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How to maximize your content management strategy with digital asset management — Part 2

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Welcome to part 2 of our content management strategy series based on our presentation at the 2015 Confab Central conference in Minneapolis, MN. If you haven’t read it already, feel free to check out part 1 that covers topics like identifying the characteristics of a good digital asset management (DAM) admin, migrating digital assets to a DAM system, as well as tips and best practices on creating solid metadata.

At Confab Central, I was joined by Corey Chimko, Digital Resources Coordinator at Cornell University, for a discussion that revolved around content management strategy and DAM. Corey was kind enough to share many of Cornell’s best practices on handling large amounts of digital assets (500,000+). He shared so many gems, they simply didn’t fit into one single blog post (hence, part 2 here).

In the second installment of this series, we’ll focus on:

  • Search 
  • User governance
  • Roles and permissions
  • System maintenance
  • Lifecycle policy

Performing a search in your DAM system is very similar to a typical Google search you might make on any given day. You go to Google with keywords or a phrase in mind to see what’s out there, as you don’t know the URL you’re ultimately going to land on. The process is the same within a DAM system, where you search with a keyword or from pre-defined categories in order to see what relevant digital assets are available to you.

Good questions to ask yourself when thinking about search functionality include:

How will you tag assets to ensure users find what they need?
One really popular tool within Widen’s DAM software is the batch editing function, which allows you to apply the same value to hundreds of assets with the same metadata field. For instance, let’s say you want to apply the value “stock photos” to a few hundred stock photos. Batch editing makes this really efficient, but when a user enters the DAM system and searches for “stock photos” their results will include every single stock photo you’ve tagged. You’ll want to be careful to go into each of these stock images and tag them with unique metadata as well. In the end, you’ll probably be best off using a combination of batch editing, where applicable, along with unique metadata fields to ensure users can attain more refined results.

How do your users prefer to search? 
Different people like to search in different ways, which is why we recommend scheduling a work session with users to watch how they like to search. Doing this before or during your DAM setup will allow you to apply user preferences to the setup. What’s great about a robust DAM solution like Widen’s is the fact that you can set up multiple search preferences that users can manipulate to customize their experience. 

Are you using a controlled vocabulary & free-form text fields?
Controlled vocabulary, as detailed in part 1 of this series, is one component of setting up a truly usable search function — but only if all the users understand, agree with and are aware of what that controlled vocabulary is. Although controlled vocabulary is very useful, you’ll want to make sure that free-form text fields are also put to use. Free-form text fields get used quite a bit when entering keywords and descriptions into the metadata, serving up good, relevant and unique information about a particular asset.

An in-depth example
Let’s review an in-depth search example that focuses on a metadata field that everyone typically uses — the image name. To a DAM admin, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as image names, like img001.jpg, img002.jpg and img003.jpg. In fact, these types of image names are just as meaningless during a DAM search as they are to the Google search engine. And since they hold search engine optimization (SEO) value in the Google algorithm, and also hold high search value within your DAM software, it’s beneficial for these image names to be tagged with relevant keywords.

The reason we bring this up is that an image name is one of the main pieces of metadata that a DAM system can use to deliver accurate search results to user queries. No matter what the taxonomy of your metadata fields, every image needs a name, right?

As an example, imagine for a moment that you work at a major ice cream company, dealing with hundreds of thousands of images of different flavors of ice cream. Would you ever search for img001.jpg? Of course not, but you might search for “old fashioned vanilla,” “summer berry flavors” or the like, expecting to attain relevant digital assets for your results. But you’ll only get those relevant results if the DAM admin, or whoever entered the asset into the system, properly completed each of the asset’s metadata fields — one of which is the image name.

Team involvement in renaming fields
When it comes to search, and the metadata that feeds search results, getting team members to rename their files with relevant keywords and to complete all other metadata fields is critically important. 

But how does a DAM admin go about engaging DAM users to do this consistently?

The answer is to be inclusive. Have your team’s voice have a say in the creation of image naming conventions, as well as having them provide a list of metadata fields and vocabularies they commonly use.

