(Ed. note: This was originally published on June 15, 2006, as an “article” — something separate from the blog. It’s now being republished as a blog post on July 5, 2012, but with the original date intact, because I’m removing the Articles section of this blog. The facts and statistics mentioned below are from 2006 and have not been updated. I have, however, deleted one tip below that I no longer believe is appropriate.)
As a small business owner, you’ll have to work harder and smarter on the web to compete against the likes of Big Company Widgets and Deep Pockets Doodads. You’ll also have to be more creative and take advantage of a lot of marketing opportunities the big guys have overlooked. And you’ll have to make marketing opportunities where none exist.
Let’s look at one marketing opportunity that very few businesses are using: Flickr.
What Is Flickr?
Flickr is a web site owned by Yahoo! that offers photo sharing and a host of related services for users of any level — beginners to professionals. It’s tremendously easy to use, and when used with friends / associates it can be great fun. (And if this sounds like a bit of a commercial, here’s my disclaimer: I love Flickr.)
More than just being a web site, you should think of Flickr as a community — one with a very strong and active user base. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, Flickr is currently the fastest-growing photo sharing site on the web, and the 5th most popular overall. And comScore recently announced that, according to its stats, Flickr had 5 million unique visitors in May, 2006, making it the 7th-most trafficked social networking/media site. Clearly, opportunity is knocking for the smart, creative small business owner.
How does Flickr work?
A Flickr account is free. You’ll need a Yahoo ID to sign up. Once you’ve joined, adding photos to Flickr is done through a simple upload system. At any time, you can look for Flickr groups to join. When adding photos to a group, make sure you read the group’s posting rules. Don’t add a photo of a widget to a group specifically for photos of doodads.
Most Flickr members are active in groups. Groups are where like-minded users post photos related to the group’s theme. For example, I’m a big music fan, so one group I’m in is Live Music. I’m also an Apple computer user, so I’m in the Apple group. And as a resident of Tri-Cities, Wash., I’m also a member of the Tri-Cities, WA group. (Notice that each group has both photos and discussions….)
The typical experience for most users of Flickr would involve uploading a photo, adding the photo to a personal photo album (a “set”, as Flickr calls them), and then sharing the photo in whatever appropriate groups the person has joined. Posting to groups is the main way your photos get exposure.
How do I market my business on Flickr?
That said, by being a smart and active contributor to the Flickr community, your business (web site) can get indirect marketing exposure via Flickr. Here’s how:
1.) Use your Flickr profile to advertise your company, products, services, etc. In your profile, Flickr asks you to describe yourself and lets you give your web site name and address. Use this to describe who you are and what your business does, but keep the sales pitch to a minimum. Make it informational instead. You can also upload a “Buddy Icon” in the profile system. Make your company logo your Flickr icon.
2.) Upload quality photos of your products/services, and things related to your business. A general contractor, for example, would upload photos of homes or commercial buildings you’ve built. A winery would upload photos of grape harvest, the winemaking process, and even your tasting room and close-ups of your wine bottles. A caterer would upload photos of events you’ve worked — your staff, the food, the overall presentation, etc. A woodworker would upload photos of items you’ve made, your workshop, etc.
But don’t just turn Flickr into an online catalog of your products. That’s against the site’s TOS and won’t go over well with Flickr users.
The more artistic and creative the photo, the more likely you’ll be forgiven for posting images related to your business.
3.) Write appropriate text for each photo, but avoid the hard sell. As mentioned above, you can give a name and write a description for each photo you upload. You should describe the photo accurately — i.e., “This is a bottle of our newest release, 2005 Chardonnay….” — but avoid any hard sell copy. Remember to keep the focus on the photography, not the sales pitch. You can also add “tags” to describe each photo, and you should include things like your company name and web site address in the tags. If you rely on local traffic, the tags should include the city names where you do business (but don’t overdo it).
4.) Find and join appropriate groups and share your photos in those groups. There are groups on Flickr for just about anything you can imagine. Run a pet store? There are plenty of pet-related groups. Run an antique car shop? There are several groups about classic cars. Make homemade candles? Several groups for you. Are you getting the picture? (pun intended!) Oh, and be sure to find and join any groups related to your location — search on your city name, nearby city names, and your state. When appropriate, posting photos and joining discussions in those groups will allow you to reach a local audience.
5.) Link prominently from your web site to your Flickr photostream. There are two reasons for this: First, because people visiting your web site are likely to be interested in your photos, too. Who doesn’t appreciate good pictures? Plus, some of your visitors are probably already Flickr users, and they might welcome to the chance to add you to their “contact list.” (Return the favor if they do!) The second reason is that search engine crawlers should follow a prominent link from your web site to your Flickr photos, and when that happens, you have more potential matches for search engine users.
6.) Take part in the Flickr community. By this, I mean the following:
- Comment on other photos you like, whether they’re related to your business or not.
- Add great photos to your “Favorites” list.
- Take part in discussions in your groups (but avoid the hard-sell tactics).
Remember that every time you do one of these things, your screen name will show — with your comment, with your discussion posts, etc. And if your screen name is your URL, that’s free advertising.
How NOT to market your business on Flickr…
- There’s no need to stuff linked keywords into your photo descriptions, into the comments you leave on other’s photos, etc.
- There’s no need to plaster your URL all over the photos you upload.
- There’s no need to post advertising messages in discussion groups.
If you try these, all you’ll do is turn-off the Flickr community … when the whole point is turn them on.
These ideas are, admittedly, probably not helpful if you run an insurance agency, if you’re an accountant, or if you’re in a service industry like those. But if there are any visual elements to your company, or the products and services you offer, Flickr offers a new avenue for spreading the word about who you are and what you do.
When used properly, Flickr can be an effective tool for marketing your small business. The key is to be an active and responsible member, and avoid using hard-sell tactics in your photos, comments, discussions, etc. Most important: Respect the Flickr system and community.
One more thing…
Again, this may not apply to everyone reading, but be sure to search Flickr for photos (from other users) related to your business and products. You may find that your customers have already been uploading photos — hopefully ones that paint you in a positive light. But they might also be posting photos of the crap packing job you did when shipping them your Green Widget, or of the dirty bathroom in your restaurant. In addition to marketing, Flickr can sometimes be a good avenue for monitoring what some customers are saying about you.