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For colleges and universities, which serve a highly plugged-in generation, it can be overwhelming to keep track of new social technology. Here is a walkthrough of Pinterest from a higher education marketing perspective—we cover what it is, who is on it, and how your school can use it.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a virtual pin-board that lets individuals create a quirky conglomerate of whatever they find online.  Each user can create separate “boards” to organize “pins,” or images. Whether depicting a funny video or inspiring (ok, cheesy) quote, each Pinterest board is as unique as the person who made it.  

The formula works. With 10.4 million members as of February 2012, Pinterest is growing every day in size and scope, and an increasing number of organizations are incorporating Pinterest into their social media strategies.

How are college students using Pinterest?

College students (perhaps surprisingly if you’ve read this post) are not the largest subset of the population using Pinterest. In fact, they fall behind the age groups of 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54.

However, Pinterest can still help colleges communicate with their various target audiences. 

For example, 12-17 year olds, prime prospective students, make up a small yet significant 4.1% of Pinterest users.

18-24 year old current students make up 17.3% of Pinterest users.

The demographic with the largest piece of the Pinterest pie, making up 27.4% of the user base, is 25-34 year olds: young alums. This group is likely to want to stay engaged with their alma mater, even though they might not yet be accomplished enough to make hefty donations or pay alumni dues.

Older alumni, as well as parents of prospective students, should also not be forgotten. 22.1% of Pinterest users are 35-44, and 17.9% are 45-54.

How your school can use Pinterest

It’s clear that Pinterest can provide a channel to a key audience—but what the heck are schools putting on their Pinterest profiles?

We took a look at some of our customers, and schools around the country, to round up some cool ways colleges and universities are using Pinterest:

Promoting sports: Pinterest is a great tool for sports promotion because of its focus on images. Check out Purdue, which posts sports photography on Pinterest to help its basketball team keep students and national fans in the loop.

Taking the library online: University libraries are using Pinterest to bridge the gap between books and ebooks by providing writing advice, research tips, and book recommendations.  

Connecting kids to careers: University of Pennsylvania’s Career Services uses Pinterest to connect current students and alums. It also offers interview advice, posts upcoming career-related events, and advertises internship opportunities.  

Bulletining the book store: Schools like Boston College use Pinterest to link to textbooks available in their book store or share books published by alums.

Promoting events: We’re all about events here at Localist, so we love seeing schools like the University of Minnesota posting about events on Pinterest. Pinterest can be used for pre-event promotion or post-event pictures.

Recruiting new students: Because Pinterest allows schools to group images by subject, it is the perfect way to showcase the whole school and campus, as DePaul University does on their page. Pictures of the grounds, students enjoying themselves, and impressive events can catch the eye of Pinterest’s younger users (or their parents) and put a school on their radar.

Selling school swag: Pinterest has been driving tons of traffic to retail websites, and college stores are no exception. Check out Towson University’s store’s page for an example.

Pinterest is new and growing fast. It’s got the potential to open up a new channel for colleges and universities to communicate with students, parents, prospects, and alums. Yet it can be overwhelming to add yet another social media network to the mix. Our bet: Even more schools will start using Pinterest as the social media network becomes cemented in the marketing world. Will yours? 

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