BIG PICTURES: How pictures make Facebook posts fly (and where to get them)

How much difference does it make to add a picture to a Facebook update? Lots. Or to be more precise 147 per cent.

That was the figure when we posted two updates within minutes on a broadly similar subject.

The first celebrated a Britain in Bloom win for towns in Walsall Council’s boundaries with a picture of flowers in Aldridge drew 37 shares, 88 likes and an audience of 3,,508 on the authority’s Facebook page. I’d be the first to admit that this image isn’t the most arresting in the world. But it says both place and colour and that’s enough.

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The second posted without a picture a few minutes later celebrated recognition in the same competition for a school and nine pubs. That drew four shares and 12 likes with a reach of 1,415.

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Okay, the subject matter is slightly different: towns compared with school children and popular pubs. But there’s enough there to draw some conclusions.

It’s an approach that the ECB takes when the England Test team are playing. It’s something I’ve written about before. Rather than just posting a text score update they post an image of the man of the moment with text too.

If you can, adding text through a simple picture editing tool is a great idea. A phone number or a message works. For that you can use Google’s own Picasa3 software.

What do the numbers teach us?

Firstly, sharable content is important on Facebook and in this case so is a celebratory upbeat message.

Secondly, people are really keen to share messages. Obvious. But it’s important to remember this.

Thirdly, having a stack of pictures available to you is helpful.

But where do you source pictures?

Google images?

This is potentially a bit of a minefield. No, you can’t go to Google images right click and save. Copyright applies to images online just as much as they do online and people have ended up in hot water. Google also allows people to search for a specific image online so if you think you’ll be safe hiding in the fire hose of information that is the web think again.

Your image library?

The basic fact under the 1988 Copyright and Designs Act is that when someone takes a picture they retain copyright. Even if you have paid them. If you’ve, say, commissioned a freelance photographer to take some shots of a night market you are buying a licence to use them for a specific purpose. That can be as broad as marketing and promotion on your website, in print and with the local paper. It may not include social media and you’ll need to check this with the photographer. This NUJ link on copyright and photography is helpful.

Your own?

And by your own I mean one that you’ve taken yourself with your smartphone or camera. Handy if you have time and ability. Not so good if you need an image of flowers in a town centre at a moment’s notice.

Stock photography?

You can, but it costs. Istock is one example of an online image library but there are charges. It’s even more for a Getty shot.

Creative Commons?

One of the great things about the social web is the ability to share. Creative Commons licences are licences which a photographer – amateur or professional – can attach to an image when they post it onto an image library. They’re basically saying that they’re happy for their image to be re-used under certain laid out conditions. The US government, for example, releases virtually all images with a creative commons licence.

So where do I go for creative commons images?

Without doubt the best place on the web is compfight.com. This is a site which works with Flickr’s API to search for key phrases and words. It also searches through a variety of filters from the non-creative commons to the creative commons to the most liberal of all – commercial creative commons which allows a broader re-use.

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It’s not great for specific locations, I admit. There’s a handful of images creative commons for Walsall, for example. But it comes into its own when you need a stocjk pic, like boxing gloves, a coffee cup or clouds in a sky.

It’s a brilliant site. But please, don’t forget to attribute and share where the picture has come from. It’s what makes the social web work.

Legal disclaimer: Always, if you need specific legal advice go and see a lawyer rather than base it on this or any other online advice.


FUTURE CODE: Are web developers today’s news photographer?

359759173_9c5939d67f_bA major US newspaper announced plans to fire its entire picture desk a week or two back. All 28 of them. To go.

As someone who has worked on newspapers and now deals with them as part of their job that’s a significant step.

It also underlines in it’s own small way this whole ‘the landscape is changing and pr people need to develop new skills’ thing that I’ve been writing about for the past four years.

Of course, it’s really tempting to dismiss this as the death twitch of an industry that is on it’s knees and move on. What really stopped me in my tracks was a blog by Andy Ihnatko an occasional contributor to the newspaper in question the Chicago Sun-Times.

