Should Your Nonprofit Use Pinterest?

I can't count the number of social media profiles I've created over the years. Most of those accounts lie dormant, as the fickle winds of social media trends blow hither and yon - but one recent exception is Pinterest.

Pinterest's premise is simple: It's a virtual replacement for cork pinboards - the kind you may still have in your kitchen or work space, to collect ideas, picture postcards, and the like. On Pinterest, you set up a collection of pinboards (usually, each one has a theme, such as fashion, food, home decor, or one of my personal favourites, "Crazy Star Wars Sh*t"), and then pin images to them - either by uploading files or by simply surfing the web & using Pinterest's bookmarklet to pin images from any web page. You can add a comment to your pin if you like, as well. 

The social networking aspect of the site is that you can follow other users' pinboards, and every time they add a new pin, it will appear on your Pinterest home page - much like Facebook's news feed. The result is like a custom-tailored magazine: your home page will be a visual feast of images geared to your personal affiliations and interests. 

I've come to love Pinterest, but I only ever considered using it for personal stuff, until this morning when I saw an email from my colleague Darren Barefoot, asking for thoughts on whether Pinterest could be a useful tool for nonprofits. I thought it might be useful to share my response more widely than the email list we're both on, so I'm reposting it here. 

(For reference, here's a blog post Darren referenced that explains to nonprofits how they can use Pinterest.)

I always tell my clients that the first step in a good social media strategy is to listen - that is, figure out where their community is spending time online so they can meet them where they are. The question to me, then, is: What nonprofits can benefit most from engaging the built-in Instagram & Pinterest communities?

[…] I've been using Pinterest for a while, and the big opportunity here, as I see it, is for museums and visual arts groups. There are two reasons I suggest this:

  1. Pinterest's app is all about visuals & repinning (akin to Facebook's "share" functionality). If you don't have fabulous visuals that are likely to spread like wildfire through the Pinterest community, you're probably wasting your time there.

  2. Pinterest's community is, not coincidentally, visually oriented - the early adopters included stylists, wedding planners, designers, photographers, crafters, and so on - the kinds of people who might buy glossy, photography-driven magazines. They are most likely to gravitate towards high-impact visuals and the level of engagement beyond looking is low, so you kind of want to stick to pinning stuff where looking is the whole point. 

I checked my assumptions against the list of nonprofit Pinterest users maintained by the author of your second blog post.

For my money, the museums are a way better fit for Pinterest than, say, the Association of Public Health Libraries - while the latter's "Science as Art" board looks worth following, I'm not sure the APHL stands to gain much from people repinning those images - whereas a nonprofit like the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art stands a good chance of significantly expanding their potential visitor base (by increasing awareness of their existence), given their great visuals coupled with the fact that their target market is parents - Pinterest is chock-full of pin boards for kids' room decor, birthday party theme ideas, healthy lunch recipes, and so on.

Here are a few more museums that seem to be making great use of Pinterest:

I can see Pinterest being a great venue for smaller, quirky/niche museums (like, say, the Museum of Menstruation) as well as local museums (such as the Museum of Vancouver) - i.e. curated collections of stuff that hasn't been heavily photographed & circulated on the web already.

Is your nonprofit using Pinterest? (Or would you consider it?) I welcome your thoughts in the comments.