We've mastered YouTube, so let's tackle Flickr

I visited with Anne Brennan at the Cape Cod Times yesterday, and the conversation turned to placing our content in front of local audiences on other platforms. To follow that up, I shared with Anne some of my ideas about how Flickr could be part of the mix.

So with apologies to Anne, who will receive a second copy of this when the blog post gets redistributed to our online editors listserv, I thought it might be helpful if I shared my thoughts with a wider audience.

Here's what I would do first with Flickr. Have the photo staffs create their own accounts, and upload their favorite photos. I'd aim for daily, but would be happy with weekly intervals for now. Just one photo per interval is all we ask. Then in the caption, in addition to describing the photo, I would put a link to your photos page, something like:
See these and more photos of the week from my colleagues at the <a href="http://www.capecodonline.com/
apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=MEDIA01">Cape Cod Times
</a> and other galleries on <a href="http://capecodonline.com/
apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=MEDIA01">our photos page.</a>
The html code will render, so that the captions will actually link. Here's an example:
I would then make sure to add each photo to the most appropriate Flickr group or groups, where the photos can be targeted to specific interests and gain wider visibility among a more engaged audience. That will translate to a greater potential for click throughs. The photo example linked in the previous paragraph has been added to Cape and Islands Life and Photogamer, an amateur photographer exercise and group I've been participating in.

(Speaking of groups, I found a New Hampshire one that would make a cool project in any one of our markets: http://www.flickr.com/groups/nh/discuss/72157600349063566/)

Down the road, I would try collecting UGC photo efforts on Flickr, asking people to "tag" their photos with "cctstorm" or "cctpatriots" to collect their work in a Flickr slideshow, selections of which you'd republish in the paper and could fairly easily pull back into your site using a Flickr widget (they call it a badge).

Tags, by the way, is a means by which users can categorize their photos with their own folksonomy. The cool thing is it's a way to connect the dots across multiple accounts. I'll walk you through an example:

When you click on a tag like "sandwichma" from there, you get a screen that shows all of my photos with that tag: http://flickr.com/photos/spolay/tags/sandwichma/

Then, there is a link to see all public photos tagged the same way: http://flickr.com/photos/tags/sandwichma/. The first couple of pages this morning are actually my photos, because I recently uploaded a large batch from our family's Christmas card outtakes. Starting on about page 3 of this set, though, you can see photos from other users: http://flickr.com/photos/tags/sandwichma/?page=3

Flickr is among the most popular photosharing sites out there, and it's a mystery to me that so few newspapers -- at least to my knowledge -- have tried to avail themselves of such a highly engaged and enthusiastic audience to any great degree. I recently polled some colleagues from around the industry, and the only similar efforts I could unearth are at fresnofamous.com (http://www.flickr.com/groups/fresnofamous/), nh.com (http://media.nh.com/) and delawareonline.com (http://flickr.com/photos/tags/delawareonline/clusters/).

Such an effort will take some time to build awareness and momentum. One thing we've learned this past year is that success from this type of outreach will only come with consistently applied effort. I firmly believe there is a long-term payoff, both from the standpoint of reaching a large concentration of Cape Cod photo enthusiasts from far and wide who prefer the Flickr platform to ours, and the search engine optimization benefits of creating meaningful links back to our site from a visible, credible, high-ranking site.

The other thing we have learned time and again is that such an effort needs an owner. If no one owns the initiative, it will wane quickly, if it gets off the runway at all. This is the ideal opportunity to really expand a photography-based virtual beat, so that either the photo editor, one or several of the photographers, or even one of the image technicians, really owns, cares for and feeds this outreach effort.

(Full disclosure: Mike Conery and I undertook some Flickr experimentation with Discover Nantucket (http://flickr.com/photos/discovernantucket/), but I don't think we did enough, especially given that we never fully implemented photo galleries on discovernantucket.com, something that will likely get addressed down the road as Nantucket takes back ownership of the site. So we had nothing of added value to link to -- not a challenge most of our other sites will face. The bigger weakness, however, is that the Inquirer and Mirror staff was never fully invested and involved in the project. We failed to clearly communicate what we were trying to accomplish, and the staff in turn was uncomfortable with the platform and the content we were pulling from it. Water under the bridge, but valuable lessons were learned all around.)

We're obviously never going to supplant Flickr, and the odds of us being the "Local Flickr" are pretty long. So let's try to be involved and visible among our local audience that is already on Flickr, offering that audience some of our high-quality photography while also receiving some benefit for the investment of our time, interaction and conversation.

"People form tribes with or without us," Seth Godin wrote recently. "The challenge is to work for the tribe and make it something even better."

I've only scratched the surface on how to utilize Flickr to your benefit. Here's some additional reading that will help:


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