How Marissa Mayer Can Make Flickr More Awesomer Again

How Marissa Mayer Can Make Flickr More Awesomer Again

The internet has spoken and earlier today Flickr officially responded. Their response pretty much sums up the biggest challenge for Flickr/Yahoo going forward, getting people to work there. Flickr desperately needs four things right now: money/resources, engineering talent, design talent, and community management/marketing talent. Money/resources is the easy part, hiring the talent may prove more difficult.

The trend is not Flickr’s friend. According to over the past year Flickr’s unique U.S. visitors have dropped about 22%. The sad slow decline of Flickr in many ways mirrors the sad slow decline of lots of other properties at Yahoo.

So why should Marissa Mayer make Flickr awesome again and how should she do it?

The number one reason why Marissa should be focusing on Flickr right now is that it is highest visibility, most beloved Yahoo property of all. You didn’t see mass users taking to the internet to tell her to fix Yahoo Finance, or Yahoo Sports, or Yahoo Real Estate. No. They came cheering for Flickr. Flickr has deeper emotional and social connections to users than any other Yahoo property. Reinvigorating Flickr should be Marissa’s highest priority because it represents the best possible way for her to send the most visible message that Yahoo is in fact changing, that Yahoo is back in the hunt, that Yahoo cares about their users. It’s going to take work and money but it can be done.

Here is how.

1. It has to start at the top. It’s embarrassing that according to a public search Mayer still doesn’t have a Flickr account. Not only does she not have a Flickr account, she’s using one of Flickr’s most public competitors to share her photos personally. This fact was not lost on me and it wasn’t lost on the financial or tech press. From Bloomberg: “…and, like any proud parent these days, the photo-sharing site she linked to wasn’t Flickr—she used Instagram.” From Wired: “But that’s going to take commitment and outreach from Mayer who, right now, doesn’t even have an account there.” Dog fooding is important. If Flickr Mobile is broken, then Mayer needs to suffer through it with the rest of us and hopefully get it fixed.

2. Flickr needs a big hire in an evangelist role. They need to hire a very visible name that will make the press. Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Trey Ratcliff, Chase Jarvis, or someone of this caliber. They need to make a big splash and they need not only a very visible hire, they need someone who is maniacally (in the good way) connected to social media. They need someone who will eat, breath and sleep Flickr and who will be out promoting the brand everywhere on the web and in person. This person should also host at least one major photo walk in one major city a month. Flickr and Yahoo should leverage their resources to make these walks big splashy public events that make people sit up and notice that Flickr has their mojo back. This person will not be cheap. Yahoo will have to pay up and Mayer herself will probably need to help recruit them.

3. Along with a new Flickr evangelist, Mayer should work with them and Flickr head of product Markus Spiering to heavily and personally recruit some of the top engineers and designers to come to work on Flickr. Flickr should not just be hiring regular old engineers and designers. They should be hiring engineers and designers who are the rock stars. Again, they will have to really pay up for these people — right now the rock star talent wants to work at Facebook and Google, not Yahoo.

If they can get 4 or 5 of these rock star types though they can then use these individuals to recruit even more talent to the Flickr team. Flickr needs to be careful here and not just hire any old engineer who wants a 9 to 5 job. They need to recruit engineers who, like Marissa apparently, want to work it 24/7 and are amazing. They should be rewarded very well and Mayer should use her personal connections to get the right people in these seats.

4. Flickr should begin a structured engagement program with their top users. They should use their internal data at Flickr to see which users are engaging the most and are the most engaged with on Flickr. They should personally contact each of these individuals and make them part of the process for improving Flickr. They should set up a private invite only group where they invite the elite of Flickr, those most heavily invested in Flickr engagement, and personally make them a part of the process going forward.

5. Flickr should set up an ambassador program. They should pay ambassadors $1,000/month (these would not be Flickr employees) to represent Flickr in their respective cities. Part of that responsibility would be to host a photowalk at least once a month (if not more). They would also breath new life into the geographic group best represented on Flickr for their area. Flickr might consider inviting them to San Francisco for an offsite once a year.

6. Engineers/Designers should start working on these problems right away: porting Flickr’s new justified pages to the rest of the site, developing circles for your Flickr contact management, giving people better blocking tools on the site, giving people better filtering tools on the site, creating a cross group subscription system that would aggregate all of the threads you are following in all of your groups and managing these threads as a single forum for you personally, building a first class mobile experience on par with Instagram, and a lot of other things. They should position flickr as a fast moving, innovative, perpetual beta team and Yahoo execs and PR should be cheerleaders with every innovation going forward. Want to see how this is done, just watch Vic Gundotra’s Google+ stream.

7. Yahoo should begin re-evaluating their relationship with Getty Images. Their goal should be to get more photographers paid more money and have more of their photos represented in the Getty Collection. If Yahoo cannot improve this situation in a meaningful way they should consider terminating the Getty relationship, acquiring a smaller stock photography competitor and building this in house. Stock photography should not be considered for what it can add to the bottom line, but for what it can do to recruit the best photographers in the world to post their work on Flickr.

