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Should Universities Use Pinterest?

YES!

Well, maybe.

Visual bookmarking website Pinterest is the newest social media superstar–Mashable reports that the site saw its estimated unique visitors jump 429 percent from September 2011 to December 2011, for a total of more than 7 million unique visitors. Users create collections of images–called boards–by “pinning” an image from anywhere online, uploading an image from their computer, or “repinning” another user’s pin. Some of the most popular topics so far are fashion, DIY, health, home decor and party and wedding planning. (Here’s a quick how-to that explains more about what Pinterest is.)

I’m an avid personal user of Pinterest but wasn’t sure if there was much use for brands outside of lifestyle or retail companies like Martha Stewart and West Elm.

Then I saw Drake University’s account.

The Iowa university’s Pinterest boards include Rad Room Decor, Study Abroad, Wear Blue, Explore Des Moines, and Adorbs Bulldogs (their mascot). Brilliant! And they already have 550+ followers.

But I work for a business school. We don’t really do room decor or cute animals. Could it work for us?

At first I wasn’t sure, but then got hit with a little inspiration and decided to give it a shot and create a UT McCombs School of Business Pinterest account (not super catchy, I know). The thing is, once you get the hang of Pinterest, it’s very easy to use and doesn’t require much of your time or energy (although it’s easy to get sucked in). I created boards for office fashion (Workin’ It), workplace decor (Office Space), alumni and faculty books (Alumni and Faculty Books), motivational messages (Inspiration), UT and Austin stuff, and a few others. It’s a mix of things I think our communities might be interested in, plus a selection of our own best content that fits in the Pinterest ecosystem. Once I decided on these buckets, it was easy to find stuff to fill them with.

Now, I don’t know if this will catch on with our particular students and alumni or not. I’m just testing the waters and have only tweeted about the account once. We only have nine followers, with some of the individual boards attracting more. Maybe our audience will never be there. And if that turns out to be the case, we’ll move on. But I know for me and quite a few friends, Pinterest has quickly become that rare tool that is easy, addictive AND incredibly useful. And if I can bring our school into that mix, I feel like I should at least experiment a bit and see what happens.

Besides, we’re always hearing about the need for more visual and less text-heavy communication. Maybe this curation process will help me become a better visual storyteller in other outlets like our blog and print magazine.

I haven’t found many universities actively using Pinterest, but here are a handful that are worth following for ideas and to see how this trend develops:

University of South Carolina Arts Education

  • Sample boards: Visual Culture, Social Justice, Art/Artists

Texas A&M University

  • Sample boards: Our Campus, Aggie Traditions, Aggie I Do

Skidmore College

  • Sample boards: Campus Eats!, Books Worth Reading, Science at Skidmore

Oberlin College

  • Sample boards: Bikes & Bike Style, Obie Creations, Learning from the Greats

So should universities use Pinterest? I’m answering a definitive “maybe.” If you’re overwhelmed with all the other social media outlets you have to currently maintain, maybe just learn about the site and keep an eye on things. If you’re a personal Pinterest addict-user and/or general early adopter, I think you’ll have some fun exploring how to use it as an organization.

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I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.