Six Metadata Tagging Tips

June 19, 2023

Six Metadata Tagging Tips

Adding metadata for files stored and shared on SharePoint and Microsoft Teams makes things easier to find, manage, and keep organized. But actually making metadata happen successfully at scale is complex.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or reevaluating your organization’s approach to metadata, here are some best practices to keep in mind to make things as seamless and stress-free as possible.

1. Be consistent

Metadata only works when everyone’s on the same page in terms of naming conventions and general usage rules. If it’s a free-for-all then metadata just adds noise versus value.

For example, if there’s a “location” property it should be used similarly, files related to a matter in London could be tagged as “London” or “England” or “UK” or “EMEA” and they’d all be correct, but in no way that’s helpful. Instead, there should be alignment regarding which level of detail to use in this case, or if files should be tagged as “London” AND “EMEA” due to how the business rolls things up.

The same goes for product names, internal departments, and any other field where there might be multiple “correct” options. By defining the taxonomy upfront, you can eliminate the need to retroactively “fix” inconsistently applied metadata tags.

And remember that metadata is for humans AND machines. Use real words that make sense to everyone and skip obscure acronyms and code names, which have a higher propensity for errors and typos.

2. Keep things unique but not too specific

Don’t let the same terminology/tag get used in different contexts. If your media library includes executive biographies but you also sell biology textbooks, for instance, don’t use “bio” in either context but give them unique tags (such as “biography” and “biology”).

Additionally, if a metadata tag is too granular, it loses its value in many ways. If you don’t foresee a particular tag being used more than a couple of times, it may not be worthy of usage at all.

3. Get cross-department alignment

Different business functions view the world differently, and that goes all the way down to how they think about, file, and search for files. Avoid creating a metadata framework that only works for your team by replacing assumptions with facts.

Discuss metadata needs with other teams by drilling down into what their actual business needs are to be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible. This may require a bit of recalibration of current conventions to create a holistic metadata approach that isn’t so massive it becomes untenable.

4. Look to the past before charting a course for the future

While inferior to the amazing metadata-based solution you’re creating, the current ways different teams organize their files shouldn’t get tossed out completely. How different teams organize files today provides directional insight into what aspects of files they think matter most (or at least what they thought when they originally constructed their current file storage architecture).

If they organize files by sales territory, be sure sales territory is a metadata field you’re capturing and carrying forward. If they’re filing based on fiscal year or product line or customer name or what have you, that information shouldn’t be lost when switching to a more metadata-based approach.

Most importantly, you must tag what end users care about and need. Identify the filters that will help them do their jobs and which information currently “trapped” within a file should be exposed as metadata for easier discovery and organization.

5. Picklists are better than free text

Set up metadata fields in SharePoint or Microsoft Teams as picklists rather than free text entry fields whenever possible. While free text is obviously more flexible, it also leads to an explosion of overlapping and inconsistent metadata tags while also opening the door for typos and misspellings.

Letting everyone pick from a list of pre-determined options dramatically boosts metadata quality and utility. While narrowing down the choices may feel limiting, those presets remove all kinds of unfortunate outcomes from well-meaning colleagues creating new and unnecessary tags instead of utilizing existing ones.

6. Make it mandatory

While every field shouldn’t be required, the only way to boost compliance and make metadata a powerful tool rather than a time-consuming burden is broad-scale compliance. Carefully consider which metadata fields are essential for future discovery, retention, and destruction purposes. When this information should be obvious for end-users (i.e. they’ll know what to select for each field), make it mandatory. This way every file will have a baseline of metadata information available to others.

Adding the’s 365 Suite to your employee toolbox makes this a seamless experience. Any metadata field can be set as required. When that’s the case, will prompt users to apply the corresponding metadata value when saving files, which forces compliance without taking them out of their regular workflows. This integrated approach makes it simple for end users to populate essential metadata for every added file, increasing the overall utility and preponderance of metadata for everyone.

Learn more about how metadata is revolutionizing file management in Microsoft Teams or get started today with a free trial of the 365 Suite.

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