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.


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/