Colleges and universities get ranked for academic and athletic excellence. But I wanted to find the schools that earn high honors for their use of Pinterest. It wasn’t easy — based on what I saw, lots of colleges and universities aren’t yet tapping the power of this social network to tell the world about what makes them special. But checking out the ones that do maximize their potential yields lots of Pinterest ideas, both for other schools and for businesses. I’ve broken those lessons down into five easy courses. Ready to go back to school? (There are no pop quizzes — I promise.)
PIN 105: Survey of Visual Appeal
Surprisingly, many colleges and universities known for their great campuses either aren’t on Pinterest or don’t have boards that flaunt their looks. Maybe these schools are focused on substance over style, but this is a missed opportunity to showcase an asset that can draw in would-be students. But there are exceptions — take the University of Michigan. Of course, Michigan’s Pinterest boards highlight academics and campus activities, but the Wolverines aren’t afraid to also brag about their campus. In fact, you’ll notice the campus tour is one of the first things you encounter when you visit Michigan on Pinterest. This is no ordinary board, though. It makes use of Place Pins to create a map of landmarks. Extra credit for the Wolverines!
Your homework: Think about what’s visual about your own brand, whether it’s your wares, the online work you create (like snazzy websites), your location, or even your hometown. How can you make your visual assets work for you on Pinterest? Bonus points: Do a little research to find out whether there are Pinterest features, like Place Pins, and tools/apps that are a good fit for your business.
PIN 200: Writing to Entice Followers
Here’s another surprise about colleges and universities on Pinterest: Lots of school bios are absolute snoozers. They feel fusty and bureaucratic. Worst of all? The many bios that start out (or are limited to!) with “The official Pinterest account of …” We’ve written before on the Viraltag blog about how writing is important on Instagram, even though it’s primarily a visual network, and that’s also true of Pinterest. Colleges and universities that say something different in their Pinterest bios instantly stand out and encourage visitors to browse their boards. Take Stonehill College in Massachusetts: “A compassionate community who takes pride in educating the whole person.” That’s an intriguing introduction!
Your homework: Give your Pinterest bio a distinctive voice. What your business does may be the same as or similar to what other businesses do. But how can you talk about it in a way that reflects who you are and the approach that differentiates you?
PIN 265: Exploring the Ties That Bind
Texas A&M University gets a lot of praise for excelling at Pinterest. Why? The Aggies have more than 12,000 Pinterest followers. One big reason for that is how well their Pinterest account highlights the university’s myriad traditions, from Yell Practice to class rings to the Corps of Cadets, that unite all Aggies.
Your homework: Take a cue from Texas A&M and think about your desired Pinterest followers and what they might bond with you or each other over. Need a couple of ideas to get started? Maybe you could show your common ground with followers with humor about a shared profession or interest.
PIN 315: Concise Display of Important Information
I have to acknowledge a little bias on this one: I used to work in the Communications Office for the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. And I always loved how our designer would create super-shareable graphics about McCombs information, such as an at-a-glance profile of the MBA program, and the school’s accomplishments, such as program rankings. I think graphics like these are a great idea on Pinterest. They enable alumni to do some bragging with a quick re-Pin, which publicizes the school. Second, they serve students and parents who are researching colleges and universities.
Your homework: Turn some of your brag-worthy accomplishments into Pinnable infographics. Have you won some awards or honors recently? Opened a new location? Launched a new product? You can also look a whether your business lends itself to a “how we work” or “about us” kind of infographic.
PIN 451: Advanced Audience Targeting
According to Pew Research Center, 22 percent of teens use Pinterest and/or similar sites like Polyvore. That’s compared with 71 percent for Facebook and 52 percent for Instagram. So it’s easy to understand why college and university social media managers might assume Pinterest isn’t a great place to target prospective students.
But that’s not the full story: Parents are major influencers when teens are deciding where to go to college. After all, they’re often paying at least part of the bill. Moms are all over Pinterest: Of U.S. women who are online, 42 percent are on Pinterest. And dads might be starting to catch up. Furthermore, stats show that half of all Pinterest users have kids, and that most Pinterest users fall into age ranges where, if they have kids, college planning is on their minds.
Those numbers tell us that colleges and universities on Pinterest would be wise to have Pins and boards that speak to parents as well as prospective students. Take the University of Oklahoma, which Pins about campus safety, student success, and getting a job, in addition to classic college Pinterest topics like traditions and athletics.
Your homework: Have you thought about all the decision-makers involved when someone makes a purchase from your business? How can your Pins speak to the desires and concerns of everyone who has a voice in the purchase decision?
Sarah Beckham is a freelance writer and editor based in Austin, Texas.