Digital Librarians: A Cure to the Content Hangover

Marketing organizations go on creative binges then lose track of the photos, graphics, and videos they’ve made. Jake Athey , VP of Marketing at Widen says the solution to this “Content Hangover” is a digital librarian

Four years ago, our marketing content fell into disarray. Widen, a digital asset management (DAM) company, couldn’t find its own assets. We suffered from I call the “Content Hangover.”

After a creative binge, your team wakes up not remembering where and how it saved the brilliant photos, graphics, and videos. Like the characters in the movie The Hangover, you must trace your way back through a digital Las Vegas. Instead of encountering Mike Tyson and his pet tiger, you find an LED light show of images spread across cloud storage, desktop folders, and content libraries.

For my team, the Content Hangover was a humbling experience. We learned that martech tools are only as effective as the skills, strategies, and habits of the people who manage them. We needed professional help, and we got it from a digital librarian.

I argue that marketing organizations, with their ever-expanding stores of content, should make the digital librarian a standard role. However, pop culture leaves us with an outdated image of librarians that doesn’t do justice to their work. Thus, I want to examine why the role matters in marketing and how librarians make content more valuable.

Making More, Finding Less

The ‘explosion’ of content isn’t just a cliché. My company has tracked this expansion over the last few years. It’s the scale of content creation that makes a librarian necessary.

Marketers routinely say they plan to make more content the next year, and my team wanted to measure if they do. In 2014, we ran the numbers: our average DAM customer stored 25,000 assets in their system. In 2016, the average reached over 39,000. The ephemerality of web publishing and newsfeeds has pushed marketers to create more and more stuff.

However, few (if any) marketing organizations use 39,000 different images per year. In many cases, marketers don’t know what they have (and don’t archive it routinely) because they can’t find anything without reviewing the content one by one. Delaying that inevitable task is more gratifying than doing it — at least in the short term. So, companies use the small percentage of content they can find.

Consequently, perfectly good content goes to waste, and marketing campaigns can’t reach their potential. It’s frustrating and avoidable.

Information Science

Content technology can trick us into thinking we’re more organized than we are. You could call it the Google effect — why worry about where any information lives if you can just search it? The problem is that search depends on sophisticated information architectures. The masters of information architecture are librarians.

In a conventional library, each book is tagged with a set of information called “metadata” (data about data). For each book, perhaps the librarian tags a title, author, language, call number, and so forth. The art is choosing keywords and subjects that would enable a researcher to find relevant books without already knowing the title or author’s name. If researchers easily find titles they didn’t know they wanted, the library has an elegant architecture.

In marketing organizations, the art of keywording is even harder given the lack of text in images. Without descriptive, accurate metadata, searches in any content library can’t turn up relevant content, and your investment in it will have been wasted. Someone must design an information management workflow that defines how people should tag assets with metadata. That someone should be a librarian.

The Librarian’s Way

Librarians are trained to create information management workflows. The best librarians apply their skills in context.

What does that mean?

First, different businesses may need different metadata. For example, a furniture company with tens of thousands of product photos has a different mission from an accounting software company. The marketers in the furniture company will frequently search for product types or categories like “sofa,” “armoire,” and “bedroom.” Conversely, in the tech company, marketers might search emotions and interactions such as “collaboration,” “board meeting,” and “presentation.”

Second, different business users need different access to information. Salespeople should not have access to early drafts of graphics and templates. What good could come out of that? Salespeople only need final, approved images. Likewise, marketers at an aerospace firm shouldn’t have access to diagrams of forthcoming technologies. How would seeing those in search results aid their job?

Third, librarians consider the non-obvious data someone would need to use content correctly. Consider a marketing photo with a paid model. The photo release might give the company a five-year window in which to use the asset. Were someone to use the photo in a campaign after five years, the model could sue the company (potentially for a ton of money). A metadata scheme with a place to enter “model release expiration date” would solve the problem. Likewise, metadata on use (web only), departments (human capital consulting only), and other limitations can prevent misuse of content. Great librarians imagine those contingencies and set boundaries.

A New Marketing Role

Digital librarians have training in information sciences that few marketers have. They offer a new perspective on how content scales and then circulates to the people who need it. Perhaps most importantly, librarians can define a workflow for content organizations and train teams to follow it. In other words, the work of a librarian sustains itself through time.

As schoolchildren, we didn’t realize that the librarians were training us to find information and discover the meaningful connections between sources. They taught us how to explore unknown intellectual territory, and in marketing departments today, they can teach us to rediscover the content we forgot we had.

There’s a cure to the Content Hangover. In my opinion, it’s a librarian.

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