jumping in a mud puddle
PHOTO: Josh Calabrese

A digital asset management (DAM) system might be the base of your marketing operations, but it can devolve into a glorified attic. Renegade raw files, forgotten flash videos and jumbled JPEGs will accumulate without proper upkeep. Maintenance is an easy task to postpone — until users grow disgruntled and eventually abandon the system.

Don’t let your digital asset management system turn into a DAM mess. If you have been neglecting maintenance tasks, have undergone an organizational change or are struggling to find content that you know is in there somewhere, it’s time for a DAM cleanup. Put some gloves on and get ready to evaluate three key areas that have the biggest impact on your system: assets, security and metadata.

Signs Your DAM Needs Tidying

Your DAM system may have unraveled slowly or in an instant. If your company has undergone change, such as a rebranding or an acquisition of another company, your DAM system needs to be refreshed to accommodate new users, aesthetics, features and assets.

Here are a few other signs indicate that your DAM needs tidying:

  • Unhappy users. If people are complaining, avoiding the site or resorting to Google to find a logo, you have a problem.
  • No single person is dedicated to administering the site.
  • Users are accessing outdated assets.
  • The site branding is no longer relevant.

Planning Your DAM Clean Up

Cleaning up your digital mess is going to take time, especially if you have other responsibilities outside of digital asset management. Be prepared for three to six months of work if the system needs a major overhaul. Notify users that changes are coming, so they are not caught off guard.

Next, make a plan of attack. To do this, you’ll need to know what went wrong with your DAM system. You can use your platform’s reporting tools to calculate the number of users who are no longer active, assets that are not being downloaded and metadata fields that are empty. Google Analytics can help you identify search terms that are generating zero results — a sign that there are gaps in your metadata structure.

Now is a great time to conduct user interviews or surveys. You can use a free web survey tool, like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, if you are unable to meet with users and interview them in person. (My company, Widen, offers a sample survey that could help you brainstorm questions to ask your users.)

Let recipients know how long the survey will take and why their input is valuable. Consider offering a completion prize (bribery is key to DAM success).

The final piece to planning is goal-setting. Based on the data from the site and your users, create three to five measurable goals that will be easy to validate at the completion of the cleanup. For example, you might aim to do the following:

  • Reduce metadata schemas and fields.
  • Expand the user base by 5 percent.
  • Increase asset downloads 15 percent.

3 Key Areas of Focus 

Assets

Start the cleanup with a long, hard look through the cobwebs of outdated assets. Then, delete or archive files that:

  • Have not been downloaded or shared in over a year.
  • Do not live up to your quality standards.
  • Contain unknown rights.
  • Include terminated personnel.
  • Are invisible to most users (unreleased, restricted or expired).
  • Are duplicates (or triplicates!).

Security

As your organization evolves, so should your security settings. Reviewing users in a spreadsheet format will give you an overview of the entire security structure, so that you can identify weaknesses. Consider questions such as these:

  • Does everyone have the correct level of access? Do some people have too much access?
  • Are historic or confidential assets restricted?
  • Can you utilize single sign-on to simplify the authentication process for users?
  • Are there users who have not logged in more than six months?
  • Are there unused user or asset groups?

Limiting access to assets not only protects sensitive material but unclutters the DAM experience for people who just need slivers of the total content. Create a test account for your site and log in with different permission settings to verify the security changes. If the security structure is complicated, it is very easy to overlook a setting.

Metadata

Unruly metadata is a clear symptom of a messy DAM and may require a hazmat suit. This part of cleanup takes the most time, so break it into chunks and ask others to help, if possible. You can insource some of the work to power users and asset owners who have a stake in creating precise metadata. Here are some the tasks you should undertake:

  • Look at empty metadata fields. Are they irrelevant or just misunderstood?
  • Review the search analytics and make sure the terms being used for searching are represented in your metadata structure.
  • Remove duplication of metadata.
  • Automate metadata. Consider importing embedded metadata, connecting to another tool to pull in metadata (e.g., an image recognition service) or using upload templates.
  • Leverage permissioned or dependent fields so users are only being exposed to the fields that are relevant to each asset.

The taxonomy feeds the search tool for your DAM, so that should be evaluated for updates as well.

  • Make sure use of grammar rules and naming conventions is consistent.
  • Watch out for duplications or overlaps with metadata. Some overlapping may be unavoidable, but you do not want users entering the same information in two different places.
  • Limit your structure to no more than three levels deep. Users do not want to drill down five levels.

As part of the metadata cleanup, evaluate your file naming convention. If file names are indexed in your search, it’s another opportunity to capture meaningful data.

Now What?

Once the heavy scrubbing is done, it’s time to put on the finishing touches. Update your messaging and graphics so the site feels refreshed to users. Send a recap of updates and offer training sessions to review the changes. Run a contest or play a game, like a scavenger hunt, to encourage users to explore the refreshed site (prizes and more bribery encouraged).

Now that you know what to watch out for, make a plan to regularly tidy up your system, so you don’t end up in another DAM mess.