Your New Worst Employee

There’s a new problem employee in our midst — the content hoarder. We’re witnessing the emergence of a nasty subculture that’s breeding in the workforce and starting to cause management all sorts of headaches. It sounds almost silly, but the content hoarder will cost you money, hamper your ability to engage with customers in real time, and expose you to significant legal risk. You see, I know about content hoarders first hand — I’m one of them.

In nearly 20 years as a marketer, I’ve been defeated on multiple occasions by the temptation to let everyday busyness trump good digital hygiene and discipline when it comes to storing, managing and sharing content. I’m an email packrat. I’ve kept critical files sitting on my desktop only to suffer losses when computers die off. I’ve received and passed disks and thumb drives filled with creative assets to designers with little regard for tracking downloads and future usage rights. And I’ve left useful files sitting orphaned in folders on shared drives, probably never to be found or employed in campaigns ever again.

I’ve since reformed my own hoarder ways, but it’s getting hard to watch as this problem continues to worsen broadly. The pull of content hoarding is really quite strong. I blame normal human behavior (we’re all a bit more disorganized than we want to be, right?) plus overconfidence in the services we use every day to make our lives easier (Slack and Dropbox will never let us down, right?) So, let’s take a look at some of the conditions in which content hoarding is likely to emerge, the classic signs you’ve got one in your organization, and what to do about it.

This is a fact — companies of all shapes and sizes are producing more content than ever before in order to connect with audiences across the visual web. This means more photos and videos, graphics, and designs will be commissioned, licensed, and crowdsourced for your company’s content marketing campaigns. In fact, in a recent survey by the CMO Council, commissioned by the Libris team at PhotoShelter, top marketing executives said video (79%), infographics (60%) and photography (50%) will play a more critical role in marketing efforts in the coming year.

A recent study by the CMO Council and PhotoShelter Libris captured top marketing executives’ intention to employ more even more visual content in the future.

Another study just released by GumGum and Brand Innovators echoes this trend, with 35% of respondents stating they spend over $500K on producing visual content each year; 27% stated somewhere between $100K to $250K, and 16% spend between $50K to $100K. However, fewer than 27% of the CMO Council study respondents have a centralized strategy and platform to store and manage accessibility to their content, and few have made this effort a priority.

So here’s the problem. Extreme amounts of content are being produced and paid for, yet few companies have a smart way to keep it organized and accessible to the teams and employees who need it. This is the perfect environment where the content hoarder thrives.

There are classic characteristics to be aware of that may help you spot a content hoarder in your organization. Here are a few:

  • They like to keep original files. Perhaps it’s a power or importance thing — but no single individual needs to be a gatekeeper to great content. Let that person find other ways to become indispensable to your organization.
  • Poor file and folder naming is also a dead giveaway. A lack of taxonomy makes content nearly undiscoverable, especially when stashed on a drive that offers poor or limited search features.
  • They’re always too busy to append useful metadata, like keywords and tags. They’re victims of a longstanding “we’ll get to it one day” attitude. That day never really comes and the catchup work to be done always becomes overwhelming. (This is the largest source of embarrassment we see when starting to work with new organizations.)
  • They lose track of contracts and usage rights. This may be the biggest problem sign of all. Typically, the content finds a way into other team members’ hands, but the contracts don’t.

The content hoarder poses a significant financial and legal risk to your organization.

Their behavior creates painful inefficiencies that grow upon themselves — hours lost searching for original or previously licensed content, unnecessary reproduction of content when valuable stuff disappears due to drive crashes and employee turnover. Legal exposure occurs when the content is mistakenly used outside of original licensing agreements with agencies, creators, and models. Given the lack of priority placed on digital asset management, centralized content development and accessibility strategies, it’s not a surprise that these problems occur all the time.

At PhotoShelter, we created Libris to help organizations battle the content hoarder by providing a cloud-based library tool for managing the storage and accessibility of visual content, but in the absence of a tool like Libris, there are several proactive steps that can taken immediately.

  1. Reduce the risk of any single weak link by centralizing existing assets. Your designers, marketers, PR reps, and executives are all probably just a bit guilty of some level or hoarding activity. Create a program that first gathers the content that’s been scattered through your organization and then properly name it. While shared network folders don’t provide a long term solution (because you have no way to track content access, downloads and usage, among other shortcomings), if the first level goal is to simply understand what content is held across the company, this is a good start.
  2. Embrace the hoarder’s positive tendencies around control of content — give them the responsibility of leading the project to implement organization wide systems, processes and policies. There’s a big difference between consolidating precious files in a desktop folder and the administration of a digital asset management system. A project this big will require a project owner — if your hoarder has the leadership skills this may be a solid fit.
  3. Tie content production budgets to a disciplined follow on strategy for the storage, safekeeping, discovery and accessibility of new content. Essentially, if you want money to make more content, you have to demonstrate good content storage hygiene too. (This tactic seems to work with my children — you don’t get new toys until demonstrating you can take good care of the existing ones. These simple childhood rules are often highly transferrable to large organizations.)
  4. Make top down commitments to prioritize the future accessibility of content. Speed is becoming a key element in a brand’s ability to find success in the visual web. This is why more brands are moving to the “war room” concept during big events — so they can react in real time when social media opportunities emerge. Any need to hunt for visual content will add time and likely result in missed opportunities. This means (finally) dedicating some budget to organizing older content, even if scanning and digitizing is required, and appending metadata to files so your team can find it and action it for future campaigns. The longer you wait, the bigger the pile will grow.
  5. Create policy that recognizes the rights of creators and educate teams broadly. Compliance with usage rights needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. When commissioning photo and video work, or licensing content from an agency, there should be zero grey area around a brand’s rights to use the content, in agreed upon formats — it should be spelled out in a contract. Marketers should recognize when content must be relicensed for future situations, too. So, it helps to aggregate contracts alongside the content in a single system. Going further, policy is also required when it comes to user generated content — individual marketers bear the responsibility to ensure the content gathered from the crowd is not going to expose your company to risk when used in campaigns.

It’s a very exciting time for content marketers and the creators of outstanding visual content, as we all find our way in this new era of highly visual communication. Let’s stop enabling the content hoarder and we’ll prevent them from standing in the way of content marketing success.

Learn something from this post? Share the knowledge and hit the Recommend button!

Are you a professional photographer? Check out PhotoShelter — we make killer websites and offer over 100+ tools to help you showcase, store, share, and sell your images.