Social media in public works 101 — Photo-sharing

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People love to show off pictures of their kids, their most recent vacation, or some other fascinating aspect of their lives. So it was only a matter of time before sharing photos became an online social activity. One of the more popular photo-sharing sites, Flickr, founded in 2004 and purchased by Yahoo in 2005, has approximately 51 million users. Because of its popularity and integration of social media tools, Flickr is our site of choice for learning how social media can enhance photo-sharing.

We'll begin by creating a free Flickr account. By the end of the article, you will have filled out your profile, uploaded some photos, joined a Flickr group, and added a contact. Although the process is easy, there are quite a few steps involved, so I've laid them out below in a numbered list:

1. Visit Create your account by clicking the button that says: "Sign Up."

Flickr Sign Up Screen2. You should now be at the sign-in screen where you are prompted for a Yahoo ID and password. As you can see in the screenshot, Flickr will also allow you to sign up with your Google or Facebook account. However, if you choose to access Flickr through your Google or Facebook accounts, be ready to grant Flickr approval to access information from those accounts.

3. If you successfully put in your ID and password and hit the "Sign In" button in the last step, you should now find yourself at a screen prompting you to choose your Flickr screen name. After you successfully have chosen, click the blue button that says: "Create My Account." (If you signed in with your Google or Facebook account, Flickr should have taken you to a screen where you can enter a Flickr screen name and create your account.)

4. You are now at your home page. There's a lot to check out here, but to start we are going to follow the helpful suggestions Flickr has left for us. Let's start with "Personalize our profile."

5. Create a buddy icon. This is the thumbnail photo Flickr proudly displays by your user name on your pages. Click either the "Create your buddy icon" text or the "Let's do it!" button.

6. On the next screen look for the prompt to "Choose File" so that you can navigate to your special profile photo on your computer. When you have found it, and the computer loads the file location into the little window, you are ready to click "Upload."

7. Flickr will now display your photo in a window and offer you the opportunity to crop your image. Drag the crop box around until it highlights the area of your photo that you want displayed. You can also pull on the corners of the box to enlarge it. Click "Make the Icon" button when you're done. This brings you back to the "Create your buddy icon" page where you'll need to click the "Next" button to go on.

8. Set your custom URL for your profile page. You can try to use your username or some other clever designation. Hit the blue "preview" button when you're done.

9. If you have chosen wisely (actually, if you have chosen something no one else has) then you will see a screen asking you to "Lock it in and continue." If instead, you realize you made a poor choice, Flickr gives you the chance to go back and try again.

10. Tell people about yourself. But don't worry if you aren't ready to share personal information. Flickr lets you know that you don't have to fill all this out now. You can always change this or add to it later in your account preferences.

11. Whew! I was starting to wonder if we would ever get through all that! Finally, Flickr takes us back to our home page. Flickr also lets us know how we are doing. So far, we have personalized our profile. Next we'll be prompted to upload our first photos. We'll do this by clicking the words, "Upload your first photos."

12. Think of at least three photos you would like to share. When you have the three in mind, click the words, "Choose photos."

13. Once you have chosen your three photos, Flickr displays them in the Uploadr. Here you can change the descriptions, titles, tags, and settings before you actually upload the photos to the site. You can also place them into special sets or groups. To change the settings for each photo, highlight it by clicking on it and then edit the settings on the side. You can also change settings for multiple photos by choosing more than one.When all your photos are ready, click "Upload Photos."

Flickr Photo Page14. If your photos have successfully uploaded, you should see them displayed on your Flickr Photostream screen. With digital pictures, you'll find there is no more forgetting to write on the back of photos. You can just add a description, and it will be displayed for all to see under your photo. Go ahead and click the "add a description" area under a photo now to tell others about your images.

15. You can also try clicking a photo. This brings you to the individual photo page like the one shown here for one of my photos of a pool reconstruction project. On the photo page, you can find out more about each image including the owner's settings and the location where the photo was taken if location-based equipment was used to take it. If the photo is yours, you can also change the title, description, and tags on this page. Descriptive tags are important so others can find your photos more easily.

16. Your photostream is now complete with photo titles and descriptions and tags for the world to see.

17. As you upload more photos, you might want to consider creating sets to help organize your images into categories. (Flickr only allows us to create three sets since we have the free account.) Click the word "Sets" under the title "Your Photostream," and you will see a screen telling you" You don't have any sets!" Fortunately, Flickr offers you a link where you can go create some using their Organizr tool.

18.  Once in the Organizr, you can either drag your photos from the window at the bottom of the screen to the larger window in the middle, or click the "Create your first set" button and then drag the photos in. When finished, hit the blue "Save" button. That's it — you made your first photo set!

19. To really take advantage of the social media capabilities of Flickr, let's join a group! While still in the Organizr, click the Group tab at the top of the page. This will take you to a screen where Flickr informs you that "You don't belong to any groups." Fortunately, Flickr again offers a link to where we need to go to join some. Click the "Groups page" link. (If you went back to your photostream, you can also get to the groups page by clicking the word "Groups" at the top of the page and choosing "Your Groups" from the drop-down menu).  

Manhole cover group page in Flickr20. To look for a group, type some keywords in the search window, hit "Search," and a list of groups related to that topic will be displayed. You can also see how many members are in each group, how many discussions are taking place on their group page, and how many photos have been shared with the group. To visit a group's page, just click on the group name. To join, just click "Join this group." Because one of my favorite topics is sewers, I typed that word in and found a "manhole cover" group shown here in the screenshot. This group has 1,375 members and more than 16,000 photos of manhole covers.

21. If you're looking for other groups to join, here is a listing of groups I have joined with my account.

And that's it! You now have your very own photo-sharing space on Flickr. And you have created a set for your photos and joined a group. The final activity was to add a contact. If you know someone already on Flickr, send over a contact request to them now. If your friends and colleagues have not yet made it over to Flickr, feel free to search for me. You can find people by clicking the word "Search" in the upper right corner of the screen. This brings up the Search page. Once there, make sure you click the word "People"  and then type the person's name in the search window. Click the blue "Search" button, and the person you are looking for will be displayed.

To add that person as a contact, hover your cursor over their profile image and a little arrow appears. Click this and choose from the menu that opens, "Add [Person's Name] as a contact?" A new window pops up prompting you to choose what kind of contact that person will be and finally to confirm the contact. I recommend not marking people as friends or family unless you know them very well because you might want to someday restrict viewing of certain photos to only those people who you know very well and have added as a friend or family.

I'm going to leave you with a few final tips for your viewing pleasure. If you are interested in using Flickr to find photos for use in presentations or publications, make sure to respect the permissions people set on their photos.  It's also a good idea to check a person's profile to see if they have any special requirements or requests for the use of their photos. I try to set most of my photos with a Creative Commons license so people can download my photos for any use except a commercial purpose. However, if someone wants to use them commercially, they can send me a request. Normally, I grant their request. So make sure to look for permissions before using a photo. If a photo is set with "All Rights Reserved" you can only view the photo on Flickr and cannot download it or copy it for your own use.

Finally, check out the Flickr account for the Washington State DOT. (It's at this URL: This agency was an early adopter, joining the site in April 2007, and has thousands of public works-related photos. And most are set with a Creative Commons license so you can use them as long as the use isn't for a commercial purpose.



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About the Blogger

Pam Broviak

thumbnail image A former senior editor of PUBLIC WORKS, Pam Broviak publishes the Public Works Group Blog at (All views expressed in this blog are her own and not those of PUBLIC WORKS.)