Cornell University’s best practices concerning search
Cornell’s Dashboard exemplifies many of the best practices they adhere to.

Best Practices with Digital Asset Management & Search

In this example, there are thumbnails that represent photo collections (asset groups) for each college, school or unit at the university. These asset groups work better for users than one giant pool of images, most of which may be of no importance to a user. These collections allow for a more specific search that’s much more relevant to the user and his or her particular asset needs. 

Search box and dropdown navigation
At the top of the page, you’ll find a traditional search functionality with a search box, as well as dropdown navigation for categories and collections, which are some of the ways Cornell’s users like to search.

Additional search capabilities
On the left between the headline and the photo collections is a secondary navigation system that brings users to Cornell-specific information, like how to contact Cornell to schedule a photo shoot or how to order a print from an event like commencement. Important functions to some users, it was critical that Cornell included these on the Dashboard.

Activity feed
On the right side is an activity feed that helps your admin keep track of what’s going on within the DAM system. This is super helpful to see what’s being uploaded, downloaded, shared and reviewed for real-time insights on asset usage and the demands of your users.

In all of these cases, user needs were dictated by the users themselves.

The search results page
Cornell’s search results page is broken down by filters based on their metadata fields, which make the search results much more specific or “granular.” Much of what you can do on this page is controlled by the user’s permissions. These filters live to the left of search results info and include a set of filters based on your metadata fields.

Cornell University DAM System Search Results Page

Every time you do a search - say a very broad search that results in thousands of photos - you can then further filter that search by any of the values contained in the metadata fields you’ve defined. These filters will only appear when the values for each of the metadata fields have been filled in. So, the more metadata you add to your DAM system, the more granular you can search.

That being said, too many metadata fields can cause confusion and frustration, making users shy away from using your DAM software. Striking a balance between specifics and simplicity with your team is crucial to the long-term success of your DAM system.

Additional best practices

  • Categorize and tag digital assets in a way that users find intuitive. To do this, do research BEFORE your set up your system. Keep in mind that the DAM admin’s way is not always the best way to organize the assets. Feedback from users is critical. In many cases, they may think completely different than the admin.
  • Objective vs. subjective tagging is something you’ll need to be aware of. Objective tagging is adding metadata about things like colors, people, setting and location. Subjective tagging is more conceptual, including things like emotions, diversity and other nebulous marketing strategy terms. Both types of tagging can be equally important, but objective tagging is far easier to accomplish than subjective, which may take a little more time to get just right.
  • Avoid complexity when tagging your assets
    • Use of controlled vocabulary and common metadata can help keep things simple
    • Only apply metadata that’s common to all digital assets (e.g., date, photographer’s name)
  • Avoid using unexplained acronyms when keywording. Stay away from things like slang, nicknames and texting abbreviations. This makes it easier to use the descriptions you’ve written for your asset as a caption in a news story or something similar.
  • Tag your digital assets when uploading them in the DAM system
    • The more tagging you do right from the start, the better

User governance
In a nutshell, user governance within a DAM system can be defined as ensuring that digital assets are being used by the right people in the right way.

User Governance & Digital Asset Management Software

Governance, roles and permissions
At Widen, we’re often asked how to provide the right amount of access in our DAM solutions. The short answer is to learn what each user group needs in order to do their job effectively, and in turn create what are called “user roles” based on these findings. Each user role is granted access to the assets they need as well as the appropriate level of clearance, referred to as “permissions,” so they may handle the assets appropriately within their role.

Permissions could include tasks like view only, edit, upload, share, etc. This allows the DAM admin of a robust system to have an immense amount of control, which is beneficial to the user — but also to the DAM admin because there’s a peace of mind associated with administering the right level of governance, so an admin knows the right assets are being viewed by the right people and being used in the right way.

Some good questions to ask yourself when thinking about governance include: 

  • Should you provide access by business group/department or allow organization-wide access?
  • Should there be any public access to your assets? If so, which ones should be visible and how?
  • How do you make sure that certain people only access certain digital assets? 
  • What will the taxonomy of your permissioning structure look like — including asset groups and user roles? 

