The word “community” is one of those words which crops up at any gathering of online people. How to build a community, how to get involved in a community, how to make the community feel involved with you – and, to me, it’s great that that’s the case.
But for newsrooms which, until recently, knew the community didn’t really have an alternative for local news and information, getting to grips with playing a part in a more vocal community can be a challenge.
Which is why, I believe, every newspaper or online newsroom should have its own Flickr group.
For “traditional media”, it can be hard to get involved in social sites such as Flickr, largely because in the past we perhaps haven’t behaved in the most suitable way – we’ve tried to own the space rather than interact within it, and therefore working to the rules of the space we’re seeking to have a presence within.
Flickr is perhaps the easiest to get involved with. The people on there are there because they like taking photographs and like sharing photographs. For many, the thought of being published is something to get excited about.
In one respect, establishing a Flickr group for a newspaper contradicts the idea that newspapers and online news providers now need to establish themselves within communities which they don’t control. After all, you can set the terms and conditions of your Flickr group.
Crucially, however, it’s still quite a big leap from the position many newspapers find themselves in – still shouting for content to be sent to their website, and then not telling users when it might be used.
Setting up a group on Flickr, and handing control of that Flickr group to a group of reporters in the newsroom, sends a strong signal to the many hundreds of Flickr photographers in each area that you appreciate their work, and that’s why you’ve arrived to participate in their community.
And I think that applies to hyperlocal sites too – what better way to find the people who are active in your community online than by creating a group on Flickr which you can then use to show pictures on your site? It is possible just to pull pictures in using a keyword-based RSS from Flickr – but surely it’s better to give people the chance to drop pictures into your group fully aware of how it might be used?
Almost two years on, there are 23,000 pictures in the group, hundreds of active members, and a thriving community which spends a lot of time talking on the Flickr group forum – and which isn’t afraid to criticise the journalists running it. They are also more than happy to sing the praises of the journalists running the group. Alison is still heavily involved in the LDP Flickr group.
The LDP and its sister paper, the Liverpool ECHO, have both produced in-paper supplements full of pictures submitted to the Flickr group – all of which have been very well received both online and with print readers.
Trinity Mirror newspapers across the country have Flickr groups.
So, how to make sure starting a Flickr group doesn’t just become a smash and grab for user generated content which damages your paper’s online reputation? Here are some of the things I’ve learnt along the way:
Getting a group going:
1. When creating the group, make suree you state clearly the intentions of the group. If you want to be able to print the pictures people have placed in the group, make sure you say so clearly.
2. Set a limit to the number of pictures people can post every day or each week. Not doing this was an early mistake on the part of the LDP group – one bloke posted 1,000 in a week (good for the overall number, not a great community experience for everyone else.
3. Don’t just expect pictures to start flooding in. Go and find them. Search for pictures from your area or interest and spot the photographers who are quite prolific and contact them, asking if they want to join. It’s best to send a private message to them, rather than posting a message underneath the photo.
4. Promote it in print – explain to people what Flickr is and why they should get involved. Photographers who discover Flickr via your paper are grateful for that.
5. Approach local photography groups – do they want to get involved via flickr?
Once the group is going:
1. Tell people when pictures will be published in the paper. In the case of the LDP group, the only time people became upset was when pictures were used without the user having prior knowledge. This is partly a clash of cultures – we never used to tell readers when their letter would be printed, so why tell them when a photo is being used? Because we’re now part of a photo community that isn’t shy to accuse someone or something of not playing fair. And also because we always should have treated reader content with greater respect.
2. Get a conversation going. Flickr groups have forums on them, so it makes sense to use them. If there is news which might be of interest to your group, post it on the forum which comes with each group. In the case of the LDP group, Alison and reporters in Liverpool regularly told people which cultural events were coming up which might be of interest to photographers.
3. Encourage people to select other pictures they like, or suggest other members’ work for publication.
4. Try and stick to a set day, or set place, where pictures will be published – but make sure you do publish the best photos.
5. Answer direct messages. Flickr, like many social group sites, has a messaging service. The LDP has done a great job getting conversations going, and now often gets tip offs about stories via Flickr.
6. Promote your group across your newspaper website. It’s quite easy to use something like Flickriver or Flickrslidr to embed a dynamic gallery of images on the site.
7. Don’t be afraid to tell organisations about the Flickr group. In Liverpool and North Wales, Flickr groups have been used to host competitions which had a prize of exhibiting work in a well-known location. Partners have included Liverpool Cathedral, Merseytravel (who chose a picture to put on display in the new ferry terminal) and the National Trust in North Wales.
8. Don’t delete critical threads in the forum. When the Birmingham Post and Mail launched its Flickr group.People will just go and talk about it somewhere else. And as journalists, aren’t we supposed to be good at listening.
This isn’t meant to be a definitive guide, but more of a “here is what I’ve learnt.” If you’ve had a different, or similar, experience, please let me know…