Best practices for Pinterest in higher education

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In a blog post yesterday, I explained why you should take the plunge and give your institution a presence on Pinterest. Now that I’ve (hopefully) peaked your interest, or strengthened your commitment to the platform, here are a few best practices based on my experience with Drake University’s pin boards.

• Don’t be too overtly or obnoxiously self-promoting. This is straight out of Pinterest’s user guidelines, and you should take heed. Right now, Pinterest is a quiet refuge from more brand/corporate-satured social platforms. You may scare your followers off with excessive promotion — and if we’re not careful, all of us in the brand world may collectively kill the goose.

Of course, everything you pin should relate to your brand culture (more on that later) and advance the image and reputation of your institution. And it’s not out of line to mention an upcoming event or even drop an occasional marketing line — but, as always, try to be a friend much more than a salesperson.

Butler Blue 2, the mascot of Butler University, is providing an excellent model for brand usage. Check out his “Famous People I’ve Met” board to see how you can flaunt a brand’s celebrity cred in a fun and non-invasive way. (You should also check out his “In My Wildest Dreams” board, because it’s hilarious.)

• Pin images that add value to your audiences. Pinterest may be the first and only social media platform where you should routinely promote messages like “This desk lamp would look GREAT in a dorm room” and “This Drake blue tie would add oomph to your next business presentation.” It works because you’re doing more than promoting a lamp or a tie: You’re giving your audiences inspiration for how they can fit into, and reflect, the brand culture.

And don’t just share material things. Recommendations for places to study abroad, fun recipes, inspirational quotes and other creative intangibles also add value to your audiences.

• Be a visual storyteller whose pin boards authentically reflect your brand culture. It’s natural that our Pinterest will feature tons of content related to learning, books, dorm life and coffee(!), but whenever possible we pin content that is distinctly and unmistakably Drake. (Even more distinct than the “Adorbs Bulldogs” board in honor of our mascot.)

For example, a major part of the Drake University mission is to promote responsible global citizenship. That mission carries through on our pin boards through quotes like, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good;” and, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

We also celebrate our global reach by pinning photos of our alumni, holding Drake pennants, all over the world.

When developing a content strategy for Pinterest, go back to your institution’s mission and ask yourself, “How can I communicate, and even help to fulfill, our mission through imagery?”

• Integrate with other social media platforms. Many of your active tweeps are likely to be pinners or prospective pinners. Your Facebook fans, too. I’m guessing you’re already sharing photos via Facebook and Twitter: share content from Pinterest and direct traffic to your pin boards.

• Actively comment on and “like” the pins that you enjoy, and especially those you re-pin (to foster conversation and positive brand sentiment).

• Allow your audience to contribute on a group board, as long as you make your goals and expectations very clear to prospective pinners. Our “Drake Alumni: Pin Your Pride” group board has more than 40 contributors — we’ve set a few base- level community standards (“keep it clean” and don’t post photos of alcohol) but mostly given alumni the freedom to express their pride as they see fit.

Perhaps most importantly — HAVE FUN! Writing these blog posts has been the most “work” I’ve done so far in relation to Pinterest. Even if you start out a skeptic, the platform will win your heart in time.

Do you have questions about Pinterest? Want to share your successes (or lessons learned)? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

About the Author
Aaron W. Jaco is digital media specialist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

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