Yvan Cohen

Yvan Cohen

Mon Jul 24 2023

5 Easy Steps to Unleash the Value of your Digital Media Archive

Silhouette Photo of Woman Against during Golden Hour Silhouette Photo of Woman Against during Golden Hour. Photo by Jill Wellington

The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” still holds true. And for anyone managing a digital media archive, you'll know this with absolute certainty.

Every second, billions of images are uploaded onto the internet. From news to advertising, from brand building to social media, images are the fastest, and perhaps the most powerful, way of instantly communicating a message.

Pictures don't only describe the present, they are also vital records of our past; the visual breadcrumb trail that tells us about our history and our heritage.

So far, so unsurprising. We all know the power of pictures.

And yet how many housing associations invest seriously in their digital media archives? How many set aside professional resources to protect and leverage the power of their image collections? How many times have you wasted hours, days even, desperately looking for that picture you know exists, but have no idea where to find it?

How digital asset management can help you

Enter the decidedly unsexy and little-known specialization of 'Digital Asset Management' - or DAM, as industry insiders call it. Yes, you guessed it, where there's a problem, there's a piece of software to solve it.

Despite the fancy name, a DAM system software is really just about centralising, organising and protecting your digital media assets - usually photos, videos, pdfs and even audio files. Although most DAM systems will handle just about any digital file. Think of all those pictures of your team members, the documentation of your projects, coverage of conferences and so on. Imagine a secure system that organises all those files into a centralised system that you can easily search and quickly find what you're looking for.

5 ways to unleash the value of your digital media archive

Smiling young ethnic woman working distantly on laptop and talking on smartphone. Smiling young ethnic woman working distantly on laptop and talking on smartphone. Photo by William Fortunato

1. Centralise your archive

Let's dive a little deeper. The first thing a DAM management system does is centralise your files. This puts a stop to fragmentation, whereby media resources get dispersed throughout an organisation, ending up lost on different hard drives and servers.

2. Control who can access your digital media assets

With your archives now safely stored in a single location, the next problem a DAM management system solves is access.

Visual media often contains sensitive material that can impact your association's messaging and image. For instance, when you have a press release, it's important to know which publications downloaded a picture, so you can follow up on usage. Without controlled access, you have no idea how and by whom your files are being used.

A good DAM system puts a stop to random distribution by managing access. This is usually done by establishing a matrix of permissions, determining who can see and/or download which files from your archive.

At LightRocket, the DAM company that I co-founded, we prompt users to report the usage of the files they download - enabling archive owners to build an understanding of which files are seen as valuable which can help focus future production of media assets.

Centralising your assets and controlling access are important landmarks on your journey towards protecting and harnessing the power of your housing association's archives. Depending on the size of your collection, however, you will quickly discover that centralisation and access control is only half the battle.

3. Tag and annotate your files

If you are serious about leveraging the power of your picture archives, you'll need to get serious about tagging and annotating your files too.

Without relevant tags, also known as keywords, you won't be able to find the files you need when you need them. To retrieve files, search engines rely on tags, and sometimes text in the description fields. The better and more comprehensive the tags, the more accurate your search results will be.

But beware, a digital asset management system is not a fire and forget solution you can install and then hope it will automatically solve all your archive woes. You'll still need to invest time and resources into tagging your files. The good news is that a well-designed DAM platform comes with efficiency-boosting tools so you can tag and annotate multiple files in one go.

Some systems offer the promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tagging. But don't get your hopes up too high. AI is not a Band-Aid for the challenge of tagging. Relevant tags must reflect the meaning of an image, not just everything that's depicted in it. This means if you want to properly tag your files, you'll still need a good old-fashioned human to do the job.

4. Secure your digital media archives

Lastly, there's the all-important question of security - not just in terms of managing access but in terms of protecting and preserving the valuable resource your media archives represent.

A media asset management system will provide an opportunity to properly conserve not just current data but also historical records that document the heritage of your organisation. To be sure your valuable archives are properly protected, check that your DAM system provider has a fully-fledged disaster recovery strategy and that your files are properly backed-up.

Contained within the broad framework of centralisation, organisation and security provided by almost all DAM systems, you will find a myriad of features designed to increase efficiency and enhance value. One key feature to look for is consent form management.

5. Be in control of consent permissions

In age where privacy concerns are paramount, it is increasingly important to gain permission for images that depict individuals, especially if they are going to be used to promote your association. Manually managing consent forms for multiple sets of images is a logistical nightmare.

Fully-fledged DAM systems, like the LightRocket platform, include functionality that allows you to link consent forms to their relevant pictures, ensuring you're never left hunting for elusive consent forms in a sea of documentation. Our digital asset management system also indicates which files are linked to consent forms, so you can see at a glance which files come with consent and which don't. This means you'll have one less thing to worry about when managing your digital media archives.

If you have any questions about how to start organising your archives and/or evaluate the value of a DAM management system, please feel free to contact Yvan at info@lightrocket.com.

Written by Yvan Cohen | Yvan has been a photojournalist for over 30 years. He's a co-founder of LightRocket and continues to shoot photo and video projects around South East Asia.

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