Why Centralized Management is Critical for Campus Communications
— November 10th, 2023
From smaller urban campuses to sprawling university campuses spread over acres of land, communicating effectively with students, faculty, staff, and visitors is critical to campus-wide correspondence, navigation, and engagement.
Often, communications teams in higher education are small, serving anywhere between a few thousand students and faculty members to populations of over 50,000, making it challenging to reach everyone and scale their communications–and the measurable impact of those comms–across campus. This results in sharing information online through mobile apps, emails, official campus websites, digital signage, and message boards.
Centralized management of the different channels needed to reach and engage each of a college’s key audiences is critical, yet it remains a problem for many colleges and universities. Many institutions adopt a department-driven approach to some communication channels which results in staff dedicating too much time to create and distribute generalized messaging without analytics to discover what does and does not work, who does and does not engage with the content, and which methods of outreach are the most successful. This applies to all of the comms channels students expect to see today, but it is perhaps more visible when looking at on-campus digital signage.
University Signage and Dynamic Visuals
Digital signage created opportunities to share more engaging content with dynamic visuals. It helped give students, faculty, staff, and visitors more relevant, real-time information. The ability to customize and update digital signage whenever it was needed–with the speed, accuracy, and efficacy of other comms channels like mobile apps, email, and similar emerging collaboration tools–transformed how universities and colleges reached their audiences. But it also highlighted how there is seldom a campus-wide communication strategy. Due to the highly visual nature of digital signage, it becomes obvious when multiple departments are using their own templates, or even procuring disparate signage platforms.
As universities and colleges continue to digitize their comms and adapt to meet the needs of diverse audiences, a centralized communication strategy–and platform–is critical for effective communication, engagement, and measurement.
The Current State of Communications in Educational Institutions
Community building is an essential element of the college experience that draws and retains students, faculty, and staff. Without a centralized communications system, universities lose valuable opportunities to foster relationships and build connections between students, staff, and the institution itself.
When communications systems work well, they provide quick, up-to-date messaging in important situations, encourage engagement, save time and resources, and build meaningful connections in the process. But, institutions lacking the right communications tools can negatively impact the campus experience.
In order to avoid issues, it’s important to understand what causes them, how to avoid them, and how to overcome them.
Disparate tools and budgets prevent adjustments to these methods of communication. A central university communications team likely has the ability to reach the whole campus through one or two major channels, which is ideal for certain situations, but other departments and people might not have that same access, which leads to the purchase of multiple comms tools and inconsistent communications. While this is favorable for targeted outreach to specific audiences, it can create obstacles to the communication process.
In addition to reaching students, faculty, and staff, campus communications teams must consider the various approaches to communication that certain colleges or departments might favor and who manages each channel. For example, the English department might circulate a monthly newsletter with highlights and updates, whereas a nursing program would choose to send weekly correspondence to keep students informed. But what if the nursing students wanted to communicate with students from other departments?
Communications teams must also consider the competition to break through notifications and reach a target audience. Among the flurry of emails and online posts about assignments from professors, messages about campus closures, and notifications surrounding upcoming events, the wrong approach may add to the noise and decrease the chances of sharing the right information with the right people. This also creates the absence of a single source of truth.
Importance of a Single Source of Truth
Having an established single source of truth is a critical tool for colleges and universities at any time, but it is especially true during emergencies. With centralized communication, universities can quickly share information in real time by managing multiple content types on multiple channels through a single campus communications platform. This allows communications teams to keep students, faculty, staff, and visitors engaged and informed via their preferred channels, effectively relaying important safety information when necessary. As an example, every on-campus screen could immediately share the emergency message and any other critical information, while email and mobile channels could be leveraged to provide ongoing updates–all managed from the same platform.
Benefits of a Centralized Digital Signage System
Communicating effectively across any size of campus requires an understanding of your target audiences’ communications patterns, preferences, and behaviors. For example, Gen Z makes up the majority of current college and university students. As digital natives, Gen Z students are fond of video, making a few networks standout winners among the demographic.
YouTube and TikTok draw 25% of Gen Z consumers—and Instagram boasts 20%. Experts also believe that Gen Z’s social media habits center on using multiple platforms in various ways to engage in authentic interactions online. This information builds a case for reaching students through social media apps or other similar messaging platforms. Digital signage across campus is also appealing since it incorporates video, images, and other forms of media that appeal to Gen Z students.
For teaching staff, communication via email or mobile apps might be the quickest and easiest way to deliver messaging, while maintenance staff, who spend most of their time moving around campus, prefer to check digital screens for regular updates. With so many different audiences to reach, campus communication teams should leverage a variety of content types that include a centralized digital signage system.
Armed with this information, campus communications teams can leverage digital signage, and its ability to display video and other customized content to deliver information in a way that resonates with today’s students.
Digital signage helps colleges and universities improve the overall student experience by providing comms that include event promotion, campus amenities, and recognizing student achievements.
But providing digital signage in common areas also enhances staff and faculty communication, keeping employees informed and sharing essential messaging around major campus initiatives, traffic and weather conditions, and displaying the university’s values. When used in conjunction with other channels like email and mobile, digital signage can support a larger strategic initiative, but only if the channels are connected. Providing information on a variety of channels is critical for kitchen staff, maintenance teams, security personnel, and other employees who might not have frequent access to emails, but still need access to important information.
Give it the Old College Try
Universities and colleges need effective communication methods to ensure they can deliver important information, foster a sense of community, encourage camaraderie, and create on-campus engagement and excitement. This is achieved by the implementation of a centralized communication strategy, which resolves the issues created by fragmentation and establishes a single source of truth for the thousands of people that must be reached across a campus.
Managing centralized communication involves understanding various audiences that make up a college or university campus and their preferred methods of communication. This includes email, messaging apps, and other online platforms but is enhanced by digital signage on campus, which can reach students, staff, and visitors across multiple locations.
As campuses grow and communications evolve to meet the needs of the students, faculty, staff, and visitors who frequent them, educational institutions must adopt a centralized approach to enhance communication and engagement across a variety of platforms.