At 4 years old Pinterest is still recognised as a young social media platform. It has survived the storm of its first steps in society and has been accepted as a survivor. As a tool for potential engagement I love it.

We started using Pinterest at the City of Salisbury very early on when it was still in Beta and in some case studies have been recognised as one of the first councils in Australia if not the world to use it as a tool in Community Engagement.

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Pinterest overview

Pinterest is a free platform that basically resembles those old scrapbooks you used to keep as kids but instead of keeping paper clippings, stamps and stickers you can pin pictures on boards that link back to a whole world of things you want to make, bake and fake.

For those of you not on Pinterest here’s a quick overview of how it works. You can use Pinterest to upload, save, sort, and manage images as well as videos, known as ‘pins’, into collections on ‘boards’ you have created.

Pinners can browse others pins on the main page as well as follow friends and search specific topics/pins opening up a whole world of lost time. If you see something you like you can then pin it to your board and by using an additional ‘Pin It’ button can even pin direct from most websites. Interaction can be increased by liking and commenting on others pins and if you’re feeling collaborative you can start a pin board others can contribute too.

But how does this fit in with local government and council services. Jokes often refer to Pinterest as an abyss of wedding preparation boards and cakes you’ll never even attempt to make. But with just under 400,000 people in Australia using it (and rising) Pinterest holds a different key to peoples online experience because of its heavy reliance on the visual.

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My top 10 tips for using Pinterest

Here are my 10 tips why and how local government could look at harnessing this free communication and potential community engagement tool. Some basics on how to set up, use and have a play.

1)    Pinterest is growing every day.  In over 4 years it has amassed over 70 million users worldwide. Yes the stats in Australia are low and slow but with Aussie trends often following America its potential here is huge. Stats show 8 in 10 users are female so think about how your council could harness this when setting up boards, preparing images to share that are maybe more female friendly. I spoke with The South Australian Country Fire Service recently about how pictures of hot fireman (come on we all know sex sells) could drive amazing traffic to other more serious boards about Bush Fire Survival and Health and Safety.

2)    Plan your boards. Boards can be pinned too randomly but if you’re setting up a specific board to highlight an event or service; planned in advance boards can also tell a story. Pics you pin will start at the bottom of a board and fill from the top. A great way to tell a story is to think about pinning your pins in order. So for example if telling the story of a 3 day conference then pin pics from day three first and finish with day one if you want the story to go in order down the board. This is probably our best planned board showing the story of the making of our council film. In this case the story starts at the bottom and finishing at the top with the finished product: Lights, Camera, Action!

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3)    Secret boards. To help with tip 2 and also 6, Pinterest gives you the opportunity to set up a board in secret. By setting a board to secret when setting up it means not only does the public not see it until its ready to be launched but it allows you to plan and pin appropriately. This is helpful when starting a new board as each board cover shows the last 5 pins you have pinned and I will never let a board go live without those 5 spaces being filled… for me that’s like leaving an egg as your user profile pic on your Twitter, it looks unprofessional.

4)    Pinterest board layout. Once you have set up a number of boards you can edit their position on the page. This is helpful to highlight certain boards as with most websites people’s eyes are drawn to the middle of the page. If you put your most recent or popular board in the middle then engagement is likely to be higher. You can also change each board cover photo which is important as I have read that people are more likely to open a board if the cover image is inviting you in. For example a smiling person or cute animal.  Check out our homepage layout.

5)    A picture is worth 1000 words. A picture will tell a story. A picture can evoke memories. A picture can aid discussion. Pictures are accessible across cultures, religions and languages. Next time you take photos think about how you can use them on Pinterest as well as your community magazine or website. Need I say more?

6)    URL secrets. If pinning from another person’s board be aware that the picture will more than likely have an embedded URL. To check before you pin just click through the picture and if it does have a web link embedded you will be directed to that website. Its better safe than sorry as you never know where the image originally came from (under each image it should also say the URL). If pinning direct from a website the picture will automatically embed the web site URL for you.

Use this to your advantage. If the URL is unsuitable for a council board or you are uploading a picture directly from your computer, under the edit tool you can actually change or add a URL. This is important as in turn it can drive traffic back to your website and who wouldn’t want people finding your website simply by you pinning a great image of what services you offer in council.

7)    More URL secrets. Pinterest is still new enough that most customized URLs, how people find your collections, are still available. As a council image is important claiming your URL while you can is crucial. This will allow you to make it easier share your Pinterest elsewhere and for people to find you especially if you’re not the only council with that name in the world. I work for the City of Salisbury of which there at least 2 others in the US and UK.

8)    Use to inform in advance. Pinning pictures before an event; for example of speakers with bios, visual workshop content and videos of past opportunities may help people decide whether the event is for them rather than a standard heavy text based flyer/email. You can then enhance ticket sales by embedding a URL that takes people direct to your ticket sales page. Then once the event is over you can use the board to pin pictures of what happened and close the loop, great for feedback. Here is one of our upcoming events, the 10th Salisbury Writers Festival.

9) Share your photos. Like data sharing Councils have access to content people want so why not share your photos. Local councils have collections of pictures people would love to see and share dating back many many moons. Often these pictures just sit in archives or on databases and would never see the light of day once taken. 20+ photos can get taken at a ribbon cutting for a new leisure centre but only one will actually be used in your council magazine… so why not share the others; they have value to the people in them, connected to them and to the history of your area.

10) Collaborative projects. On Pinterest when you set up a board you have the option to add other people, who have Pinterest accounts, to the board so they can contribute. Now this one does come with a little warning as you have no way of moderating another person’s contribution until it’s already live and this could be a risky tactic for local government. However imagine the possibilities.

Ask your community to pin ideas for budget spends, park renewal designs or nominating priority areas that need attention. The comments function can then be used to provide feedback on pictures collected. Of course you can always set up a board and ask people to share pictures in other ways (Email, Instagram, Twitter) which you then pin on their behalf with a named credit. This is something I did when collecting photos of a 30 year old iconic playground as pre-engagement before looking at renewing the site through a full consultation process.

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So there we have it, 10 tips why and how Pinterest for Local Government is a Pinteresting concept. I’m sure there are many others reasons to so why not let us know by commenting below and please do share how you use Pinterest especially in local government.

Happy pinning.

Picture credits: Top – The Art of Pinterest by MKHMarketing
Other pictures – City of Salisbury Pinterest.

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