 15-second ad. If you’re looking to integrate those 140-characters into an ad, should it be the bulk of the creative? Or is it simply a scroll at the bottom? Both have the potential to work, but if it’s the latter, great care should be taken to prevent the spot from being too busy.
  • Who’s delivering what? Twitter is just text, that should be simple to design for, right? Well what if that text includes a URL? A hashtag? An image link? Designing for all the potential variations that can be delivered is crucial. Twitter’s not alone; Instagram is less straightforward now, too. It used to be you only had to display an image, but now there’s video to plan for.
  • Who’s delivering what? Social media is first and foremost social! It’s straightforward to simply display a Tweet or Tumblr post from an account that a brand owns. There’s little risk that the content will be inappropriate. However limiting digital place-based social integration to just single accounts isn’t very interesting. But when you start allowing anyone to Tweet or post to screens using an @reply or a hashtag, you encounter a litany of potential problems. One way around this is to vet the content before publishing it to the network, though that can be laborious. It’s important to think through the sources of the content before planning on integrating social media into one’s ad.
  • Look beyond the content. Social content can be engaging, but so can the data behind the content. Simply displaying how many Likes or Followers an account has can be a great way to encourage more people to join in. Metadata like this can also be used to trigger different types of creative. For example, a brand could promise an on-screen coupon code once their Tweet surpasses a certain number of retweets. Consider using social media content (Likes, Tweets, Posts, Photos, Followers, Retweets, Hashtags, etc) as ways to trigger different creative responses.

Like all good marriages, the one between social content and digital place-based will have to go through a courtship first to get comfortable with each other. But once we enter the honeymoon phase, I’m confident we’ll see some truly incredible and creative things.