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An Open Letter to Scott Thompson | by Thomas Hawk
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An Open Letter to Scott Thompson

Hi Scott,

 

I will try to be brief (it's not easy for me), I've got a lot of work to do over at Google+ today (which is where I'm spending more and more of my time) -- we have a photo hangout show there tonight that I should be working on right now.

 

First, congratulations on your new appointment as CEO. As a long-term critic of Yahoo I wish you the best and believe every new CEO deserves a fresh chance. I hope you succeed beyond your wildest dreams. The Street does not like the news of your appointment, but Yahoo's stock would have probably gone down with *ANY* CEO appointment. The Street wants Yahoo to be sold off and your appointment makes that likelihood a little more murky (why hire a CEO to come get a boatload of severance cash if you're just going to sell the company in 2 weeks anyways -- unless the CEO is being hired to actually sell the company).

 

I'm going to give you some advice about Yahoo. It probably won't make a bit of difference (it didn't for Carol).

 

1. Flickr represents your *BEST* possible chance for social at Yahoo, but it's probably too late. Social is key. Social is winning. Facebook is social. Google is social. Twitter is social. Every great web company *must* incorporate social going forward. It's imperative. You can start from scratch or you can try to leverage your best shot at social which is Flickr. I know Flickr is not the most profitable thing Yahoo does -- and I know that profits are very important to CEO types like yourself, but trust me, forget about the immediate profitability, social IS important for your longer-term sustainability.

 

Google has spent hundreds of millions of dollars so far for social on Google+ -- with *NO* advertising or paid accounts. Why? Well for many reasons that have nothing to do with short-term profitability, but just assume that they can siphon off even 1% of the supposed $100 billion value of Facebook, that's a billion dollars for spending a few hundred mil. Not a bad return. Of course they have plans to siphon off *FAR* more than just 1% and far better ways to monetize things in the longer run beyond even just the network itself.

 

2. It will be challenging to turn flickr into a full fledged social network. Too many people think of it as a photo sharing site. This is one of your challenges -- but fix social for photographers and you'll pull in other accounts... maybe. But the competition for social is fierce. The competition wants what little photo social Flickr has left by the way. They are siphoning it off right now as we speak. There's a reason that Flickr's uniques are down 20% since June (according to Compete.com). Look at this last flickr post by Ingo Meckmann. Ingo's a great photographer by the way. This is what is happening to Flickr right now. Photographers are leaving. Google+ is siphoning off your flickr accounts and you're losing your best social asset at Yahoo. Ingo's move away from Flickr is just one of many, many, many such moves.

 

3. Flickr lacks vision and a leader. Maybe this is because most people at Yahoo don't care about Flickr (again, it's not the most profitable thing in the world). Maybe this is because Yahoo cannot recruit a strong leader. I don't know. Again, this is your challenge. I've been on Flickr since 2004. Remember when Bradley Horowitz bought Flickr for Yahoo back in the day? Back when Stewart Butterfield ran the show there. Stewart was a bold visible leader. It helped that he was cofounder of the site and it was his baby, but he was a big personality who was out there banging the drum, interacting with the community, selling flickr to the world. Even if you didn't always agree with his management decisions, he was at least visible.

 

Who is selling flickr to the world now? Nobody, that's who. Do we even know who the General Manager of Flickr is anymore? Who is out there drumming up Flickr photo walks like Google+ is doing? Nobody. Who is out there talking about weekly Flickr innovation? Nobody.

 

Look at the big bold leadership of Google+. Look at Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz -- the very top guys. These guys are constantly promoting their baby. They live and breath it. It's in their blood. I had a little censorship hiccup over on Google+ the other day and within about 10 minutes of posting about it at 1am in the morning Vic Gundotra himself responded to the issue and it got fixed. Go to their Google+ accounts and look at what they are posting. Now look what your Flickr Chief is posting (sorry Markus, nothing personal). Who is rallying the troops at Flickr? Who is leading the charge?

