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Higher Ed Reaches Out to Students on Pinterest

PinterestPinterest, a social network valued at $5 billion, lets users create pinboards of beautiful visuals that they find on the Web. The company topped 70 million unique users last year just two years after its debut in 2012.

With its focus on food visuals, home décor and fashion, Pinterest might not seem like a hangout for universities. Some universities, however, are thriving on Pinterest thanks to their unique understanding of what Pinterest users want to see and share. Done right, a Pinterest presence can be a great way for universities to connect with alumni, current students and prospective students.

How One University Generated “Pinterest” in Its Campus

The University of Michigan has received numerous kudos for its Pinterest campaigns thanks to the efforts of Hillary Frazier, UM’s senior social media specialist. She has designed innovative boards for the university including Future Wolverines and Wolverines Around the World, increasing the school’s Pinterest traffic by 2300 percent.

UM also started a Place Pins campaign to feature points of interest on their campus. Using the pins, campus visitors can map out their visits before they arrive. They can also click a pin and check in on UM’s Foursquare page. Spiffing up the university Pinterest account seems like a ready-made project for students in an MA in Communications program (visit this page to check out one of these programs), and it could be great experience for future careers. However, before unleashing some fervor on their Pinterest pages, universities should keep a few tips in mind.

Pin With a Purpose

onlineMost organizations, whether they’re businesses or institutions of higher learning, create an account on every social network and start auto-posting on those sites. This spray-paint approach to social media gives them a presence on lots of networks, but it doesn’t always create meaningful interactions on those networks. Before prioritizing Pinterest, universities should have a clear idea of why they want to use the social network. Understanding Pinterest’s audience is a good place to start:

  • Most Pinterest users are women, and that’s a good thing. About 80 percent of Pinterest users are female, and females are the fastest growing demographic on college campuses. According to Pew Research, females outpace men in college enrollment by 10 percent among Caucasians, 12 percent among African-Americans and 13 percent among Latinos.
  • Pinterest users are young. About 27 percent of both Generation Y (millennials) and Generation Z say they use Pinterest at least once per month.
  • Pinterest has high retention rates. About 84 percent of women who start on Pinterest remain active. So do 50 percent of males.
  • Pinterest inspires people. According to surveys, 64 percent of Pinterest users try a Pinterest-inspired activity each month.

All of these statistics point to good reasons for establishing a Pinterest presence. Next, universities have to decide what content they’d like to share.

Interacting on Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t about just slapping up pins once a day. It’s about getting involved with the community that chooses to follow boards and re-pin content.

  • Think visual. Text content posted on Pinterest rarely gets shared. However, highly visual content appeals to many pinners. For example, Oberlin College created a pinboard of all of the womb chairs on its campus. The board created a fun way for students to participate by pinning images of their favorite chairs.
  • Share what people like. The top three shared categories for pins on Pinterest include Food & Beverage, DIY & Crafts and Home Décor. However, pins in the Art, Film, Music & Books, Education, Animals and Outdoors also get frequently shared. Universities have a rich culture, so it’s easy to share what’s happening around campus, but they shouldn’t forget to have fun. The UM School Pride Pets board engages current students and alumni by letting them pin photos of their pets wearing Wolverine gear.
  • Use Pinterest’s special features. Place Pins are a great way to promote interaction. Additionally, universities can use guided search to find university-related pins and re-pin them. Also, Pinterest supports not only images but also animated GIF files. Pinterest APIs allow top pins to be featured on partner websites. Universities should add a simple “Pin It” button to highly visual content to give pinners the chance to share.

Pin It

Pin ItUniversities that use Pinterest effectively can create an enduring sense of camaraderie for their current, former and future students. With savvy marketing and persistent interaction with the community, pinboards can reap serious rewards for universities of all sizes.

Pinterest login page image by Gustava da Cunha Pimenta from Flickr Creative Commons.

Pinterest chalk image by mkhmarketing from Flickr Creative Commons.

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