8. Yahoo should heavily promote Flickr with it’s other brands. All other Yahoo properties should begin thinking of how they might incorporate Flickr photos into their properties. Image Search seems like a no brainer. It should be a Yahoo goal to double the amount of Flickr photos in their image search results in the next 60 days. Every site that uses photography on Yahoo should be charged with figuring out a way how to increase Flickr Images in their products. Yahoo may need to develop a sort of opt-in structure for this type of promotion (or better yet an opt out) to deal with photographer’s rights issues and grumpy photographers who might not want their work better promoted and represented on Yahoo, but many will enjoy the extra attention and views and it’s a natural place for Yahoo to go to for imagery.

Mayer needs to hold her new team accountable for the performance of unique users at Flickr. Flickr has been losing unique users and if Flickr is going to seriously compete in the new great big photo sharing world of the WWW, they need to let the photographers of the world know that they are back in a big way and are here to win. Success at Flickr should then be highly promoted by Yahoo PR to show that Yahoo does indeed have their mojo back and that Mayer is in fact winning. More than anything this is the reputation that Yahoo needs to change — excelling at Flickr is one of the best ways that Yahoo can illustrate that to the world. If Yahoo can’t do this then they should just call it a day and sell Flickr to Google now. They will just continue to bleed users and it will be a sore reminder that Yahoo is still languishing every time some new meme about making Flickr awesome again catches the internet’s attention.

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  1. Many interesting thoughts here. But let’s make sure that if she buys the ideas you’re suggesting about evangelists etc then (i) they shouldn’t all be male – I didn’t see any women listed in the article (ii) it’s not only about the US (iii) nobody who’s already a bigwig on Google+ should be used (Flickr must differentiate itself) and linked to this (iv) the person/people should be high quality photographers – the message is that Flickr is open to everyone and is the natural home of quality photographers.

  2. Troy says:

    Good article. Observant. Lots of good ideas. Point #1 should be deeply embarrassing for them and yes, the Getty relationship DOES need review and improvement.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Tom, there are so many great women who would make great evangelists/community manager types as well. Lotus Carroll, Vivienne Gucwa, Michelle Brecher, Natalie Villalobos, Jan Kabili come to mind right away. I think that in addition to hiring a top name as an evangelist there should also be additional hires in the community management space. At present I can’t think of a specific woman who engages social media in the photography space quite like someone like Robert Scoble does in as highly visible of a way — maybe Veronica Belmont though. This doesn’t mean though that other women shouldn’t be brought on board as well, they should!

    Bigwigs on Google+ and even Google employees should all be considered. Flickr should hire the best person they can get for the job. One of the problems is thinking that Flick and Google+ must somehow differentiate themselves in a meaningful way. At the end of the day this is not a land treaty where each site gets a defined territory that the other cannot encroach on. Eyeballs are eyeballs and photographers are photographers. Our attention is limited and as photographers we’ll go where the action is. I spent alot more time on Flickr before Google+ came along. Flickr should try to figure out how to get alot of that time of mine back. This means that Flickr and Google+ will likely have to compete head on and not just as two complementary services.

    I think everyone I mentioned above is in fact a quality photographer. Having street cred as a photographer is important, but I’d rather take someone who is an animal at social media and a passable photographer than a truly great photographer without the social media skills.

  4. kirkyshooter says:

    Sounds like you are blowing your own horn again, I am actually surprised there was not a self-portrait of you with your hand up screaming “Pick me! PICK ME!”

  5. As the webmaster of a third part app for flickr, there is one more point Flickr should really do, it’s being more involved in the Flickr’s app universe.
    The app garden in flickr is an abondonned place, some apps submitted monts or years ago still doesn’t appear in the app garden, with the new search tool included in flickr few months ago, you can’t even look for an app in the app garden.

    There are no more blog post about Flickr apps, nobody cares at Flickr ?

    But new usages of a website may appear from apps and api usage.
    App garden and api are a great research and developement tool for flickr, and better than hiring a rock star, it is free, you just have to keep it alive and provide some great api (and that’s not the point of flickr, lot of api methods are useless or badly made)
    Should we remember to yahoo/Flickr that part of the facebook success comes from third part apps ?

    I’ve been wondering myself various times if I was right or not about making apps for Flickr, and if I shouldn’t move to 500px or Google+

    Maybe one day I’ll if they do not change anything. Spending hours building apps for a tools with no way to spread the words inside Flickr is just frustrating.

    And yes I’m speaking about my own needs, but just think in thousand of people and apps waiting for that…

  6. John Patrick says:

    A lot of this does make sense and yes – I agree the dog food factor is important. There’s nothing like having to work with the quirks and frustrations of your own product to focus the mind. Not sure about the ‘elite of Flickr’ group though. I wonder if the better way forward would be to focus on the needs of the ‘average’ user first. I think that’s maybe where Instagram’s stolen a lead.

