Inside the Profession Thought Leadership

How Companies Can Effectively Respond to the Siren Call of Pinterest

Like many professionals, public relations practitioners (PRSA staff included) struggle with implementing new technology to make the user experience of their customers more worthwhile. It’s a problem that seemingly never goes away yet gnaws at any professional who wishes to stay abreast of trends in an ever-changing marketplace.

There are hot technologies that never quite become as ubiquitous as people predict. It seems like just yesterday that Second Life was being featured on the cover of magazines, bringing in an era of changed platforms and virtual reality. In truth, it was eons ago (OK, 2006) and we are no nearer to conducting all of our earthly transactions in a virtual world then we were then.

I bring this up because some institutions, at the behest of their PR and communications departments, pursued aggressive engagement strategies on the platform, often to the detriment of other mediums like Facebook or the blogosphere, whose proliferation continues relatively unabated.

This isn’t to excoriate those institutions or campaigns. Maybe for their audiences, utilizing those platforms made sense. Maybe they were bowing to the pressures of a CEO whose entire knowledge of the digital world was based on a magazine cover they saw in an airport (it’s happened to all of us.)

The point is, most PR and corporate comms departments are small and resources are limited. A prudent institution with limited means should be thinking very carefully before dipping its toes into a new platform or technology.

Which brings me back to my original point: when a shiny new technology comes out, we here at PRSA give serious consideration to its application and utility to our members. As I’m sure you guessed Pinterest is the buzz around here at present, as it is throughout much of the PR industry.

‘Beautiful Interface; Genius Simplicity’

It’s hard not to get swept up in the enthusiasm over Pinterest. It’s a beautiful interface, genius in its simplicity, elegant in its interaction and brings together things everyone loves: material goods and “the shiny.” For those that aren’t familiar with the platform and have just heard the hype, read this Mashable primer.

That being said, how would PRSA adopt it for its members? Pinterest can drive incredible amounts of retail traffic, but like any social media or digital communications platform, we have to give careful consideration to how we utilize our limited institutional resources, no matter how cool or buzz-worthy the platform.

What PRSA truly offers is an unparalleled network of over 32,000 thought leaders in a very specialized field, public relations.

Of course, there are aspects to our organization that can have a transactional feel, but they are the invaluable conferences for specialized practitioners, cutting-edge education, advocacy and universally recognized accreditation for the industry. The challenge is that these products and experiences do not readily fit into the Pinterest model. Advocating for the public relations profession in prominent editorials is quite a coup, but not really one that lends itself to a medium so reliant on visual accompaniment.

John Doyle writes in an invaluable Mashable post about some innovative ways to harness the technology for organizations that might not otherwise see its utility. He writes: “Just be sure not to focus too much on your own brand, or else you risk being labeled a shill and, thus, lose customer-valued authenticity. Your brand should be the garnish on a plate of freshly discovered “products on the verge” — never the main dish.” This advice does actually open up a few windows for PRSA in terms of being able to harness the site for our needs. Case in point: our PR Department recently pointed us to this fantastic use of a Pinterest type platform to create a guide for visitors to SXSW.

We have been exploring using this format as a guide/companion to our upcoming conferences for Health Care Communications professionals, for example. We wouldn’t just feature “selling” our product, like a keynote from health reform legislation author Zeke Emanuel (OK, I couldn’t resist). We would also offer things that visitors to the site could use, including practical tips about traveling to the host city Philly and frivolous tips from people who love the town (me.)

What is your experience so far with Pinterest? Have you used it in an innovative way for commercial purposes? Have you bought anything that you discovered through your Pinterest network? Let us know in the comments.

Adam Berkowitz is PRSA’s senior manager of membership development.

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Adam Berkowitz

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  • To see how my PR department at Drake University is using Pinterest effectively, and why we decided to take the leap, check out this post on written by our digital media specialist:

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