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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…?”
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.
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
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?
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:
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.
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.
A 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.
Good pictures leap from a page to celebrate, amaze and tantilise.
Poor pictures shout loudly. But not in a way you’d like.
One source of good pictures is the website Flickr which has more than four billion images. It’s something I’ve blogged about before.
What’s on there? Think about any subject and there will be pictures. A whole heap of them. And Flickr groups too. It’s the civilised corner of the web where people are constructive and are happy to licence their images through a Creative Commons licence.
Residents have self-organised and are daily taking an avalanche of brilliant pictures.
It can be a community around a love of countryside. Or of cats. Or a geographical community brought together by an area.
In Walsall, a borough of 250,000 near Birmingham in the UK that’s expecially the case. There are more than 100 members, 5,000 images and a vibrant Flickr group.
People like Steph Jennings, Lee Jordan, Stuart Williams, Beasty, Tony M, Nathan Johnstone and others do brilliant things.
At Walsall Council, we looked at their shots we wondered aloud how good it would be to showcase their shots on the council website. After all, people taking pictures of the place they live and seeing them showcased on their council’s website HAS to be a good idea.
As part of a web refresh, Kev designed a Flickr friendly header that woud apply across all pages.
Next the pictures. A comment was posted on the Walsall Flickr pages to flag up what we were looking to do. We asked people to add the tag ‘walsallweb’ to each individual picture if they wanted the shot to be considered.
We were staggered to get more than 400 shots tagged for consideration in three days. An amazing response that showed the community support.
The postbox shape of the header ruled out scores of images. We also steered clear of people shots because of any problems with permissions.
The first shot was a canalside image. By linking back from the council site to the original Flickr image we embraced the web 2.0 approach of sharing.
The image got more than 150 hits in just over two weeks.
SIXTEEN THINGS WE LEARNED…
1. Ask permission. Photographic copyright by default lies with the photographer. Even if there is a creative commons licence available I’d still ask. Just to be on the safeside.
2. Ask permission to name and link back to the original picture too. For some people photography is a hobby they don’t want publicity for.
3. Rotate images. Try and use pictures from around the borough. Not just the photogenic park.
4. Rotate photographers. Share the love around.
5. Use freelance pictures too. But ask permission. The licence you may have originally negotiated may only be for print use, for example.
6. Be seasonal. A cornfield in summer sun looks great in August. It may not be so at Christmas.
8. Stage a competition to encourage participation. Post a topic.
9. Use Flickr images across the site. A cracking shot of a park would work well on the park pages, for example.
10. Be aware of your policies towards people. Do you need to get permission forms signed in order to use the image for publicity.
11. Join Flickr. Contributing to the Flickr community is a good way to build bridges and understand how it works.
12. Acknowledge using a shot via a comment under the picture from the council Flickr account. Comments are a social part of Flickr and a way to give praise.
13. Create a gallery. A page on the council website to gather the header screenshots.
14. Stage a Flickr meet. Generate content and allow residents to take shots of their landmarks and building.
15. Showcase your area. It’s a chance to really show off.
16. Skill up. Make sure there is the skills base for several team members to add content.
bccdiy.com – A website for Birmingham put together by bloggers that uses Flickr images brilliantly.
Lichfield District Council – Some lovely shots of the Staffordshire city of Lichfield using Flickr.
San Fransisco’s District Attorney’s Office – Great blog on how a US office is now using photo sharing.
LGEO Research – Good blog by Liz Azyan on how Lichfield used user generated content.
Coventry – How Coventry City Council use Facebook to showcase official images.
Striking pictures leap from a page and grab the reader by the throat.
They demand attention, illustrate a point and reel a reader in.
So why the ruddy heck are so many blogs laid out pictureless like telephone directories?
Am I being unrealistic? Maybe. I’ve worked in the media for more than a decade and I’m used to thinking text plus pictures. Not everyone is wired that way. Fair enough.
Yes, through blogging you swiftly publish content. Being able to chuck stuff up is a strength.
But please, remember that a dowdy looking page may not ever get read.
They’re a good marriage of words and pictures. You’re drawn into them.
FIVE things to do to add pictures…
1. Use your own pictures. It’s surprising what good images you have. Particularly if you are David Bailey.
2. Use Creative Commons pictures Flickr.com is a brilliant resource but it’s also a community so remember to be polite. If you are looking for a shot of a farm gate search ‘Farm + gate + creative commons.’ You’ll get some interesting results. Creative commons gives you permission to use a pic so long as you observe certain conventions.
3. Free to use stock image websites. Help yourself so long as you sign in. You’ll have to pay for the best ones. Not so best are usually free.
4. Use the ‘blog this’ button on Flickr. Many pictures you can add straight to your blog by following a set of instructions but be careful. The pic comes at the same size everytime and appears in the top right hand corner. It also publishes straight away which means you could have some surprised people scratching their head at their RSS feed of an empty page with a picture floating there unless you add pre-written content pronto.
5. Don’t steal. Yes, it’s tempting just to save to desktop but it’s better not to.