The 5 best practices of digital asset management

In the world of digital asset management (DAM), there’s a general set of best practices recommended for both set-up and ongoing maintenance of a DAM system. They are guidelines to make sure you both start on the right foot and stay on the correct path. These lessons from those who’ve done this before can help you avoid some of their struggles.

1. Audit your assets. Repeat.

Auditing your assets before implementing a DAM is an important step in ensuring you select the tool that is best for you. A thorough audit gives a complete picture of all file types you have and how they are used. This includes who creates them and why, who has access to them, and how and where they’re being used. The audit also assists in eliminating duplicates and outdated versions before they clutter up the DAM. While some legacy assets may still be relevant, you don’t want assets that are no longer generating value.

Audits shouldn’t only be conducted when implementing a DAM. Regular audits are a fundamental step in maintaining it. The DAM will grow over time, and extraneous assets and even a few mistakes are guaranteed to creep in. Overloading it with too many assets creates challenges in finding what you need. You want to ensure you’re only storing and managing relevant and necessary assets and consistently evaluating whether or not you’re meeting the objectives you defined for your DAM. 

The easiest way to keep things under control is to schedule regular audits and stick to them. Quarterly audits are ideal for keeping on top of things, but if you’re pressed for resources you should commit to at least one a year. 

Here are some things to look for during audits:

  • Are metadata standards and naming conventions being followed?
  • Are assets being placed in the proper locations? If not, do you need to revisit your taxonomy and make updates to reflect business changes?
  • Are the sizes and formats of assets being added to your DAM changing over time? Does your DAM system need to evolve to keep up with the changes?
  • Do you have unused or outdated assets, older versions of current assets, or duplicates that should be purged or archived?

Evaluating your assets by how much value they provide will be an ongoing activity for the life of your DAM.

2. Standardize naming conventions

Standardized naming conventions aren’t just a nice-to-have. If individual teams or users get to decide how they name their assets you will end up with chaos. At best you may have a system littered with files labeled v1, v2, v10, etc. At worst you have file names that do not indicate their content. A clear, concise, standardized naming system makes assets easy to find and manage. The audits will go more smoothly if you have well-defined naming conventions communicated to your users and require their use. 

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When defining your naming conventions, focus on ensuring that file names are easy to understand and indicate the nature of the asset. However, don’t fall into the trap of trying to fit all the most important metadata into the file name. It’s not necessary for searchability and can be more confusing for your users to have lengthy file names.

Also, be mindful of how the user interface of your DAM may truncate file names on varying screen sizes. You may also find that other systems you integrate with your DAM truncate differently, or even have character limits imposed on file names. Be as concise as possible while still giving users visibility to the content contained within the asset.

3. Define user roles

Every DAM system has options for managing permissions. You can customize who sees what assets and what actions they can take with them, including downloading, sharing and editing. Clearly defined user roles streamline the use of the DAM for your users, giving them access only to what they need and are allowed to use. They also help you avoid security issues with restricted and copyrighted assets. A good guideline: Give users the minimum level of access they need to fulfill the requirements of their job.

Utilize role-based permissioning to maintain control and order. Setting permissions at the individual user level can get out of control quickly and be an organizational nightmare.

Basic role sets typically include:

  • Administrators who have full control over the assets and DAM functionality.
  • DAM managers/librarians who have full control over the DAM taxonomy, assets, and metadata.
  • Creators who are designing and editing assets and uploading them to the DAM. They may also be using the DAM as a collaboration tool with other creators.
  • Consumers who are searching for and downloading assets from the DAM.
  • Viewers who have a need to see assets in the DAM but are not authorized to download them for use. This may include external users who need to gain approval on a per-asset basis from someone within your organization before they can use an asset.

You may also be able to restrict user access by factors such as geographic regions, departments and product lines. Beware of over-creating roles, however, and ending up with many that are nearly identical. Audit roles occasionally and see if any can be consolidated. You may need to periodically update your user roles to reflect recent business and organizational changes. Roles with only one or two users in each of them are good candidates to be merged into other similar existing roles. 

4. Train both new and experienced users

Training is always prioritized when a new DAM is launched, and rightfully so. Users at all levels must be properly trained in the functionality of the DAM and the workflows and processes that surround it. This is true whether the DAM is your company’s first or an updated iteration. The implementation of a DAM system can be a significant change to people’s day-to-day way of working so they need to be well prepared to adapt to the changes.

Training should be tailored to each type of user role to make sure they only have to learn what’s useful for their needs and access level. It’s essential to avoid overwhelming people with details they don’t need to know. Because people learn differently, it’s beneficial to have in-person trainer-led sessions where users can ask questions, as well as written documentation and perhaps videos they can refer to on their own. 

Depending on resource availability, as well as possible time zone challenges, you may want to employ a “train the trainer” model. Identify super users in different areas to receive comprehensive training and who then provide training to other users in their designated area. Be conscious of the language you use in training and documentation. Being overly technical can confuse and frustrate less tech-savvy users. 

Dig deeper: How Citizens Bank transformed content to meet changing customer needs

User training isn’t complete once your DAM is up and running. Yes, of course, you need to have an ongoing plan for onboarding users new to the company or who have changed roles and using the DAM for the first time in that role. But remember that when you deploy enhancements and updates, additional training may be required for all users. 

Written documentation should be considered living documents, updated as needed to keep them current. Provide refresher training regularly, or at least when training-related issues are identified. At a minimum, users should always know who to contact with questions and how to reach them. Users should be held accountable for using the DAM properly and completing the tasks required of them, such as uploading assets to the proper location and providing accurate and complete metadata. However,  they can’t be successful without the proper knowledge and training.

5. Analytics and people

Regularly using the analytics available to monitor your DAM will ensure you’re getting the maximum value from it. You want to get insight into things such as:

  • How many users are accessing your DAM and how often? Can you identify your super users?
  • How many assets are being downloaded, and which assets are being downloaded most frequently?
  • What are your most popular search terms and most frequently used search filters?
  • What search terms are being used and providing zero results? Can the lack of results be remedied with updated metadata or do new assets need to be created to fill a business need?

Don’t only rely just on analytics. Talk to your users regularly. Make sure you are hearing from all types, especially those who don’t use it as often. Someone who abandoned the DAM because it was too difficult to use or they couldn’t find what they needed can provide information for improving the system itself and training and documentation.

In addition to talking to people one-on-one, have a platform where users can give feedback on an ongoing basis. Find out:

  • What’s working for them and what isn’t?
  • What could the DAM do to make their day-to-day tasks easier? 
  • Where might enhancements, integrations and automation save time and create value? 

Don’t just gather feedback, take action on it whenever possible. Then follow up with the people who provided the feedback so they know they’re being heard.

Always evolving

The DAM is a living system, constantly evolving, and it needs continuous care. There’s a theme in these best practices of regular audits and communication. Inevitably, you’ll occasionally stray from these best practices, but being diligent about scheduling audits and having frequent communication with users will get you back on track.

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