In it he recognised the pain this step was causing but rejected the idea that newspapers just deserve to die.

He makes an excellent observation that newspapers need to get new skills and as the web and mobile web get more important. What struck me was the observation that perhaps the web developer is now doing what the photographer used to do. Their ability to produce eye-catching content that brings pages alive are now playing the role the snapper and picture editor used to.

Newspapers are a machine, he writes, adding:

“The machine was fantastic at manufacturing what readers wanted from 1850 to 1999. But it now needs to be retooled to manufacture what readers want in 2013.

“What if it fired photographers, but hired more web developers, and gave that department extra resources? Photographs aren’t than just pretty pictures; they serve many practical functions for an edition of a newspaper. They allow for a more attractive page design, they make the newspaper easier to visually navigate, and they offer the reader an alternative method of engaging with the stories.

“ A well-designed, responsive web page does the same things…with the added modern benefit that it allows a story to look great on any device. “Your photos aren’t anything special” is an aesthetic complaint. “Your site goes all screwy when I access it from my iPhone” is a report about a bug that prevents the user from reading the content.

“The point is that if a newspaper really wants to double-down on the value of their content, having a great team of web developers on staff is critical. I’d be less concerned about the sub-par photography of a site than I would about a site that’s hard to read on the device of my choice.”

So in summary, web developers are critical.

When you consider how mobile-first my own life is that has a ring of truth. My holiday frustration at the webpage that doesn’t show on my mobile to tell me the swimming pool opening times, for example.

What are the lessons for local government comms people?

It’s the importance of knowing that to present your story on the web you’ll need to present it well and in a way that people can read it. It’s getting more important that you’ll need a good web developers in your team to help you tell your story.

It also means that submitted pictures to newspapers in times of cut picture desks have real value. For now.

So, it’s back to that changing landscape stuff again really, isn’t it?


PICTURE POST: How to source Creative Commons images (in pictures)

There’s nothing that ruins a piece of text as the lack of a decent image.

A picture can tell a thousand words.

So, thank the Lord for creative commons.

It’s a place to go when there’s no photography budget and you need an image in a hurry.

Creative commons licences allow for images to be re-used so long as certain conditions are met.

One of the best places to look for them is Flickr.

Here’s what you do looking for a picture:

1. Go to Flickr.com.

2. Let’s say we’re looking for a picture of a computer. Search everyone’s uploads for the terms ‘creative commons + computer.’

3. You’ll have a stack of thumbnails to look through.

4. Make a selection. Click on the image you want. This is what it will look like:

5. Double check the creative commons licence. That’s on the right hand side of the image. Half way down.

6. Click actions. That’s just above the image.

7. Choose a size. Download it.

8. Use the picture creatively.

9. If you can’t find it using the general search have a look at opting for searching for The Commons…

10. Now sit back and have a slice of cake.

Creative commons credits:

Cake http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5646762765/

Computer http://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/4028604399/


CROWD PHOTOS: Are crowd sourced pictures a golden bullet?

It’s temptingly lazy but wrong to think residents pictures can fill the hole left by dwindling budgets.

A couple of things have made me think.

First, basking in the afterglow of a successful project a debate started.

We’ve worked with residents to turn an empty shop window in Walsall town centre into an information point brightened up by shots from the Walsall Flickr group.

It’s a brilliantly simple idea that came from Flickr photographer Lee Jordan. I’ve written about it here and you can read Lee’s blog on it too.

Lee and others were fine about having their work used and showcased.

In response to my venturing a repeat in a different scheme one Flickr member on Twitter wrote:

“Local council have just requested use of some of my pics on Flickr for a printed guide, for a credit and linkback. I declined. Any thoughts? On one hand it may be good publicity, on the other it devalues photography. What do others think…?”
After an online debate I deliberately stepped back from, other residents talked about the benefits of photo sharing. The member changed heart and threw his hat into the ring.

