Currently, Pinterest is the fastest growing social media website in the world. In fact, it now ranks as the 3rd most popular site of its kind, behind Facebook and Twitter. Launched in March 2010, Pinterest already draws in more online traffic than LinkedIn and MySpace. According to comScore, a company that tracks technological trends, Pinterest counted 17.8 million unique visitors in February 2012, a whopping 52% increase over January.
Pinterest is best described as a virtual pinboard, where users can post interesting pictures and then provide comments. At first glance, the site resembles a giant scrap-book of photos and videos, all arranged into collections. The visually-oriented site therefore allows visitors with similar interests to exchange ideas and socialize. Mobile applications have also been developed for the iPhone and Android.
Yet, Pinterest is more than just a photo-sharing website, it is also a bookmarking tool. When visitors to a website “pin” a picture in their browsers, Pinterest creates a link that points back to the source page. By sharing links and organizing them around particular themes (e.g. a hobby, an object, a subject), users can generate a considerable number of referrals for the originating website.
Those referrals can offer attractive opportunities for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Some sites have incorporated the “Pin It” feature to their Web pages, giving users the ability to easily share the image on Pinterest. However, the ease in which users can repost copyrighted material has raised concerns. Organizations that don’t wish to have their content “pinned” can add a special html meta tag to their pages to prevent their images being added to Pinterest.
Obviously, the value of any social network relies in large part on the number of users it has registered. In a short period of time, Pinterest has been elevated from relative obscurity and is now garnering considerable media attention. But with so many social networking tools coming onto the market, how can museums stay ahead of the social media curve? Re-purposing content for a whole new online experience like Pinterest can be time consuming.
Museums looking to expand their social media presence could create online version of their exhibits that users could share and discuss using Pinterest. By allowing visitors to “pin” their favourite pieces, it is a way for museums to encourage engagement or even to create interest in items available at the gift shops. In Canada, organizations such as Canadian Museum of Nature and the Board of Montréal Museums Directors have already created profiles.
But other museums may wish to wait before joining Pinterest. Although Pinterest’s growth has been stunning, whether the site has the critical mass of mainstream users is yet undetermined. But at the very least, museums should try to lock up their own Pinterest usernames, in anticipation of possibly creating a stronger online presence in the future.