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Clive Andrews

Flickr’s new rules for brands

The online sharing of photos is one of the web’s best bits. We all appreciate the way a photo or image, shared with the right people at the right time, can be more effective than mere words. And a small but significant change at Flickr has just made life a little better for brands using its service to share pictures with the world.

NixonMcInnes office art wall

Why Flickr?

In the world of social media, Flickr rules the roost when it comes to photos. Though Facebook hosts more images (over 60 billion compared to Flickr’s mere 5 billion), Flickr has few rivals in terms of the way it allows photos to be grouped, arranged, discussed and used as starting points for conversations, debates, campaigns, projects and games.

Much more than simply a place to show photos, Flickr is home to thousands of interrelated communities, trading images and ideas on subjects as diverse as disability sport, Indian architecture, sandwiches and folding bikes. Several alternatives to Flickr do exist, some of which are highly sophisticated, but none have emulated Flickr’s ability to accommodate communities gathered around photos.

People and brands

The huge appeal and utility of Flickr isn’t just reserved to individuals. People working in brands, groups, events and organisations have long recognised that photos can be a brilliant way to communicate with customers, supporters, colleagues and potential new clients.

Until recently, this has been a tricky issue. Flickr’s ‘Community Guidelines’ and ‘Terms of Service’, (neither the clearest of documents), have previously stated that Flickr accounts were for the use of individuals only, for the sharing of their own photos. Brands were technically not allowed to play, with the only exceptions being specific commercial deals with Flickr.

Copper + Fluorescent Green

So what’s changed?

In reality, many brands, groups and events have been using Flickr for ages, albeit by bending the rules. Flickr seems to have realised this and, a couple of weeks ago, adapted its rules to recognise these opportunities. Under new revised guidelines, it is now seen as acceptable for a brand or organisation to set up its own Flickr account, and to use this account for sharing its photos.

For people already looking after a corporate Flickr account, this represents no real change. The slight rule-bending that’s been the norm is now openly acceptable in the eyes of Flickr’s moderators.

If you’ve hitherto been wary of establishing a corporate Flickr presence, now could be the right time. If you feel there’s a possibility that Flickr may feature in your brand’s future social media presence, stake your claim now, even if you’re not certain of your future photo-related plans. Open an account, complete your profile, add a profile picture and carefully choose the ‘vanity URL’ that allows you to use as an easy way to find your photos.

There are still some rules to remember

Despite the rule changes, Flickr is still insistent that the site should not be considered a place to sell. People come to Flickr to share, not to buy. Flickr is not the place for slick product shots and overt links to sales websites. Flickr asks you not to link to a commercial site in your photos’ captions (though it may be fine to discreetly place such a link in your profile page)

So if Flickr isn’t for sales, what is it for?

Most of us accept that worthwhile relationships with our customers and supporters are about much more than grabbing a quick sale. Photos, and the discussions they prompt, can be a fantastic way to share ideas, share stories, give advice, receive feedback and have fun. This can all be a big part of the way you present your brand, without having to go near the idea of directly selling through a Flickr page.

Think about the things your brand would share if it were a person.

  • Photos of recent events?
  • Photos of team members or favourite customers?
  • The ways people are using your product?
  • Things that have gone wrong?
  • New things you’re trying?

The kind of photos we’d be unlikely to see in your brochure may be just right for your brand’s Flickr account.

Our own NixonMcInnes Flickr account is an example. We don’t use it for shiny salesy representations of our work – it’s more about sharing some insight into who we are, what we’re working on and how we do things.

Flickr have summarised their suggestions on a Best Practices for Organizations using Flickr page.

Big possibilities

To really hit the Flickr jackpot, find ways of engaging with your customers as equals. Let them show off their use of your product or service. Have some fun. Digital printing company Moo does this well and smoothie company innocent has set up a raft of Flickr groups that invite participation from their customers. Admittedly this is much easier if you’re in the business of creating something tangible, visual or creative – but virtually all brands have something to share that may be expressed through photography.

innocent Smoothie Hats 2010

Your input may only need to be minimal, though some ways of using Flickr may take more time. Set up a group. Or make a gallery of your favourite ‘fan’ photos. Comment on others’ photos, and respond when they comment on yours.

Another bold way to embrace the possibilities of online photo sharing is to consider assigning your photos one of the various Creative Commons licences offered through Flickr. You can decide, on a controlled, photo-by-photo basis, to release your images to be used in other ways by other people. By setting your photos free, you may be able to inspire a new wave of creativity in your customers, or give bloggers and journalists quality material to help illustrate their articles about you.

Flickr has always been a good place for brands to be. It’s just become a little better.

Photos used under Creative Commons license, with thanks to Incase and stitchlily.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Clive Andrews, michelle goodall, Tom Nixon, tommalcolm, Anna Carlson and others. Anna Carlson said: RT @CliveAndrews My first blog post for NM: RT @nixonmcinnes: Flickr’s new rules for brands < very good overview [...]

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