Thirdly, blogger Pete Ashton invited his council to ‘f*** you’ (literally) after they once again asked to use pictures for free. This came after a shot of his which he got £50 for was used without his knowledge for a major national cultural campaign that wasn’t fully explained when he was first approached.

Fourthly, when I post an image to Flickr these days I always add a liberal creative commons image so they can be re-used as long as there is a credit and a link. I’m forever using and linking to cc images on this blog so it seems churlish not to share. So long as you are not a commercial enterprise. You can read more about creative commons here.

So, there are four views. For my money each if those are just as valid.

Why FOUR answers and they’re all right?

Because everyone’s approach is deeply personal. That’s why.

There’s no such thing as one size fits all.

Are crowd sources images a cure all for cut budgets?

No.

Don’t think that Flickr is a sweet shop full of free images that’ll solve your slashed photographic budget.

Don’t think you can wander along to Google images, right click, save and Bob’s your Uncle. Don’t ever do that.

There’s still a place for commissioned freelance photography for marketing and press shots. Not least because photographic staff on newspapers are being laid off.

There’s a place for stock photography websites such as istock.

There’s a place for searching The Commons on Flickr where scores of museums and institutions have added millions of images that can be re-used by anyone. NASA, The Smithsonian and the US Library of Congress stand out.

There’s a place too – if residents are agreeable – for their images to be used by local government. Just so long they are not taken for granted and the shots are treated with the same reverence as a very delicate vase or a signed first edition you’re borrowing for a while.

That’s why I’m not desperately keen on the approach that some councils have of creating a Flickr group where by adding you allow automatic re-use. It just doesn’t feel right.

If there’s an image a resident had taken ask nicely, explain what it’ll be used for stick to the agreement and don’t be offended if the answer is ‘no’ and if there is some cash in the budget for payment try very hard to.

Everyone benefits that way.

Creative commons credits

Gun http://www.flickr.com/photos/m4tik/6243269249/

Smiling Sky http://www.flickr.com/photos/frank_wuestefeld/4272333063/


BRILLIANT: A new Flickr group for local government

It’s quite mad to think that there wasn’t a Flickr group for local government.

Snow ploughs? Yes. There’s two groups. There’s more you can shake a stick at for  libraries and museums but there was nothing for the overall umbrella institution of local government.

So, after a bit of messing about there’s now the Local Government Does Brilliant Things Flickr group.  Feel free to have a nose around and explore it.

What’s there? A whole array. This Japanese election poster with a man and a lapdog is stunning. So is Brian doing the bins. And as for the Korean school dinner… that’s about as far away from the pink custard of my school days as it’s possible to get.

Amazingly, after two weeks there’s now more than 400 images posted to the new group from several dozen Flickr streams. The excellent US blogger, Gov 20 Radio host, Flickr user and advocate for Nation Builder Adriel Hampton has got behind it too with this blog post which is rather great to see.

What is Flickr?

It’s a social photography website that people, clubs and organisations have been using in growing numbers. Or six billion to be exact. That’s the number of images uploaded so far.

You join and upload images and you can post them to an array of different groups with a common theme.

Yes, local government can be a frustrating institution at times and when it’s done badly it can be as horrid as the little girl in the story. But even it’s fiercest critic must admit that local government does some really good things. It’s by celebrating them that we ensure it’ll be around in the future.

Celebrate the routine stuff…

I’m becoming increasingly interested in the routine things that local government does. We’re hopeless at shouting about the day-to-day things that get taken for granted. That’s the play equipment, the park, the roads we drive on  the school bus or 700 other services.

It’s fascinating to look through what’s been posted to the local government Flickr pool so far to see shots of routine tasks being done elsewhere in the world.

Yes, there’s a place for the set piece media ribbon cutting shot. But the routine shots of people just doing everyday things for me are what really stand out. All to often what we think is everyday is actually a really vital service to someone else’s parents.

