By now, most folks who are in touch with the social media world has heard of Pinterest. For those who have dug a little deeper, or perhaps snagged an invite and messed around with it some, they may be a little unsure about it’s utility: clearly, if you are planning a wedding, into eating food, or designing a new room in your house, it’s an incredible tool. Beyond that, its applications might be a little unclear, particularly for those of us who work in cultural heritage. How can we use Pinterest to engage with communities about our work? How can we raise awareness about cultural heritage, historical preservation, and archaeology?
What is Pinterest? Quite simply, they describe themselves as “A Virtual Pinboard”. It is a tool where you can collect images and videos about various topics, events, or themes on individual “boards”. You can follow other people’s boards, which creates a larger board of which you can browse, repinning, liking, and chatting with other users about their interests. So, if you’re planning a wedding, you may want to follow boards of other people who are also planning weddings. In many ways, I often feel like I am window shopping at a mall. For those not using it, here is a good introduction to Pinterest.
There are a number of ways that I think Pinterest could be used by those of us who use social media for community engagement with cultural heritage. The first question I always ask before using a new site is, “why?” What is it about Pinterest that would make me want to be there? The answer in this case is quite simple: it’s where people are. Lots of people, and women in particular. BlogHer, for example, has reported that women are more likely to trust Pinterest postings and to make more purchases through Pinterest over other social media sites. Users also spend more time on Pinterest then on other social media sites other than Facebook, and it is the largest driver of traffic to retail sites. This means people are there, they stay there, and they use it to access other sites: all good indicators of a tool that could be beneficial for cultural heritage sites. There have been issues about copyright, although Pinterest seems to be actively concerned about it. Regardless, be careful with what you share. If you follow the Pin Etiquette, you should be in good shape.
The next question is how should we use Pinterest for cultural heritage? Here some suggestions for using the tool:
Create an Official Pinterest Account
If you’re working at a museum, University, heritage foundation, or non-profit, you should consider starting a Pinterest account for that entity. This way, you can focus the board on the elements that represents your organization. These topics could be widespread. For example, Preservation Virginia has created a number of boards that represent the types of things they are interested in: Historic Buildings, Sites they’re working on, architectural features, archaeology, preservation in action, and a storefront are all boards that define what Preservation Virginia is about, and provides content for their followers to raise awareness, drive traffic back to their site, and raise some money. I would suggest, for example, that they also include an “Events” and an “In the News” board, to showcase other places where the public can learn more about activities happening in their area.
As I’ve mentioned before, social media is making a huge push into becoming more visual. Fortunately, most things relating to cultural heritage are visual: archaeologists, for example, are regularly taking photos of sites and artifacts. Historic Preservationists share have photos of buildings that need preserving, or historical photos of the buildings in their heyday. For those of us who are providing content in blog posts or online exhibits, this means that photos have to be a critical part of each post: something that is catchy and relates to the content is important, because that is what will encourage users to Repin or visit your site.
Go Behind the Scenes
Two of Pinterest’s great features are its mobile app and its ability to create collaborative boards. By encouraging your colleagues at your organization to join Pinterest, they could collectively contribute to a board on your organization’s Pinterest account. The mobile app allows those individuals to do this “live”, by sending photos of what they’re doing at the moment to the board. This gives your followers an opportunity to go behind the scenes. For example, a museum could set up a board for their curators, who could pin photos of them building the next exhibit. Historic St. Mary’s City could have an Archaeology board, where the archaeologists could post pins of their discoveries, as they’re happening. Colonial Williamsburg could send a photographer into the field each day, to take photos of living history interpretors engaging with visitors, and post it the “Today on DOG Street” board. All these ideas give your followers an opportunity to visit your site, and see the behind the scenes work that goes on at your museum. By engaging them in the process, you are building relationships and buy-in, which may prompt them to come visit.
Repin, Communicate, and Like
Like an social media, its important to be an active user. Search for topics relating to your content, and follow the boards of your followers that relate to your organization. A history buff who’s following you may have a History board, which you might find interesting. Users will appreciate it if you repin their posts, the same way people love it if you Retweet or Share their content on Twitter or Facebook. You could even start a board specifically for followers, where you Repin “What our Followers Are Pinning”. In all, this gives you an opportunity to engage and build relationships with the people who enjoy your organization.
Add a Pin Button
Just like all the other social media outlets, Pinterest has created buttons to put on your website and blog so that people can pin your website content onto their boards. Again, remember to make sure those posts all have images associated with them, because otherwise they won’t be able to pin them.
Build a Store
Let’s be honest: there isn’t much money in cultural heritage. With that said, many organizations, particularly museums, have gift shops. Because Pinterest has already shown that it can be a place for commerce, why not link items from your online store (you have one of those, right?) to Pinterest on its own board? By including a “$” sign with a price in the description of the item, it will receive a price banner on the corner, and be included in the “Gifts” section of the Pinterest site, grouped by price. What a great opportunity to market your goods.
In all, I get the impression that Pinterest is here to stay. Its immediate success, particularly its ability to make brands money so quickly, will ensure that it will become more popular than it already is. Hopefully, cultural heritage institutions and practitioners will hop on board, and begin to populate the Pinterest space with a wider variety of content then what is already there. Pinterest is still request only, but it only takes a little while to get on board. If it takes too long, send me your email and I’ll make sure you get one. If you give it a shot, follow me on my pin board, so I can see how you’re using it! Happy Pinning!
Let’s chat: Are you on Pinterest? What do you like or dislike? What ways do you think it could be beneficial for cultural heritage institutions and practitioners?