In today's digital world, marketers manage thousands of images and videos. These digital assets consist of a variety of file types, from JPG and TIF to PNG, GIF, RAW, MPEG, MP4, and many others. Marketers use these digital files for e-books, whitepapers, infographics, social media, webpages, and other branded materials. Finding the right version of the right file—right when you need it—is key for staying productive, and that's why digital media libraries have become essential.

When files are shared with colleagues and partners, it becomes even more important to put a systematic approach to file management in place. Without an organized digital filing system, organizations run the risk of lost productivity or the possibility of lawsuits resulting from poor digital rights management (DRM).

A digital media library, or digital asset management (DAM) system, can empower creative teams to establish effective user access permissions throughout the creative process, and ensure that all files fully support their associated restrictions.

Although file-sharing and storage systems such as Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox have their place, they aren't designed for advanced cataloging or detailed insight into licensing information, expiration dates, and the applying of terms and conditions. They also lack features for visualizing brand assets in a way that upholds branding guidelines and supports better marketing workflows.

What's the best way to manage your marketing materials? Here are five best-practices to consider.

1. Set up a taxonomy for easy searching

The primary benefit of using DAM is the ability to structure and categorize your digital image collection. In general, a good starting point is to look at your website structure to obtain inspiration for the hierarchy, keywords, and tags relevant to your organization's content.

Taxonomies should always be structured with the user's needs in mind, and will therefore be different for every organization. For example, an institution of higher education might structure its taxonomy based on various colleges or departments.

Also, it's important to give your taxonomy room to breathe and evolve as you evaluate successful and failed digital asset searches over time. Have a dialog with users and refine your taxonomy as needed. Focus on the needs of the users, and they'll come back for more and more assets all the time—without having to interrupt your design team's workflow.

Bottom line: A well-built taxonomy pays for itself over time by making it easier for others to help themselves—by finding the right photos, logos, videos, and other brand assets efficiently.

2. Categorize for brand positioning

There are many ways to manage a media library with brand positioning in mind, but a system that's built specifically for telling brand stories and setting branding guidelines offers an ideal approach. Managing digital assets by projects, campaigns, products, portfolios, deadlines, author, etc. offers a more intuitive way to structure your library.

If you're transitioning to a DAM, recent project folder structures can serve as inspiration; but work with your vendor for best-practices, as DAM affords more flexibility, such as assigning content to many categories without the need or risk of creating duplicates.

Bottom line: Organizing your library effectively will make your files easier to find, identify, and use—saving your organization time (and time is money).

3. Make workflow and sharing easy

File management can be complicated, especially when thousands of brand assets are involved. Marketers and creative directors will appreciate workflow tools that track admin approvals, restrict permissions, and provide version control of the same file.

Since social media is now a critical component of most marketing programs, having DAM makes it easier to share your content to social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. More advanced DAM systems will take it a step further by including options to share to web CMS systems (WordPress), file storage services (Box, Dropbox), email platforms, and design programs.

Bottom line: If your line of work requires frequent file sharing with partners and other collaborators, consider using a branded portal for more efficient workflow processes. Portals enable select content within DAM systems to be made available to external parties who need to download files for use in third-party campaigns or design projects.

4. Protect your brand

In an age where lawsuits for improper use of digital files are common, protecting your brand through effective DRM is essential. Make sure your digital media library has an airtight approach to keeping DRM in place.

A good DAM system will give you an easy and comprehensive way to track copyright information, terms and conditions, watermarks, and more for your branded assets. Having a system to help keep track of and reinforce copyright licensing agreements is a great start, and in some court cases has reduced fines by the fact of having a defined DRM process in place.

Bottom line: Employee education is key to avoiding fines and other penalties resulting from copyright infringement. Top companies will incorporate training—especially regarding the use of copyrighted imagery—into new employee onboarding and companywide meetings. The risk to the organization is too big to rely on luck as a strategy.

5. Migrate your files

When switching to a DAM system, you'll need to transfer your media from the previous systems you've used. In many cases, the files will exist in folders spanning your desktops and hard drives. The transfer process can take a long time, particularly with low-end digital library systems. More advanced DAM systems will provide bulk upload options or services from the provider for an easier transition.

Bottom line: If you are moving files from cloud storage, your new DAM system should provide an option to integrate with existing cloud storage services. That capability is especially helpful if you and your colleagues or external collaborators would like to work with both types of systems.

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When planning how to develop your media library, you'll need to consider your budget and how many people you want to support—whether it's an internal team or an entire company or department. The benefit of DAM is that it's specifically designed to handle the collaboration

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image of Leslie Weller

Leslie Weller is director of marketing for digital asset management firm Canto, which helps marketers, brand managers, product managers, and content managers make better use of massive amounts of digital content.

LinkedIn: Leslie Weller

Twitter: @Leslie_Weller