Recently, I took advantage of an invitation that had been sitting in my inbox for a few weeks and joined the new visual social network, Pinterest. If you haven’t heard about it yet, Mashable writer Stephanie
Buck called it “one of the hottest new social networks on the radar for a few months now” in her article
Pinterest: 13 Tips and Tricks for Cutting Edge Users.
describes itself as “a virtual pinboard.”
Its website explains that it “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings,
decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun
way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”
As with any new social media tool in its initial offering, I see a lot of possibilities for health care communicators, along with some areas I’d like
to see some improvement.
Pinterest as a curation tool
Pinterest is a curation tool that allows users to create “boards” where they “pin” items of interest and share them. Boards can be about specific areas
of interest, for example “Books I Love.” And the user can “pin” any URL of the book they want to share. Once these books are pinned and added to the
“Board,” the board becomes a visual representation of the books the user loves with links. Others can see them and “like” them or “pin” them—meaning
they appear on their boards, too.
So, how can Pinterest be used in health care?
Pinterest has the potential to aggregate diverse content from different parts of the web that help advance education and patient engagement. For
example, a birthing center may offer a breastfeeding e-book on their website and an
informative video series from their lactation specialist from their YouTube channel. They could pin those on a board called “The Benefits and
Basics of Breastfeeding.”
In addition, they could add a pin on their board from the American Academy of Pediatrics and share the AAP’s resource guide on breastfeeding and the La Leche League’s resources. To get creative and take advantage of the visual medium, the
Birthing Center may want to highlight some local photographers that have captured the tender images of moms with
their newborns breastfeeding.
An example of Pinterest in health care
Take a look at a Pinterest sample I’ve created using those
resources. By pulling it all together in one place (pinning it on one board), and directing patients to it, Pinterest can facilitate opportunities for
patient engagement, affinity and credibility.
For example, as of writing this blog, Mayo Clinic did not have an institutional Pinterest board, but a search of “Mayo Clinic” shows that content from
its website has been “pinned” by others eager to share Mayo Clinic’s information. (Its
healthy recipes are a big hit.)
Although Pinterest has potential, there are certainly issues with Pinterest. First, there are now 32 categories under which to list your board, and
there is NO health care or health and wellness listing (big oversight, Pinterest…have you been reading Pew’s research on where people are going to
gather health care info?!). I categorized my breastfeeding page under “education,” but there is a real need for health care to have its own category.
Some ideas for improvement
Pinterest’s search tool also needs to be refined. For example, a search of “dementia” placed a
photo of animae art, next to a video on the early signs of dementia.
As with any new tool, the users also need to refine their use. For example, the organization Doctors of America created a board without fully
considering the functionality in terms of the user. They created a board “Where We Care for Patients” and pinned photos of facilities, but no content.
Although laudable that they are exploring the new tool at its early stage, how many patients will be engaged with that board?
Instead, consider content-rich functionality based on topic-based groupings, regional interests or trends. For example, “How Doctors of America are
helping families of dementia patients” (topic) or “How Doctors of America are still meeting the needs of Hurricane Katrina victims in their practices”
(regional interests) or “Doctors of America warn parents of teens about the dangers of bath salt abuse practices” (trending topic).
Promote your Pinterest boards through social media
Pinterest is visually oriented and can be an inviting way to present material, but with the current search function, don’t expect people to find your
boards on their own. Promote the boards through other social media outlets (and there are built-in functions for Twitter and Facebook to make this
easy). However, speaking of visual expectations, I don’t like the fact that you can’t move around your pins on the board. They are shown
chronologically. For a medium that pays so much attention to visual presentation, I would expect a bit more user control over how the pins appear on
For a “how-to” on Pinterest, Mashable just published a helpful article by Rob Lammle, Pinterest: A Beginner’s Guide to the Hot New Social Network. Katie Nelson of
the digital scrapbooking site, The Daily Digi, also offers a very easy-to-follow Pinterest 101 beginner’s step-by-step tutorial. For a more in-depth strategic
consideration of the tool, read Semil Shah’s interesting article in Tech Crunch on The Rise of Pinterest and the Shift from Search to Discover.
One more thing you should know about Pinterest. It’s currently using an invite-only model. You can request an invitation from their site, but it takes
a while. If you want to email me, I’ll gladly send you an invite to get you started.
Jean Kelso Sandlin is a senior strategist for Hive Strategies. This blog first appeared in the
Hive Strategies blog.