Ma'ayan Plaut is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College.
Social sharing site Pinterest is an interesting creature. There are a bunch of websites that allow you to publicly bookmark sites, either for future reference or to tell folks what you're reading or seeing on a daily basis. Pinterest has a distinct advantage over these other services, though: it is entirely visually driven — that is, you can only bookmark if the site contains an image, and a big one at that.
Upon signing up for Pinterest (it's still in an invite-only beta launch), you're prompted to follow people based on your interests. From there, you can create a variety of boards — digital bulletin boards where you pin all the things you find great, interesting and beautiful in the world (wide web, that is). You're encouraged to pin practically anything you find online to your themed boards and to follow other pinners with similar interests to you, comment on their pins and repin to your own boards.
When it comes to thinking about Pinterest for institutional brands, there's one significant difference between it and other social networks: your pins and boards on Pinterest are NOT central to your content or content creation. In its etiquette section — which is, of course, created by the community that uses Pinterest — they encourage avoiding self-promotion. What? Why would we want to use a site like this in higher ed if we're not promoting our own stuff?
The truth is that your story isn't just what you have to say about it. Much like Storify — a curation site that allows you to tell a story about something through social media — Pinterest is based on what else is out there that can help you tell your story. I think of it the same way that I think about the role of stock art when it comes to self-promotion, but with Pinterest, it's not stock. It's linked from an original source and with credit. A community like this can be self-sustaining and build upon the boundless options the Internet gives us but with a distinct focus.
This shift in mindset from self-promotion to using other means to define your views in the context of the great world: that's a challenge. And I think it's a really great one for higher ed; it shifts the perspective of promotion from things we want/need to tell folks about ourselves and rather, highlight other creators and collaborators who support similar ideas, causes and creations to us.
As of now, I'm seeing Oberlin's Pinterest as a way to better visually represent what we care about and connect with people who care about these things, too. We can aggregate alumni creations (music, art, jewelry and more), collaborate on boards with students to see how they'd design their future dorm room, source good locations to buy winterwear, collect co-op friendly recipes and, of course, keep folks up to date with creative gifts for the caring Obie — bike-themed clothing, white squirrel art, books, Oberswag and more.
Are you using Pinterest, either personally or professionally? What are you pinning?
Editor's note: You can also visit this board featuring other higher ed institutions on Pinterest.