Cornell’s governance philosophy
Cornell uses a single sign-on university authentication system that pulls information based on the user’s ID. This information includes user affiliation (student, faculty, etc.) and which college or school they’re in, and can be used to apply the correct level of permissions for a user, giving them access to the appropriate selection of digital assets. 

The following is a list of some of the roles used by Cornell University. These roles govern what users can and cannot see in the DAM system:

Roles & Permissions in Your DAM System

Although your selection of roles may not be as diverse as Cornell’s, your DAM system still has the capability to granularly add or subtract any particular function from any level of user. The system can be easily customized to suit unique needs. For example, let’s say you have two high-level managers in your organization, each with different permission needs. Although their role may be the same, the sales manager’s permissions only include the ability to view, download or share digital assets, while the marketing manager can also upload, edit, delete, version and tag them. 

Governance best practices

  • Identify all user groups that will need access to your digital assets
  • Work with an internal stakeholder group in advance to agree on permissioning assets organizationally
  • Look at the needs of all stakeholders to determine how each user role will need to interact with the assets (view, download, upload, edit, etc.)

Maintaining a DAM system
Any admin worth their salt knows that once a DAM system is implemented, their work is far from done. Over time, assets stop being tagged, filenaming conventions go awry, content becomes outdated and expired users accumulate, to name a few naturally-occurring changes within your system. But thanks to your admin, these issues are typically resolved on an ongoing basis, avoiding what could potentially be a huge mess. If left unattended, these types of issues would require a lot of attention to bring your DAM system back to a healthy state.

Other responsibilities that fall on your DAM admin include:

Auditing your DAM
This includes reviewing your DAM system at the asset level. Reviewing what digital assets are being accessed, viewed, downloaded or shared, as well as what assets are good candidates for archival because they’re not being used at all. During a DAM audit, the admin can also look for site-wide trends like user logins, uploads, downloads, etc., to really get a handle on whether your system is growing or becoming stagnant. Some of this information, including logins by date, busiest day, storage growth and asset status, are all readily available for review on the Media Collective’s Dashboard. 

Using Google Analytics
The Widen Media Collective DAM solution is fully integrated with Google Analytics, making it possible for you to review data on things like how users search and if your taxonomy is optimal, in addition to other user insights and web trends.

User feedback
Engaging with users to see what’s working and what needs improvement is a key element in long-term DAM success. Learning what users like about the current setup, as well as what their pain points are, can go a long way in keeping your DAM system running efficiently, not to mention having a team of happy users. Whether you follow up individually or as a group, this is a great way to engage and create learning opportunities for both the admin and the user(s).

Speaking of engagement, whether it’s new users or old pros, keeping users engaged and interested in actively using your DAM software can be a challenge. We’ve seen some of our clients get very creative with this, “incentivizing” usage with games and giveaways, which help make your team a bigger part of the process. 

System maintenance
Just like a car, your DAM software will need constant monitoring and maintenance. For the DAM admin, this is simply another one of the many hats he or she wears. 

To follow, is a high-level overview of what goes into the system maintenance of a DAM:

  • Arrange weekly, monthly and annual maintenance tasks
    • Review user permissions for accuracy
    • Delete inactive users
    • Record statistics
    • Review naming conventions and organizational hierarchies (they change over time)
  • Have an asset lifecycle policy and use it to guide the removal or archival of old or irrelevant content
  • Use advanced search to help locate and fill in missing metadata
  • Use analytics to analyze user habits and adjust system functionality accordingly 

As we wrap up, I’d like to share Cornell University’s Sample Asset Lifecycle Policy:

Digital Asset Management Lifecycle Policy

Questions and additional information
Although we’ve covered a lot in part 2 of our content management series, you might have developed a list of questions related to DAM, Widen or one of our DAM solutions.

No matter what your questions, we’d be happy to answer them! Feel free to contact Widen anytime so we can learn more about your organization’s DAM needs and concerns. You can also visit our Resources page for additional information about the four phases of the DAM decision journey.

Topics: Content, Marketing

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