The Internet is the land of opportunity for small businesses. It's where a few dollars can go an incredibly long way, and that's priceless for anyone looking to carve out a niche while in the shadow of mammoth, deep-pocketed corporation.
The big social networks like Facebook and Twitter are great, but there are dozens of other social platforms that you can use simultaneously. Each have unique strengths and weaknesses, and aren't for everybody. But if you're looking for a way to create a community for your small business around visual storytelling, there's one obvious choice.
Everyone knows about Flickr by now. The photo and video sharing community started up in 2004, was bought by Yahoo! a year later, and has since grown into a behemoth. Flickr boasts 50 million registered users and attracts 80 million unique visitors every month. While it doesn't have the sheer size of Facebook, nor the rapid response of Twitter, it can be an equally (or even more) powerful tool to connect with and engage your customers. Why? Photography can open up whole new worlds.
But how would you take advantage of this? Like any other social network, Flickr should not be considered a marketing platform. It's not a place to tout and sell products. It's a place that can help you develop your brand and get close to your customers. And most importantly, it's a place for them to interact with you, and become a part of the experience.
Here are five ways that you can use Flickr to help improve your business:
Tell your company's story, through pictures
Every brand has a story. Flickr presents an opportunity to share it with your customers, and more importantly, you can give them a chance to be a part of it. Flickr is particularly strong at telling stories visually. Use compelling photos that represent the identity of your company, where its roots are and where it's headed.
And be sure to get your customers directly involved with, and be able to affect, that storyline. Have them submit their pictures interacting with your brand, and encourage them to talk to each other—and you—about it. And remember, in order for people to talk to your brand, you have to make things personal. Your voice must be real, and human.
Always avoid the hard sell
Never, ever, post anything that looks or feels like an advertisement. That's not the point of Flickr, or any other social network. You're trying to find ways to get closer to your customers, not scare them away with annoying advertising. This holds true for both comment sections, and photo captions. It's not an online store.
That doesn't mean to separate your products completely from your Flickr account. When there's a launch coming up, use the platform to get customers involved. But base it around their experience, not your own marketing.
Integrate Flickr into everything you're doing on the Web
To get all the value you can out of Flickr, use it to connect with your other platforms. Make sure each part of your digital network is linked, from your Web page to your blog to Facebook to Flickr. Tell your customers that these places exist, and how to get there. Then they can decide which ones they want to interact with.
At the same time, make sure that you're using each social network for its strength. For example, if you have both a YouTube channel and Flickr page, it's okay to post videos on Flickr, but keep it primarily focused on photos because that's the reason people will be going to your page. Beyond that, you can use Flickr as a resource for your other sites. There are tons of Creative Commons-licensed photos available for use.
Allow and encourage others to share your content
It's a photo sharing platform, so treat it like one. You could be hosting your photos anywhere on the Web, but you've picked Flickr because of its users, and the site's social features that better allow you to connect with those users.
Since you want exposure, don't be hyper-protective with your content on Flickr. Allow sharing, and don't limit what folks can do with your content. The whole point of a business being on the site is to let people interact with the content that you put up.
Also, upload your photos on a Creative Commons license so that people can use them. You're probably not a professional photography company that has to protect its valuable pictures. Every time someone shares your content, that's a plus for you. If you're particularly concerned about people stealing your work, use small watermarks.
Join relevant groups and participate in the community
Groups are an integral part of the user experience on Flickr, and your business should be a part of that. There's a group for pretty much any topic on Flickr, and finding some that are relevant to your business can pay off. Be active in comments, even if they may not be directly related to your business. Also, add people's photos to your business' 'favorites' stream.
Again, it comes down to being human. So get off the sidelines and participate in the community like any regular user. Fortunately, this is one major advantage small businesses have over the big boys. You don't have that initial stigma of being a bloated corporation, so it's usually easier for folks to relate with your brand.
Image credit: Flickr