Why metadata matters to marketers and advertisers
Meta-who? The schoolmarm answer always starts that “metadata is ‘data about data'” and then slides downhill into a discussion of propeller-headed computer stuff.
It’s about labels. Labeling digital assets, particularly pictures. Digital image files have places to put labels – labels about what’s shown in the image, who owns the image, who made the image, what you can do with the image, that sort of thing. In the old days, people put this kind of stuff on the backs of prints with a rubber stamp and pencil.
Take a quick look and you will know if the image you’re about to use is OK, copyright-wise. No? Well, there’s the phone number of the person to call about that. Who, exactly, is the guy in the suit in the front row? It’s right there. You have two million images in your collection and you need to find one with the guy in the suit? Enter his name in your digital asset management system and pictures of him magically appear.
All great, right?
Well, ah, you see, the thing is….. very few photographers and content providers, outside of the news and stock photo industries, bother to put caption and ownership information on their pictures. And websites routinely strip label information off, (never mind that this is usually illegal) making even less incentive for providers to label stuff in the first place, which means for you – no phone number to call, no way to search for Suit Guy. Drat!
In a broad stroke, that’s why you should care about metadata. It could be making your life easier and safer by letting you know what assets really are and helping you find them. It could be adding value and reducing expense and good things like that, but, in all likelihood, it isn’t. All that good stuff is left on the table.
Sending assets out into the world
If you’re doing public relations, you’re most likely distributing press releases that include photos to media outlets. When those releases reach their destination, the releases and the pictures can become separated, like
Bigger media concerns have their own archive and automated publishing systems. An asset with good metadata drops right into those systems without extra effort. That makes your asset more likely to
get dropped into a system instead of just dropped. Which means placements in the future.
What about virality? Somebody aggregates content from whoever you shared it with. Somebody, ah, acquires it from them. Content that retains its original accompanying information has a chance of having a longer life in the wild. Not to mention that the original information was on-message. It’s not like the chances are 100% that some person on the internet is going to prefer your brand message over whatever they feel like saying at the moment, but if they don’t have your message available, the chance is zero.
Content that comes to you
Let’s say your client just gave you a bunch of photos to use in a campaign. Does the client truly understand the terms of the license they got when they obtained those pictures? Maybe. Sometimes it’s a good idea to discreetly call the copyright owner and make sure everybody’s on the same page. I can’t tell you how many times in those newspaper days I got content from marketers who didn’t have rights to give me that content. The copyright owner’s phone number in the metadata makes that practical.
And in your own shop, managing the rights to assets is a whole lot easier if you can “write” the license information right on the asset.
Accuracy and clerical effort are big items. Why keystroke information over and over. Write information right on an asset, save typing it over and over, and the added risk of a typo each time. (Especially if you can specify that the provider is the one who enters the information.)
Print publishing software like Adobe InDesign can import captions straight from pictures to the page. Even if the keystrokes don’t matter and your copywriter is producing sparkling new captions, take comfort that your designer can see, right there on the page, that the picture of Susie is labeled as Susie and Jane is labeled as Jane, instead of vice versa.
Internet publishing platforms often can map embedded metadata straight to captions, saving a ton of work and preventing tweet storm-inducing mistakes. WordPress, the most popular CMS platform, does this out of the box. The big, fancy custom built systems at those news outlets all do it. And if you’re building your own CMS, it’s a capability you can add.
If you’re doing content marketing or brand journalism, accuracy and attribution are huge. The last thing you want is to have to practice your crises management skills because of a factual or copyright mistake.
Metadata makes good karma
Then there’s the matter of sending copyrighted works – your own or other people’s – out into the world without copyright notices. That’s just rude. It’s also illegal. The copyright law says:
(1) intentionally remove or alter any copyright management information, […and go on to do much of anything with the asset]
(Read the law here if you are so inclined. It lists what Copyright Management Information is: It’s not just the copyright notice, but basically all of the information contained in IPTC metadata, which is the kind of metadata we’re talking about here.)
Granted, this isn’t the thing you’re most likely to be sued for this afternoon. But for me, taking just one thing that I might get sued for this afternoon off the table sounds like a good deal – even better, if I’m improving my overall karma standing.
So, I’d opine that it’s a pretty good idea to make sure that any website you manage does not strip away metadata from digital image files.
Here’s the call to action part
What to do?
When you buy photography, insist that the photographer properly captions and add rights information to their pictures. If the amount of work involved is reasonable, there probably won’t even be an extra charge. Either way, it’s that much less clerical work for you.
If you distribute pictures to media or to clients to publish in content marketing efforts, make sure they have proper metadata – identify the contents of the picture and provide copyright and contact information. Make sure your metadata conforms to industry standards (which usually means AP Style).
When you take in assets from third parties, always “read the label”.
You benefit now
Within the cozy confines of your own business, metadata can help your bottom line. You do some simple stuff, you benefit. It’s nice when something is under our control.
The world benefits over time
In the larger world, we have trillions (Yeah.Trillions. With a “T”.) of images virally floating around the internet without the information that would make them useful. We can’t fix the whole world overnight, or ever, maybe. If we implement best practices in our own shops, over time, the goodness will ripple out through our industry and because we’re influencers by trade the good karma will spread. We can make a chunk of the world better.
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