How the University of Michigan powers its content with digital asset management

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What does it mean to be a university in 2016?

In order to provide a quality education and pull together their collegiate sports teams, universities need students. And, although this seems like an obvious statement, the way in which universities attract and engage with students has evolved into something completely new.

 In this article, we’ll look at how the University of Michigan athletics department leverages visual content — including video — to connect with the next generation of student athletes. Specifically, we’ll examine how they use digital asset management (DAM) and web content management to drive this successful initiative.

A brief overview

Robust and easy-to-use DAM software, like the Widen Collective, is a tool that can be used to get your university organized and enable your web team, communications teams, all university departments and schools — as well as external partners, like the media and contractors — to drive marketing communications with greater agility, efficiency, effectiveness, and consistency.

DAM software makes it possible for you to fully utilize the assets of your brand and make an emotional connection with your students, faculty, professors, coaches, recruits, and alumni.

The result? These individuals can feel like part of your experience anywhere — and everywhere.

Four questions every university needs to ask

According to Kathy Wilson, Senior Business Systems Analyst for the University of Michigan’s athletic department, here are four questions every university should be asking themselves:

  1. What does it look like to attend your school?
  2. What kind of culture do you have, and why is it so special?
  3. How do you help people understand it, when you can't have them on campus or talk with them directly?
  4. How do you capture and share your school spirit?

The University of Michigan has answered these questions in a very real, relevant way — and you can, too! Once you do, you can use the power of DAM to share this content across all media platforms, just like the University of Michigan does.

Why use a DAM system?

According to Kathy, Michigan’s athletics department has many rich assets, and their media relations team was constantly being asked to pull old videos, images, and documents for a variety of needs. This was a very time-consuming process that diverted her team away from current work demands.

With so many requests coming in, they needed a long-term solution where requesters could find the assets they needed quickly and efficiently — on their own. They chose the Widen Collective as their solution.

The University uses their DAM system for projects like:

The recruiting website project

While their DAM system was being implemented, the University of Michigan began developing a recruiting website,, that represents each of their 29 sports teams to potential future student athletes.

The University understood that, in order to engage with their younger recruiting audience, they would need to build a responsive, rich-content experience that was also multi-sensory in order to keep their audience’s attention and interest in Michigan athletics.

The Content Activation Model

The University was able to accomplish these goals, to a large degree, because they implemented Widen’s Content Activation Model (CAM).

Here’s a quick overview of the CAM:

  1.   Research: The first step in the process is research, which helps you determine what content to create in the first place.
  2.   Creation: Insights gleaned from research give you a clear purpose and direction for your story — making it possible to begin creating new, relevant content.
  3.   Curation: The process of gathering existing content, sometimes referred to as “artifacts,” that can be added to your story.
  4.   Context: This segment of the CAM is all about answering questions. Why are you putting this content on the web? How does it align with our research findings?
  5.   Action: Let’s put all this visual content and strategy to work!
  6.    Insights: Insights give you a look into how content performed and the value it provided to your audience and organization.

For a more in-depth look at the CAM process, check out, A step-by-step guide to visual content marketing blog post.

How their DAM system helped

In addition to following through on all six CAM strategies, came together because of the strong efforts made by Kathy’s team and partners. Every step of the way, these efforts were powered and supported by the technologies of the Widen Collective as the “DAM repository,” along with Widen’s WordPress-powered Content Management System (CMS).

The Widen Collective provided the University with an out-of-the-box WordPress integration, which was very appealing since they had just started using their DAM system to manage their assets.

This integration allows the University to search for assets in their DAM system and easily embed or add the assets to the WordPress CMS. As Kathy put it, this was, “a match made in heaven for us!”

How DAM supports your CAM

CAM is an extremely effective process, but only when it’s paired with your DAM software. In fact, it’s the core DAM functionality that makes CAM possible.

The following distinguishing characteristics of a DAM system are what empower your teams to optimally run your content strategy with a clear, organized approach.

  1. Governance: Allows you to control who can access what assets
  2. Workflow: Supports the creation and supply of content with the appropriate tasks, triggers, and notifications to move the creative process from concept to completion
  3. Search: Allows you to quickly find relevant assets. Being able to easily search for and FIND the right assets is one of the top problems a DAM system solves.
  4. Metadata: Defines, describes, and protects your assets. Metadata is the information that makes your visual content easy to find during a search. It also helps protect rights and releases.
  5. Processing: Allows for repurposing, sharing, linking, and publishing. Processing helps deploy your content to the right channel and automatically convert files to other formats.
  6. Tracking: Offers insight into engagement and performance. These are the analytics that show how your assets are being used and consumed.

Ultimately, DAM provides greater visibility, access, and control over all your visual content, so it’s easy to see why it’s so instrumental in the CAM.

Using DAM to share content on the web

Let’s walk through some of the pages on the recruiting website to overview how the Widen Collective helps the University of Michigan manage and leverage its visual content.

Upon entering the site, you are asked to select a team.

Let’s go ahead and select men’s soccer.

Upon entering a team’s page, you’ll find a rich team image. You’ll also see the team’s major highlights at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, you’ll be able to immerse yourself into the team experience by watching the intro video.  

Scrolling down below the fold, we find more info about men’s soccer. Again, notice the use of rich images that draw you in to make a selection.

Learn about the players and the coaches …

You can even view team rosters, learn about team life, and see an abundance of image galleries that engage the eye — and the emotions.

All of this comes together to offer the user a real-life glimpse into the day-in-the-life of a student athlete. The content shared on these pages is curated directly from student athletes using YouTube and Instagram posts, which adds an immense amount of authenticity to the content.

Behind the scenes (how a DAM system works)

Now that you’ve had a glimpse of the website, it’s important to understand how a DAM system and the WordPress CMS make all of this happen.

WordPress CMS

On the left panel in the image below, you’ll see that authorized team members have the ability to add assets into WordPress or to pull directly from the Widen Collective. For, they’ve chosen to add image assets from the Widen Collective to the WordPress CMS.

For video content, they chose to leverage embed links, which pull the video content directly from the Widen Collective to the site for the user to consume. They’ve done this to improve the user interaction with video content — so it’s no longer necessary to drive someone off the site to a YouTube video.

Learn more about the benefits of videos served and played natively on your website.

Asset integration

Regarding integration and a DAM system, let’s take a look at quick search.

In the following image, you can see a completed search for “ice hockey” in a DAM system from within the WordPress CMS. Next, a call takes place to the DAM system and returns all of the digital assets relevant to that search term. Now, the user has the ability to download the asset into the WordPress CMS or leverage an embed link.

The digital asset library

Let’s take a peek inside the University of Michigan’s digital asset library, which lives within the Widen Collective.

This is where the magic happens. The University’s end users (internal and external) upload, search, and download all their visual content directly from the Widen Collective.

Within the Widen Collective, their users can quickly find football-related content by simply searching using the term “football.” Users can even drill down to the type of asset they’re looking for — for instance, print, video, or web.


Once an asset is selected, it can easily be downloaded.


The University’s DAM system also allows Kathy’s team to review analytics, including data related to the embedded recruiting website video. At a high level, they can review who is looking at the videos, where they are viewing them, and continue to drill down to how the end user is consuming the data. These insights help the team understand what content is most engaging to their audience and what content may need to be changed.


These are only a few examples of how DAM helped the University of Michigan create a website that makes full use of their visual content. The result is an engaging experience that raises interest from potential students and is highly informative and educational to existing students and staff.

Learn more 

If you’d like to learn more about how DAM can help your higher-education organization, feel free to get in touch and talk to a Widen advisor today.

Topics: Customer Stories, Creative, Content

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