  7. dbltapp says:

    Didn’t Yahoo just lay off a bunch of Flickr employees? Seems its future is uncertain…

  8. John E Adams says:

    Even being a little shopworn, they are still the big dog on the block for photography as a whole but hopefully moving forward will come up as a big ticket item on the agenda. I am sure it will over time, but as you mentioned it is probably the least broke area in the shop will be of a lower priority -;0)

  9. Matt Smith says:

    Great post. If they would spend half the time researching the stuff you’ve done here it would be a start.
    The instagram account use is just sad. A little common sense at the top would go a long way.

  10. Pawel Tomaszewicz says:

    It seems we gonna see same people everywhere now and many of them just earn the money on real photographers. In last 2 years I see that average photographers are promoted and real artist are forgotten. That is very easy to spot on G+. I like most the ideas but I dont think latest chnges are going in good direction.

  11. Pawel Tomaszewicz says:

    Good example is Robert Scoble who became photographer when the G+ started just to gain more popularity. I’m not sure whom bussines is here most important. Where are those photos of his? Many people called now popular photographers, where are their photos?

  12. Thoughtful post. The problem is that flickr is just one, teeny, tiny part of Yahoo’s overall business – and it’s certainly not its most profitable.

    There are going to be SO many things that Mayer will have to look at and assign her attention. Hopefully flickr makes the cut.

  13. Thomas Hawk says:

    John, Flickr’s profitability is irrelevant. It’s value is mostly marketing and PR for Yahoo at this point. It’s the most visible beloved property. Yahoo spent $100 million on a marketing campaign about the internet being under new management, yours.

    A turnaround with Flickr is worth the cost in terms of marketing and PR. Yahoo needs to convince the world that they are a turn around story. Flickr is the easiest most visible way to do this.

  14. meligrosa says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I also second what Statrs Webmaster said.
    My biggest issue with instagram, that flickr should kind if see (well, amongst many other things) is that, you just cannot see the 301st picture you liked. There are so many rapid insta-losses that flickr could+should def. thrive on. — and many many other things.

    great article as always brings one’s own questions and debates within, as users.
    best xxom

  15. A thoughtful and insightful analysis, thank you. However, Yahoo’s (and now Marissa Mayer’s) problem is that Yahoo is quickly losing it’s raison d’etre, and it needs to re-invent itself quickly. Identifying a role for Flickr in the new future is the key.

  16. Excellent points on all. I would add that Flickr MUST get into the mobile and tablet game also in a much bigger and better way, one that incorporates alot of what you said here. It’s just the reality of the day for what drives much of the traffic flow.

  17. Michele says:

    I concur on the Flickr app for iPhone. I was so frustrated with it that I deleted it. And I am a heavy Flickr user. It’s better/easier to go through from Safari on my phone. At least then I can access/post comments to my groups.

  18. Marina says:

    Hi Thomas
    I really appreciate your open letters to Marissa Meyer. I am truly excited that this may mean that beginner of a renaissance at Flickr. Like you I agree that they have really missed the boat in several areas allowing other competitors to come in and steal market share, particularly 500px and Instagram.

    I would also like to see some enhancements when working with your favourites and galleries a la Pinterest. The creation of boards, being able to subscribe to other peoples boards, etc is a huge growth area that has been neglected, allowing Pinterest to rapidly become a photo sharing site and a place to hang out. Yet Flickr makes it easier to share to Pinterest than to add to my own Galleries? Sending visitors to another site? It boggles my mind.

    Hopefully Marissa will open up a Flickr account and figure out the potential of this property.

  19. Josef says:

    Great ideas here on this post. I recently attended the official flickr meetup a few months back and made some of my frustrations known to someone there and though I felt heard at the time, they did not get back to me after an initial e-mail. Have you ever gotten response from any emails or posts to the Help Section? I am wondering if I should do the same as you and post something like this before I can be heard. I dread the day they completely ruin flickr and all my work and time will be lost. I have backups for the photos but the narrative story and text of my captions are written in the moment and are not backed up.

  20. Erika says:

    Perhaps Marissa can help turn Flickr around, it seems Pinterest has come from nowhere and is rapidly gaining in market share.

  21. Dave Parker says:

    Thanks for your efforts Thomas in getting this ball rolling, the Instagram thing is overblown though. Big deal, sure she should have a flickr account, but using Instagram is a non issue. It’s a different animal and integrates really well with flickr! It sure is an exciting time for photography! (me tapping toes waiting for future flickr awesomeness!)

  22. Andrew says:

    Flickr needs to be spun off and allowed to live its own life. It never managed to integrate well into the company. It’s a distraction to Yahoo, and Yahoo is a distraction to Flickr.

    Yahoo successfully performed such a spinoff with Hortonworks, and should do the same with Flickr.

  23. Why doesn’t some company just buy Yahoo and be done with it! I was thinking maybe that’s why Google sent Mz. MM there! I’m not too sure if I were a YAHOO (board member) I would have hired a woman having her first baby in just a few months after my hire if I didn’t have a game plan to make some money for stockholders quickly by selling well! Not that women who have children should not be and aren’t in hi-powered positions, but I am pretty sure from experience once she looks into those baby’s eyes, Yahoo, Flickr, whatever problems will seem somewhat trivial! I wouldn’t worry too much about what’s going to happen cause my guess is this company is getting ready be sold!