Social media’s all about ‘the conversation’, isn’t it? Everything I’ve read, seen and heard about social media puts the all important ‘dialogue’ aspect at its very heart.
So how come one of the giants of the scene – picture sharing site Flickr – can totally ignore the values which are so fundamental to what it’s supposed to be about?
I’ve learned to my cost that: “Flickr reserves the right to terminate your account without warning at any time.”
For Deadline, the Edinburgh-based news, photo and video agency I set up a Flickr account almost a year ago. Last week that account vanished and a year’s worth of work disappeared. We immediately started working through a checklist of possible reasons? Unpaid bills? Sabotage? A catastrophic software glitch?
After ruling out these possibilities we finally contacted Flickr for “help”. Three days later we got the following, less-than-enlightening response: “Your Flickr account was deleted by Flickr staff for violating our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.”
No further explanation. Just a link to the extensive small print. We sought further clarification. A couple of days later came another dismissively short response: “Flickr accounts are intended for personal use, for our members to share photos and video that they themselves have created.”
Oh aye? Funny that. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on Flickr knows there are many businesses and enterprises represented. As long as they aren’t selling, but sharing useful and interesting content, it seems to be acceptable.
So guess what? Learning that Flickr’s draconian switch off policy isn’t for perverts, pornographers and spammers but actually applied to us left me less than impressed.
More than a week later my anger has settled. However,I hope you won’t mind me sharing five reasons why Flickr sucks harder than a turbo-charged vacuum cleaner:
1 – Flickr canned the concept of “conversation”
Either Flickr is proud to part of the social media landscape or it isn’t.
If it is in, then engagement should be a fundamental part of what it does.
If it’s out, then it’s just another soulless, corporate sham, paying lip service to the concepts of “social” and “conversation” while wearing a thin veneer of Web 2.0 respectability.
I wonder how many others have been switched off in this way, with Flickr simply opting out of any engagement with the affected users?
Had Flickr taken the time to contact us (whether out of courtesy for the fee we paid them, or because we got so many hits from the Flickr community over 10 months of honest sharing) maybe we could have made adjustments to get back within the “community guidelines”.
If the problem couldn’t be resolved and the decision to switch off went ahead, then at least we could have prepared for it and not spent days chasing our tail trying to find out what went wrong.
Simple conversation. In the age of endless dialogue is it too much to expect even a basic email notification?
Instead we got the equivalent of the Guantanamo Bay treatment: tried by a kangaroo court in our absence and with no right of reply – with Flickr acting as self-appointed judge, jury and executioner.
Hardly what you’d expect from a poster child for the whole “social media transparency and sharing” schtick.
2 – Flickr customer service is a total #PRfail
The most innovative, forward-thinking (and yes, successful) companies are using social media to engage with customers, listen to what they say and address problems and shortcomings.
The time it took Flickr to let us know our account had been pulled would be a source of embarrassment to anyone professing to practice even rudimentary customer service.
The fact we were cut off arbitrarily is bad enough. That we then contacted Flickr and the first point of contact wasn’t able to immediately tell us this (or explain why) is laughable.
To compound the calamitous bad practice, when they finally did give us an explanation it said only that we’d breached guidelines – with no detail, or elaboration.
So just to recap it seems to work like this over at Flickr Towrs:
• Take the money from paying customers (yes, we PAID and weren’t on the free service)
• Take a unilateral decision to pull that account without explanation or warning
• Take an inordinate amount of time to acknowledge the account was pulled (and didn’t disappear because of hacking, user failure or non-payment)
• Take the paying customer to the limits of their patience, by putting this down to a “breach”, without specifying any details.
Seems it’s all take-take-take over at Flickr – and not in a good way. Here’s how I reckon any self-respecting company (social media or otherwise) would have handled this customer issue:
• Take the time to contact a customer and explain any breaches of protocol.
• Make an effort to listen to any mitigating circumstances
• Rake in other opinion and factors, including looking at the site history, visitor feedback etc
• Shake the whole thing together – so that any final decision is based on sound judgement and gives the customer some sense of having been dealt with even-handedly.