So, you’re no David Bailey. What can you do?

It would be really fantastic if you could post some too. They really don’t have to be a staggeringly good quality. A camera phone will do.

Just so long as there’s something of local government in them.



HISTORY PICS: How English Heritage are doing cool Flickr things

Okay, so I was wrong. I used to thing English Heritage were a crusty bunch who jealously guarded castles.

Like lighthouse keepers, you’re glad they’re there but nothing too much to get excited about.

Actually, that’s not totally the case at all. If you’ve children, you must take a look at their website for their family orientated programme.

Romans at Wroxeter in Shropshire I can vouch for. Select a venue and then take a look in the bottom right hand corner . There you’ll see a really great use of Flickr.

By posting into an English Heritage group you agree that you don’t mind if the image is linked to via the organisations’ website. That’s a brilliant idea. They’re also upfront about it too.

Forget leather patched tweed jackets, those people at English Heritage are actually pretty cutting edge.

Can this idea be used in local government? No question. Does it cost money? Not a penny. But what it does do is this:

  • It provide an extra resource for people looking to browse for a place to visit.
  • It creates a presence on a popular social networking site.
  • It builds links with the community who can really feel as though they own a small slice of the website.

At a time when budgets are tight and very painful cuts have been made at English Heritage, this is good work by the history geeks.


SLIDE SHARE: How pictures can be used for civic good

A good picture jumps from a page with the power to make you laugh, smile, wonder or be inspired.

I’m passionate abut the fact you don’t need to be a photographer to do civic good with images on the social web.

What’s Flickr? It’s a photosharing website. I’m a big advocate of it and I’ve blogged about how it can work in local government before.

The very nice people at Future Gov and Local Government Improvement and Delivery organised Local by Social Midlands ediction in Coventry.

This brought residents, web people and local government together.

The format is simple and powerful. A few speakers to inspire. Circulate a pre-collected list of residents’ wishes.

Then with the residents, sit down and try and work out a solution using digital tools.

This was the presentation I gave on Flickr. Hopefully it helps answer the questions: what is Flickr? How does Flickr work and how can it be used for civic good?


View more presentations from danslee.

It has a summary of how Flickr works and four case studies of it in action.

Case study 1:

The Walsall Town Hall Flickr meet. How photographers from the community can take pictures of a landmark. You can see more of the images taken at the event here.

Case study 2:

How Flickr images taken by the community can be used by a public sector website as a way to celebrate the area and individuals’ work.

Case study 3:

The Caldmore Village Festival. How Flickr photographers recorded an event and shared the images to a wider audience. It’s mentioned on this blog too. Here are some shots taken at the event.

Case study 4:

Newman Brothers: How a campaign for funding harnessed the power of photography through Flickr. Here are some shots taken by amateur photographers and posted to Flickr.

Case study 5

This arrived too late for me to include in the presentation but acts as an excellent way for residents and local government to connect. Paul Clarke took a shot of a street scene when he was back in his native Ormskirk.

When he spent time looking at it properly he was appalled at a right yellow canopy from a cheque cashing outlet. Traditional routes failed but using Flickr and whatdotheyknow.com pressed planners to take up the case. You can read Paul’s excellent blog on the subject here.

Should local government fear this route? No. Not if people want to deliver a better service.

That shows that photography doesn’t always showcase the best of a borough.

Sun rise above Quarry Bank in Dudley. An image posted to several Flickr groups and celebrates this corner of the Black Country.

That’s a point echoed by Mike Rawlins and Nicky Getgood from Talk About Local.

Shaming pics of abandoned cars work on a community blog and can help prod a council into action, they argued.

A functional pic of a pothole can work on fixmystreet.com as a way to report a problem.

shot of the sun rising over an allotment, stained glass in Walsall Counci House or Spring bulbs celebrate an area.

Each stream is just as valid but has an entirely different character.

It can shame, remind and celebrate.

That’s the power of a good image.


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