Pinterest: When Museums Talk Through a Board

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Pinterest – as its self-explanatory name tells us – is a virtual pinboard that allows its users to share all that they might find of any interest on the web.

It is a “content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images”, and catalogue passions and interests through them. To enter Pinterest is to travel in an inspirational world, where people tell their stories through images rather than words – these are very little used (more info here).

How does it work?

Pinterest’s main characteristics are: immediacy, simplicity and speed of use. What makes it even more user-friendly is the “pin it button”:  by installing this device to your toolbar, the Pinterest platform can be integrated with any other website, no matter what browser you are using.

This tool enables Pinterest users to choose and pin directly from the internet the images they want to store and organize on their boards. These are a sort of public binder that allows you to connect with anyone sharing your same interests and tastes. It is also possible to set up group boards, where multiple users can connect, share and manage  pins together.

Simply said: if, while browsing the net, an image catches your attention, you can pin it on one of your theme boards or easily create a new one just for it. You can re-pin pictures shared by other users you are following, whose pins are scrolling on your Pinterest homepage. It is harder said than done, believe me.

Thanks to its visual character, Pinterest is the ultimate social network for a museum eager to engage its  public. However, to this day, a high number of institutions are still missing from this list (by @JenniFuchs & @Museum140).

Many articles can be found online on how museums are or could be making the most of Pinterest. In case anyone is interested in the topic, here are some links: The museum of the futureMuseum DiaryComplex. Some useful guidelines are also available in Italian, like this article recently published on Pinterestitaly.

Less recent but equally interesting is this 2012 post by Giovanna Tinunin (content is in Italian), where the author maintains that: “the general feeling is that Pinterest can fit very well into the communication strategy of a museum already equipped with an integrated system of website and social networks, a museum that works well and could only benefit of an additional exposure”. On the same page – why museums should embrace this social platform: “Pinterest has quickly developed into a powerful tool of content curation, thanks to the fact that it is possible to add a description to the images. Focus is on selection, as the curator’s vision can add coherence to a board (and it must be noted here that one can follow single boards by a specific user without necessarily follow all that he/she is pinning). Besides, Pinterest allows to “open” boards to “contributors” – which translates, for museums, into a chance to create a truly social space, where visitors can recommend a work of art they have particularly liked to their followers (only to cite one possible use).

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To summarize, it seems that these are the top five advices for a museum willing to open a Pinterest account:

1. Use your boards to promote you ivy league pieces

That is, the most significant artists and works of art in your collection, as well as on-going exhibitions (this is absolute common practice on Pinterest – check out what the Mart is doing, to cite an Italian example).

2. But do it with creativity

Your works of art should be your focus, indeed, but please don’t flatten them into boring and repetitive lists. The very heart of Pinterest is the engagement, and people use this platform in the most personal ways to mirror their own interests and personalities. A museum should do the same by exploiting and creating cross-cutting themes. The goal is to engage as many followers as possible, as they are your door to a wider audience. Use your imagination!

Here some examples to draw inspiration from:

– Movember and the moustache theme– see The Few, the Proud, the Mustachioed board by the MET, Macho mustached men by the Getty Museum, and Movember by the National Gallery of Canada;

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– the evergreens: Thanksgiving and other festivities – see the Food and Feasting board, again by the MET, or Christ’s Passion by the Getty;

– love, blessing and curse of humanity since the dawn of time – see the boards Love  and The wedding by the MET; Love and Lovers by LACMA; Love me, love me not, a collection of historical love letters, or Something Old something new by the Getty Museum; Weddings by Palazzo Madama; and  I do – Chicago ties the knot by the Chicago History Museum (A/N: it goes without saying, you could find million boards by this subject– I made a selection to try and avoid the allegation of being an hopeless romantic!);

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– horror – v. Happy Haunting Halloween by the Smithsonian, Creepy Museum by Palazzo Madama e Friday the 13th by SFMOMA

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– additional, creative flashes of inspiration: Winter Wonderland by the MET; Sunlight by SFMOMA; #MuseumSuperBowl and Have a seat by the Getty (second N/A: the J. Paul Getty Museum is a true creative on Pinterest – its boards are a “must-have-a-look”, don’t miss the opportunity to get inspired!).

3. Become a reference point

Be it for a city, like the Chicago History Museum is doing, or a specific theme, like the Design Museum: specializing on a theme could bring on more engagement.

4. Form a community

Towards this goal, don’t forget to use your group boards. A perfect – and innovative – example of the power of communities comes from Palazzo Madama, the flagship of all Italian museums on Pinterest (and the very first one to have opened an account). Over the past, Palazzo Madama has created two boards on crowdfunding, giving people the chance to be more closely involved in the acquisitions of the museums and consequently encouraging donations.

5. Be participative

Like and comment on your users’ images, reply to their remarks and re-pin images from sources other than your website or your collections. Copyright issues can be easily avoided by using open license images and media (see Wikimedia Commons or Creative Commons Search).

People will also be visiting your profile and re-pinning your images to appear in their boards. For this reason, it is very important that you fill in a description paragraph for each image: this way, every time your image gets re-pinned it will contribute to spreading your name, enabling you to reach people thousands of kilometers away.

Last but not least: be attentive to how your images are used – what type of boards do they end up in? Under which label? What kind of commenting to they arise? All this intelligence is essential to a successful planning of your future boards.

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In the hope of having convinced you: #svegliamuseo! Let’s wake up and use this resourceful tool!

Translation by @RoryInLA