Can businesses use Flickr?

A provocative piece on Search Engine Journal incited some interesting comments about tension between marketing strategies and the interests of Internet users.

The author’s job is doing SEO for a company that sells eyewear, and one of his initiatives recently flatlined. One of his strategies was to create an account for his company on the Flickr (the Yahoo-owned photo hosting and sharing service) account for his company, and post pictures related to their business… movie stars wearing their products, pictures of the stuff they sell, etc. The idea was to create images with keyword rich titles that would show up in search engine results, and get people to the company’s website by linking to it in each Flickr picture description. In December 2008, the account got shut down for violating terms of service regarding commercial use.

Comments include… frustration over perceived arbitrary enforcement of TOS by Flickr, protests that many business uses of Flickr are legitimate, and anger from people who hate SEO black and grey hat tactics polluting their interwebs. My favorite comment was a pointer to a company successfully using Flickr.

Ok, ok, sorry. I didn’t answer the tantalizing question my post title poses. Look, I’ve recommended Flickr to clients before. A couple of our clients have a lot of amazing images. They own copyright. They’re cool pictures, not catalog images. We said, “be like National Geographic.” If you follow the Flickr Commons model and share your content with the community it will benefit you by increasing your online visibility! I agree with Richard Burckhardt, the author of the Search Engine Journal, that companies should try to promote their products and services in interesting ways, places and media.

Wow, I still haven’t answered the question. Ok, here goes. Flickr says their service is for personal, not business use. However, there are a number of businesses with Flickr accounts and it’s not clear to me that businesses may not use Flickr. However, business but not commercial use is a pretty fine line and there are a lot of ways for a business to fall afoul of the community, draw complaints and get an account shut down.

The debate over what’s tolerated and punished on Flickr is a common topic on the site’s lively forums. Check out this post. Stewart, Flickr’s co-founder, does some amazing PR / customer service with his compassionate and informative input.
The Flickr Community Guidelines describe acceptable and verboten use