As businesses get more and more obsessed with building community and leveraging Web 2.0 techniques, a lot of small businesses are finding themselves wondering if they can afford to get into the game. What these small businesses often miss is the fact that they don't need to invest a ton of time and money into fancy new technologies. Sometimes, it's about finding what already exists and leveraging it for your brand. That's something I've noticed more and more companies doing with Flickr, my favorite social media site.
Mack Collier's post over at The Viral Garden today reminded me of a great example of a company using Flickr to build community and to promote a "soft-sell."
I'd seen mention of the Georgia Aquarium using Flickr before, but hadn't had a chance to do much digging into how they setup their group. Mack explains:
The Georgia Aquarium noticed that visitors had taken a ton of stunning photos of the displays at the aquarium and had posted them on Flickr. So the Georgia Aquarium created a Flickr group, and invited members to join the group and post their pictures of the aquarium's exhibits!
It's a great idea, one I've been playing around with myself in a few different ways.
Mack points to Josh Hallett's post about receiving an invite to join the Georgia Aquarium Flickr group. Josh joined the group and then wrote a great post using the campaign as an example of starting small with social media. John points out that small businesses (and even large ones) often avoid getting involved with social media because they're just not sure how to leverage tools like blogs and widgets. He explains that for these businesses, the best way to test the water can be to simply take advantage of the social media tools and networks that already exist.
In his post, Josh shares the Flickr mail he received from the Georgia Aquarium team asking him to join their Flickr group. (They ran a search for photos tagged with Georgia Aquarium and then sent messages inviting those users to join the newly created Georgia Aquarium group on Flickr.) He writes:
Back in October I received the following e-mail invite via Flickr. Of course I joined the group, and as of today there are 89 members with close to 400 photos. Why only 400? The aquarium has asked members to submit their best five photos. I don' agree with that entirely, but I can see their point.
The Flickr group does include messages from moderators asking users to limit their uploads to their five favorite pictures. I would imagine the limit was put in place to help keep any one member from dominating the feed. Josh explains that the Georgia Aquarium is using the photo feed on their newly redesigned web site.
The new site includes a feature called "International Adventures" that pulls from the Flickr feed and uses a Google Maps mashup to map visitors to the aquarium from around the world. Site visitors can zoom in and click on a visitor based on where they live to view the pictures they've submitted of the aquarium. So far, the group has nearly 90 members from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Central America and South America.
It's a great example of a company working to build community around their product. After all, it doesn't take long to setup a Flickr group and with so many mashups now available, it also wouldn't have been too difficult to integrate those photos into the site.
Georgia Aquarium's use of Flickr is a great reminder of how simple it can be for a small business with a limited budget to launch a social media campaign. The key in this case is simply to make it more about empowering your visitors to share their experiences than about making a hard sale. (In fact, selling or marketing your products is against the Flickr TOS, so it's essential you read the Flickr community guidelines and use common sense to keep from crossing the line.)
Josh clearly had his common sense social media marketing hat on as he wrote his post though, because he's got some great suggestions for the Georgia Aquarium team on continuing to leverage the group. He offers up ideas as simple as creating a calendar using the 12 most popular photos to hosting a special after hours event for Flickr group members to come in and take new shots for the site group. After all, it's about adding value to the community to encourage them to add value for you, right?
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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