Pinterest for Public History

Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board to which users “pin” images. With 25 million users and the ability to drive more clicks than any other social media site, including Facebook, Pinterest is an alluring platform for public history. In June I offered a workshop at MARCH aimed at small- to medium-sized organizations with new users who have limited time to devote to social media.

The basics of getting started with Pinterest are covered here. Set up a business account so that you can access analytics, verify your website to increase user trust, and link to Facebook and Twitter to maximize your pins’ exposure. To keep the investment of time to a minimum, start with what you’ve already got online or in your archive. Pinterest works with JPG, PNG and GIF file formats. You can also pin videos that are online.

I am grateful to the Alice Paul Institute, one of the participants at the MARCH workshop, for allowing me to work with their Pinterest account for the past few months. The examples here are all from their account.

Enrich – Pins are dense, with descriptions limited to 500 characters, but focused, which makes them especially useful for things that might get overlooked or go unseen altogether. “The Real Alice Paul” board allows API to share archival photos that are not on display at their site, as well as highlight things that might get overlooked, like Alice Paul’s diplomas.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Educate – While Paulsboro, site of the Alice Paul Institute, and childhood home of Alice Paul, is open for tours, a Pinterest board can be repurposed as a virtual tour or for an online field trip. I created “Alice Paul and Paulsdale” from existing web content with a specific focus on her childhood home. The lesson plan is designed to be used with either a virtual tour via the images on the board or in the classroom after a class field trip. Pinterest has a significant k-12 teacher user base, which makes it a great place to share lesson plans based on public history sites.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Outreach – With such a large user-base, Pinterest is an excellent place to share your mission with the public. The board, “Alice 4 Equality” was created to reflect the focus of the Alice Paul Institute on education, empowerment, and equality. Images selected relate not only to the historic drive for women’s equality, but also to present-day efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, authored by Paul, as well as other campaigns for gender equality.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Engage – Pinterest offers many ways to engage your audience and supporters. U Pin Alice and InstaAlice were both created with user-generated content. Public history organizations and venues could encourage users to take images at their site through contests or Pin-A-Thons, focused pinning campaigns. I conducted a small experiment for women’s equality day this year. “Just Pin One” encouraged participants to put up powerful images of women’s outrage, activism, and action was surprisingly effective. However, it took about a week to see the impact of the new pins, so plan accordingly!

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Image courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute.

Associate Professor of History, Rosemont College

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5 comments on “Pinterest for Public History
  1. greta says:

    I love using Pinterest for professional / educational reasons. Thanks for this post! Only complaint – I wanted to click through the images to the Pinterest board and was disappointed they didn’t.

  2. Mandi Magnuson-Hung says:

    Hi Greta, thanks for your comment! It’s true we don’t have the images linked to the Alice Paul Institute’s Pintrest pages, but Michelle was kind enough to include direct links in the text. If you follow them, you’ll get there in a snap.

    Would you be willing to share a little about the projects you’ve done using Pintrest? We’d love to hear all about it.


    Mandi Magnuson-Hung

  3. Linda Shopes says:

    Thoughts on how to encourage use/participation along the lines suggested here? Can we assume that “if we build it, they will come”? In other words, how to build an audience for interactive projects like these?

  4. thanks for the comments. Linda I think Pinterest has to be made part of an overall social media strategy and that is a complicated decision matrix based on staffing, already establishing communities on other platforms, and desired outcomes. At absolute minimum, if you are going to work in Pinterest make sure to connect to Twitter and to Facebook accounts, which will amplify your labor. Include Pinterest account along with other social media on all outreach materials.

  5. Linda Shopes says:

    Yes, Michelle, I appreciate the good point about overall social media strategy. But even before that, it seems to me we need to think about to whom we direct our media outreach anyway . . . how we build an audience. I know that FB and Twitter follow their own circuitous pathways in ways we can’t easily imagine, but isn’t it better to start with some idea about possible audiences, ways of even getting people to sign on to a Twitter feed and FB page, etc. Despite collasal amounts of ignorance, I love social media and other forms of new media, but sometimes in our fascination w/ the techniques and the substance of the postings, we tend to forget underlying questions about how to connect with the audiences we want. We may extend the reach, but what about deepening it?