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Flickr as a Research Tool


Flickr is usually a bit of fun, a place to put up pictures of the family vacation or shots of the cat sleeping on your keyboard.

But there’s a lot more to Flickr than pets, sunsets and ahem, free online image storage.

Flickr makes people money too.

Toyota’s marketing people commissioned an amateur photographer they spotted on Flickr to shoot a series of ads for the Prius. Microsoft’s MSX design team asked a Kuwaiti medical student they spotted on Flickr to supply images for Vista. (Did they ask him to do the coding too?) Entire photography careers have been built on knowledge picked up in Flickr groups.

All of that is fine if you want to be a photographer. But for any business — even one-geek-and-their-computer businesses — Flickr can also be a good place to find products, people and information.

Researching Products On Flickr
Most Flickr members are individuals who put up personal photographs, but a few smart cookies have started to use the site as a forum to bring together potential customers and to build brand loyalty.

They release exclusive images through their photostream and they use the groups as places for fans to hold discussions.

Both of those can be valuable sources of information for potential competitors… and for entrepreneurs looking for inspiration for their next big idea.

Just try tossing a product name — or keywords related to the product — into Flickr.

Naturally, you’ll get a long list of photos tagged with that term.

Most will be images shot by customers who want people to see what they bought (because we don’t see enough pictures of iPhones). A few will be publicity images taken from the company’s website and placed there by people who think you might not have been able to find them for yourself.

Some photos though, may have been uploaded by a company to generate interest before a product launch.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz, for example, is a cookbook author who places images of her books and publicity appearances in her photostream to let readers see what she’s up to. A picture of her latest book appeared in her collection long before it came out, and a group dedicated to her last book has produced a stream of images that are likely to increase sales and send buyers back to their kitchens to bake more of her cakes.

You’re unlikely to come across any giant secrets searching product names on Flickr — unless you’re looking for creative marketing strategies (or techniques for a smoother chocolate ganache). But you could find sneak peeks from insiders or responses from team members to released material.

And that’s where things can start to get really interesting.

Targeting People on Flickr
This image, for example, of the cover art for a racing game came with a reaction from a member of the team saying how excited they all were at the design.

Photography: David Babylon

By itself, that doesn’t tell you much. But it does reveal the identity of one of the team members. You might be able to read the comments in that person’s groups to see if any useful information slips out. Their descriptions and images might give you an idea of how they think or how they work.

And if they have access to information that you don’t have, you might find that occasionally it turns up on their Flickr page. (Robyn Lee, whose image we used above, is a food blogger who sometimes goes to food industry expos. The picture is from a new confectionary catalog and shows what you might be able to find in the office vending machine soon. And who said you can’t find useful information on Flickr?)

Who knows, you might even want to get in touch and offer that person a job… or ask if he can get you one.

Finding Your Way to Information
An alternative to targeting products or people is to look for a place. If you know the address of a company, you can toss it into Flickr’s map and see all the pictures that have been geotagged with that address. That should give you a useful list of employees and access to images that were shot at work.

Even if you don’t glean any useful information from them — and your own idea collapses — at least you’ll see what it would be like to work with them.

Life at Apple. Screenshot from Flickr.
[tags] flickr, flickr research, researching with flickr, flickr research tool [/tags]

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