Meeting a self-described social media swami isn’t necessarily a religious experience, but it’s almost always a learning experience. At least that was the case when I met Shashi Bellamkonda, whose more formal title is the Chief Social Media Evangelist for Network Solutions.
I first met Shashi through Twitter, where he has about a thousand more followers than me and he’s posted nearly eight times as many updates (if you can’t think of one thing to say on Twitter, imagine writing over 10,000). I then met him at Blog World Expo, which might not be the geekiest event ever, but at least no one was dressed up as their favorite social media site. A personal highlight was joining the Solutions Stars Video Conference that Shashi put together, where I snuck in with some real A-listers.
When I saw Shashi’s Flickr-based photos from Blog World, like this one, I was surprised to see links in the captions to Shashi’s site and his corporate blog. I had to learn more about how and why Shashi was doing this.
Flickr is renowned as a great site for content distribution. You can optimize image titles, tags, and descriptions, along with set names, and images will often rank highly in search engines for those terms. For example, say you’re looking for information on the Henry Moore sculpture exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. If you search for ‘henry moore bronx,’ Yahoo brings up two local listings followed by my Flickr set in the sixth natural position, and Google brings up five listings (including two local) with my Flickr set coming in sixth overall.
Through this, I’ve expanded the search footprint for my personal brand, just as Shashi did for his, and corporate brands can of course do the same. Through Flickr, you can build credibility, connect with people who share similar interests, and over time attract links and build traffic. Additionally, bloggers and others may pick up the images and give you credit, extending the fame and links further.
I spoke with Shashi to find out more about how he approaches Flickr optimization.
Search Insider: What value do you get out of image optimization?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I discovered this by accident. I started taking pictures to share with people that I had met at conferences, and then some of them emailed me asking to use the pictures. I then noticed that there were several people on Flickr who were using the Creative Commons license to let other people use the pictures and give credit. Brian Solis [principal of communications firm FutureWorks PR] is one of them. Flickr is spidered aggressively by Google and while the links in the comments section are “no follow,” any links you put in the description are valid. Realizing it’s all about user experience, I think the best practice is to add your blog and website links, and it’s preferable to link to the person you took a picture of. I have had several top bloggers link to me thanks to Flickr. You can see one example from Marc Baumann, and another post for a good cause [about drunk driving].
SI: Are you just using Flickr? Are there any other sites you’re using for image link optimization?
Bellamkonda: I dabbled with a lot of them and decided to concentrate on Flickr for its distribution and for the speed in being spidered. The openness of the platform is also good; you can blog from your feed, embed your picture in posts, and take advantage of other functionality.
SI: Can you briefly mention what Creative Commons is and why you feature CC attributions in all your photos?
Bellamkonda: Making them CC helps spread the picture and its collateral far wider. People come and tag their pictures, tag their friends, download pictures, and even use the pictures for printed collateral.
SI: How do you track where your photos go?
Bellamkonda: If my pictures are used, then my Google alert helps track it. I also use mybloglog.com to see where the traffic came from. I noticed this weekend that Flickr has now better stats about traffic and you can see where your traffic is coming from.
SI: What are your favorite uploading tools for Flickr that let you do this efficiently?
Bellamkonda: The two tools I recommend are Flickr Uploadr and also the Windows Live Photo Gallery. Initially, I was uploading images all in their original sizes and then decided to upload them in the recommended size for archiving — 2048 pixels. Sometimes people email me asking for the original images for print and I send it to them.
SI: Do you have any other recommendations?
Bellamkonda: Ultimately, Flickr is about the users. Share interesting pictures that tell a story and provide value to your Flickr community. If you are taking the trouble of posting your pictures, you should take the next step to title and tag them well so people looking for these pictures will come up in search results.
SI: Are there any tips on what you’d advise NOT to do?
Bellamkonda: I think everyone should be mindful of the Flickr Community Guidelines: “Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account. Any other commercial use of Flickr, Flickr technologies (including APIs, FlickrMail, etc), or Flickr accounts must be approved by Flickr.” Also, every picture of yours should tell a story, and I believe this guideline is policed by the community.