March 05, 2012

What Nonprofits Should Know About Pinterest

More than 1,700 people joined The Chronicle on Tuesday for a discussion about the social network Pinterest.

Because the network has been such a hot topic in recent weeks, we're answering some questions that we ran out of time to cover and summarizing a few of the basics.

The following advice comes from the experts who led the discussion: Staci Perkins, director of marketing and communications at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption; Kyra Stoddart, online marketing manager for Amnesty International USA; and Joe Waters, a nonprofit consultant who blogs at Selfish Giving.

You can also read the complete transcript of our live discussion.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a "virtual pinboard" that allows you to share photos from your computer or from Web sites. Each account can have several boards, often divided by subject area. Ms. Perkins, for instance, set up a different board for each section of the Dave Thomas Foundation's Web site.

You can add "pins" either through the site or through a "bookmarklet"—a link you keep in your bookmarks toolbar that helps you pin information that you want to share on Pinterest.

The site is free, but you must be invited to participate. If you're not yet on Pinterest, you'll need to ask someone on the site for a membership or sign up to wait for the site to send you a membership offer.

The site is owned by Cold Brew Labs.

How does Pinterest interact with Facebook and Twitter?

Pinterest automatically connects with Twitter accounts and personal Facebook profiles, which makes it easy to share Pinterest posts to your other social networks.

It isn't as easy to add Pinterest posts to your organization's Facebook page without using a plug-in that allows you to embed another site on your page. You can find several tutorials about how to do this online.

I read that one of the major "don'ts" in Pinterest is self-promotion. What can I do?

"It's like any promotion: Put the cause first," Mr. Waters said during the live discussion. "The best brands lead with a strong emotional message and let the consumer connect the dots back to the nonprofit or company."

"Pinterest users are more interested in discovery than being bombarded with promotions," Ms. Stoddart said. "Think of yourself as a content curator who will pin interesting and inspiring things, not always directly relating to or promoting your organization."

What copyright concerns are at play with Pinterest?

The site's terms of service spell out how things work. You give Cold Brew Labs rights to reproduce, for any purpose, anything you post. One lawyer who deleted her account says she did so because she was also worried that all legal liability for pinning a copyrighted work is on the person who posts it.

Web-site owners can add a  small piece of code to their sites that blocks users from sharing their content on Pinterest. You can also report copyright violations to the site.

How do you categorize pins if there is no category related to nonprofits or social good on Pinterest?

Mr. Waters adds most of his posts to the "other" category, and Ms. Perkins posts most of her pins in "kids" because of her organization's focus on adoption. They suggest that you find the category that is closest to your mission and put it there.

Mr. Waters, Ms. Perkins, and Ms. Stoddart all said they expect Pinterest to add a category related to social good sometime soon. As the network grows, it will also evolve.

Is Pinterest something that would require constant upkeep?

"Because it's so new, I don't think people expect tons of pins," Ms. Perkins said. "Just check in daily at the beginning, and as you follow more people and get more followers, it will grow."

The task that may take the longest is finding the right people to follow, Ms. Stoddart said. Once nonprofits find people interested in their cause to repin, they can be active on the site by spending just a few minutes a day.

How can I quantify the value to my nonprofit of being a part of Pinterest?

The guests in Tuesday's chat said to look at the number of followers on your account and on each board, as well as traffic the network is driving to your site.

"That's what is impressive about Pinterest," Mr. Waters said. "It's already a big traffic driver. Top ten for my blog."

Even if you don't have a Pinterest account, you can easily see what people are pinning from your site. Just visit followed by the URL of your home page.

Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.