A number of the world’s biggest businesses and brands are using Twitter. Chances are, they’re also using Facebook. And their employees are using LinkedIn, to connect with other professionals.
How do you, as a small business owner, set yourself apart from the competition? Obviously you’ll have to be more creative with leveraging social media, and with finding alternative platforms where you can engage with customers. You’ll have to seize overlooked opportunities for marketing, or create these opportunities where none exist.
Start by knowing there are other social networking tools in town. Like Flickr, for example.
Okay, so we can almost hear you say it. Flickr? Really? How do you use that for marketing? Um, isn’t Flickr a picture community for hobbyists and photographers and artists? Just like Vimeo is a video community? And doesn’t Flickr explicitly say that you can’t use the site for commercial purposes?

All of the questions above have a point, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use Flickr for creative small business marketing. It doesn’t mean you cannot use it to get ahead of those who are content to use only Facebook and Twitter.
Yahoo!-owned Flickr is probably the leading online photo management and sharing application on the Web. According to Alexa, it’s currently the 34th most popular site in the world in terms of traffic. You can get your photos in and beyond the Flickr system and share them on the Flickr website, your website, your blog, in RSS feeds, via E-mail, and on your other social networks. As a marketing tool, it’s pretty powerful, too – especially since only few know it.

Here’s a list of great tips on using Flickr to drive your business.
Register with a username that reflects your URL: Easy enough to do – and yet very effective. When you sign up, choose your official web address as your username. That way, you’re encouraging Flickr users to check out your site: every time you upload a photo, comment, post a message in a discussion, you leave crumbs that will help lead visitors to your site and drive more traffic.
Fill up your profile: Say something about your company – in an informative, casual tone, and not in sales lingo. If other Flickr users like your pictures and your work, they’ll want to find more about you.
Add a Buddy Icon: It’s perfectly fine if you want to put your own picture up, but better if it’s your company logo or initials. That way, your brand becomes more prominent and recognizable, out there for the Flickr community to see while you go about your usual Flickr activities.
Post photos relevant to your business/brand: You own a coffee shop? Take pictures of your cozy interiors or of your fresh brewing area. Or come up with portraits of your friendly baristas and happy customers, then close-ups of steaming cups. Selling cool shirts? Photograph people wearing those shirts in parties, events, sports games, social gatherings, etc. Running a restaurant? Do a food set. Or upload pictures of your place, your presentation styles, your function area, your kitchen, your staff, your collection of recipe books from which you draw inspiration.
Whatever your business is, you can and will be able to come up with something. Just be creative. Don’t turn your Flickr albums into product catalogs.
Post high-quality photos and photo sets: What makes Flickr so popular is that these aren’t just random collections of your usual low-quality point-and-shoot pictures. These are pictures that photography communities all around the world – as well as people whom you would care about as a small biz owner or marketer – would love, share, and appreciate. Invest in a digital SLR camera or photography service if you have to. There’s also a crop-fix-edit tool that you might find to be of great use. Be an active contributor and pay attention to the quality of what you upload.
Insert tags: Do not spam, sales-talk, or keyword-stuff your way through Flickr – but with that said, feel free to add as tags a few keywords that are relevant to your business. Tag each uploaded picture, too, with your username/URL (they should be one and the same if you followed Tip #1!), the industry you’re in, your location (places where you do business), and other related descriptive words that Flickr users might be searching for. Remember: apart from direct links, your image views will mostly come from people who are looking for the tags that you add.
Write appropriate titles and text descriptions: Again, keep the hard-sell to a minimum. Turn Flickr users on instead by writing creative, witty captions, and titles that they can’t help but click.
Join Flickr groups that are relevant to your business: These groups allow you to share your content and participate in conversations with people who matter. If you’re a restaurant owner, for example, why not connect with a Flickr group that loves to do food photography? Or maybe you’re a guitar store, in which case you might want to join groups that are into the music and concert scene. To get a local audience, you may also search for Flickr groups that are based on or related to your business location.
Create your own Flickr group: Cannot find the group that you have in mind? Start it yourself. Make sure, though, that it’ll focus on a topic that will be of interest to your customers and targets. No advertising or blatant marketing!
Comment on others’ photos: Yes, especially those that are related to your business. Leave a comment, share the love, and add to your “favorites”. Or search for pictures using your keywords and comment on those that are being viewed by a lot of other people. Of course, when you leave a comment, it also gets your username/URL up in popular or high-ranking photos.
Display your Flickr photostream on your website: Why? Because your site visitors are likely to show interest in your photo sets and collections, too. And because they themselves might be members of Flickr anyway, in which case they can connect with you on the Flickr website.
Enable sharing on Facebook and Twitter: Sharing your Flickr activity to your Facebook stream and “Twittering your Flickr” (funny as that sounds) are two great ways of enhancing your level of engagement across social media networks. It also positions you to gain even greater visibility, especially for photos that have viral potential.
Promote and approve reuse of your Flickr images: Several brands and businesses are doing this to encourage other bloggers and online media and help drive their own branding and marketing efforts. Doing this also allows you to have a ready-made online media kit for your business, featuring high-quality images of your logo, team, location, products, and more. No need for huge E-mail attachments to news reporters and bloggers asking for your pictures.
Enable stats and monitor: Flickr can help you monitor the stats and metrics on your images and collections – then adjust your photo organization according to what the numbers say. You’ll also be in on essential info like how many people are sharing your photos, and the links where your photo views are coming from.
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