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Is Pinterest actually *right* for your library?

Pinterest logoDon’t get me wrong:  I love Pinterest.  I have spent countless hours curating interesting content, trying Pinterest recipes and crafts and admiring inspirational posters and the creativity of others.  However, when it comes to libraries using it, I have some very mixed feelings.  As so many libraries have hopped aboard this particular bandwagon, I wanted to examine some of my uneasiness more closely.

I had the opportunity to ask my questions to Anthony Juliano, a marketing and social media strategist for the Asher Agency in Indiana.  Anthony has worked with at least one public  library to help optimize its presence in social media, and is aware of the unique challenges facing libraries when dealing with this medium.   Anthony had previously remarked to me that Pinterest is primarily a retail phenomenon, and my own experiences and research echoed that opinion.  But, with so many libraries vehemently denying  this view and creating Pinterest accounts, I wanted to see if Anthony would elaborate further, based on current data.  He didn’t disappoint.  His take, below:

Does Pinterest have potential for libraries? Of course. Is it likely to drive a lot of the metrics a library’s social strategy should be focused on (advocacy, traffic to events, etc.), or as likely as other platforms when you consider that time and resources are finite? No.

Most of the prevailing wisdom you’ll find, of course, says “Pinterest is great for non-profits and libraries!” This generally comes from the same social media cheerleaders who would say that “Twitter and YouTube and Facebook and blogs and discussion boards and Foursquare and LinkedIn and Instagram and Yelp and Google Plus are all great for non-profits and libraries!” The question isn’t what’s worthwhile. It’s what’s MOST worthwhile given finite resources. 
You know all this, of course. So what do the data/other sources say? A couple examples:
– This is one of many studies that shows that Pinterest is primarily used by those with intent to SHOP. one could argue that this doesn’t rule out libraries; I would say that it’s an audience with different intent: http://bizrateinsights.com/blog/2012/10/15/online-consumer-pulse-pinterest-vs-facebook-which-social-sharing-site-wins-at-shopping-engagement/
– A larger question is what are libraries DOING with Pinterest? This Copyblogger post is instructive, because it points out the fallacy in “seeing patterns that aren’t there”: http://www.copyblogger.com/pinterest-analytics/ (You definitely could ask the same question of any social media platform, but Pinterest seems to get defended more often as a source of traffic.)
Finally, here’s a column I wrote that’s generated effective discussions with my clients: http://anthonyjuliano.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/is-pinterest-right-for-your-business-8-questions-to-ask/
The bottom line is that I would never say it doesn’t work for libraries, but I have more reasons to believe that it should be a lower priority than examples of it delivering measurable, tangible results.

What does this mean to me, Laura?

  • Anthony provides some great resources to evaluate whether Pinterest is actually going to do anything for your library
  • Pinterest isn’t necessarily a total waste of time, but you have to ask yourself this:  Is my library already doing an absolutely fabulous job with Facebook and Twitter and whatever other outlets we have?  If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be taking on a new one.
  • Just because “everybody’s doing it” is a terrible reason to do anything.  Your library should have a business case before it takes on Pinterest, or any other new service or communications channel.
  • Social media is about results, not just “awareness.”  How are you measuring what happens on Pinterest?  Where are your conversions?