3 – Lawyers, sales people and unpopular professions hide behind small print. Now Flickr does too!
Here’s a newsflash Flickr – no-one reads the small print.
Especially when it comes to the fun and well-intentioned stuff of social media.
Generally small print is the preserve of complex legal transactions, ass-coverers, petty officials, those with a need to confound and those with a high expectation of customer dissatisfaction.
Most of us accept social media sites have to include small print to cover the legal possibilities when working with millions of people across multiple interests and without geographical borders.
We also expect that 99.9% of the time this jargon-filled and legalese mgumbo is entirely irrelevent to us and the only people who really need to read it are lawyers or insomniacs.
Most of us understand what is really important – that social media isn’t the Wild West and the basic guidelines of legality, decency and respect for others still have to be followed.
Isn’t the whole point of social media that that it rips up the rulebooks? In a way the only rules are: Engage, converse and share without expecting to benefit in return.
Wasn’t social media meant to change the culture of small print and inflexible, hidebound bureaucracy?
It seems not. Pulling our account without warning and expecting a link to your small print to suffice by way of an explanation should make Flickr’s people shudder with embarrassment.
4 – Flickr deceives with its use of language
After pulling the rug from under us, Flickr made the point that it is a sharing platform for individuals – and not for businesses.
However, if that’s the case, then why does it offer an enhanced paid-for service called ‘Pro’?
My understandable assumption was that I was paying for the privilege of an enterprise version, aimed at professionals rather than enthusiastic amateurs and hobbyists.
If ‘Pro’ doesn’t mean ‘Professional’ then what does it mean? Does ‘Pro’ somehow translate as ‘Hobbyist Plus’ or ‘Amateur Extra’?
The fact remains that what we shared (free of charge) with the rest of the Flickr community on a daily basis was the work of our professional photographers. Yep, Pros.
We weren’t selling the images. There were no prices, no charges, no attempt to advertise.
In short, there was no subterfuge, no sleight of hand, no deception nor any attempt to deceive.
Every image we shared was the pick of any news assignment, with an informative caption. We were sharing, with no expectation of any return.
In fact, the only lack of clarity here is what Flickr means by ‘Pro’.
That isn’t the only fast and loose wordplay by the picture sharing giant. Just how do they define “business”, I wonder?
Broadly speaking I’d expect business to mean a focused, money-making enterprise. In fact, The Oxford English dictionary defines it as: “one’s regular occupation, profession or trade”.
So, if Flickr is for individuals rather than businesses, then presumably any and every professional photographer – whether a one man band or part of a bigger enterprise – is banned from using the service? Aye, right.
Calling an enhanced paid-for service ‘Pro’ then claiming it is not for businesses or professionals is simply the worst kind of oily and deceptive word play.
5 – Flickr disregards the behaviour of its own community
In our case Flickr’s decision was unilateral and also seems entirely arbitrary.
While they had no engagement with us at all, it seems the decision to cancel our account also paid little, if any, attention to the behaviours of Flickr’s own members.
Let’s start with the member I’m most concerned about – Deadline.
Here’s what’s important: every day Deadline’s professional photographers chose a single image from each photo assignment and uploaded it to Flickr, along with an informative caption.
This ticked all the boxes of responsible social media engagement. We were sharing informative, interesting, engaging and newsworthy content in real time with the Flickr community.
By paying for a ‘Pro’ account, we also contributed to Flickr’s income while delivering them stacks of content.
Even a cursory look at our account and our history would have shown that, despite being a business, we were categorically NOT selling images – but sharing them. But let’s look beyond our own narrow, one member perspective.
In the wider Flickr community was our content well received and well rated?
More than 10,000 visitors a month (a total of 166,000 in the past 10 months) thought so, with many leaving positive comments to thank us for sharing.
On a typical day 800 people viewed our stream. On our best day we got 16,000 visitors.
Flickr seemed totally oblivious to those stats when it switched off our account.
At best this shows little faith in its community of members – at worst it represents total disdain for the preferences of those members.
Flickr and its cutely misspelt name? What a bunch of Wankrs.
Any other picture sharing services out there who’d be interested in hosting Deadline’s photographs, please do get in touch.