 

4. You have an excellent opportunity to turn Flickr into a stock photography powerhouse and you should. Why? Well for two reasons. First off there are only two companies in the world today who can compete with Getty Images. Google and Yahoo (with Flickr). It's a multi-billion dollar industry ripe for disruption. But secondly, if you really reformed the stock photography market you'd attract all of the best photographers in the world today to Flickr. If you came out with something fairer than a 20% Getty payout and you really put the muscle behind promoting Flickr as a stock powerhouse, you'd retain many of your top photographers who are leaving and you'd attract many more. It's a hook, and a big hook, what social person doesn't like being *paid* to be social? Best of all, you get a cut. How many bored housewives with cameras are sitting out there who wouldn't want to earn a few extra hundred bucks a month? Make this dream come true not just for some of the accounts on Flickr, but open it up to literally everyone.

 

5. Innovate, innovate, innovate. Apparently you are a tech guy. Flickr needs circles (like Google+). You need to spend about 3 weeks studying Flickr Groups and why they are one of the stickiest social things on the web over the past 10 years. Alot about Flickr Groups need to be changed (you need more robust blocking tools, you need better ways to track threads across groups, you need to integrate group threads into your mobile experience, etc.), but at core, they are highly social little mini social systems buried deep inside of Yahoo. Figure them out. Free them. Promote them. Use them to their full potential instead of letting them languish in obscurity buried in the basement of flickr.

 

6. Get a flickr account yourself. I gave Carol this advice too and she never took it. Really. You are CEO of Yahoo. You *should* at least have a flickr account. It would be best if you really used it of course, but even if all it is is a puppet account that your assistant posts vacation photos to for you, do it. If you don't support your own product, why should we? More importantly, what kind of message does it send to your employees working on Flickr if you can't even be bothered to set up an account.

 

7. Overhaul community management at flickr. It's gotten better now that Heather's out (I finally got off the Explore blacklist that Heather always denied ever even existed), but barely. Follow Google's lead and beef up the community management team (I think Google has like 20 community managers or something like that). Get folks in there who will interact with the community, who will promote the community, who will celebrate the community.

 

Look at Vic Gundotra's last post over at Google+. What is it? It's a post celebrating an interesting article by Trey Ratcliff, one of the photo community leaders who has emerged on Google+. How do you think it makes Trey feel when Vic Gundotra himself comes out and brings up one of his posts? How do you think it made Mike Elgan feel last night? Look at how popular a flickr account Trey has. Who at flickr is reaching out to him and making him feel as special as Vic is making him feel? Who is community management?

 

Vic is leading by example here. And his community managers are doing the same thing. That's so smart. This is one of the many reasons why Google is winning at social. I hope Brian Rose and Chris Chabot and Natalie Villalobos and Michael Hermeston and Ricardo Lagos and tag team of Dave Cohen and Vincent Mo, and Tony Payne and Chew Chee and Sparky and soooooo many more Googlers got big fat year-end bonuses at Google, because they deserve it (and wayyy more Googlers that I know I left out, sorry).

 

Where is the community manangement at Flickr? Where is the outreach? Where is the social?

 

Finally, try this. Hop on the Verge's (don't you love cutting edge new tech sites?) article about your new appointment today, or wherever and ask the question, "what is the best internet property that Yahoo has today?" Watch how many people say Flickr. Flickr represents your best chance to funnel positive technology out of Yahoo in a highly visible way. People care more about Flickr than any other Yahoo property. It's highly, highly visible, despite profitability issues. Let your other sleepy little businesses provide the profitability why you hold Flickr up as your beacon and proof that Yahoo can innovate. Do something bold. Get rid of the paid account. Facebook and Google+ don't charge for accounts. I know there's probably a big gasp there as paid accounts are probably the number one thing contributing to Flickr's profitability at present, but do it anyways. People will love it. It will get great press. It will be a big bold move and a signal that Yahoo has much bigger plans for profitability going forward than paid Pro accounts.

 

That is all Scott. Best of luck. If you ever want to talk about Flickr, I have many, many more ideas on how you can turn that failing ship around. Show us you've got what it takes.

 

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Taken on January 4, 2012