Interest in Pinterest? How Hospitals Can Use the Newest Social Media Tool

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. Pinterest 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 healthcare communication…and some areas where I’d like to see improvement.

Pinterest as a curation tool

Briefly, Pinterest is a curation tool that enables 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 utilized in healthcare?

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 healthcare

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.

I’ve advocated that hospital get involved in information curation before, and I continue to see great potential for both patient education and outreach in emerging social media tools that help hospitals do this, such as Pinterest. 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 their website has been “pinned” by others eager to share Mayo Clinic’s information. (Their healthy recipes are a big hit!)

Although Pinterest has potential, there are certainly issues with Pinterst that I hope will be addressed over time. First of all, there are now 32 categories under which to list your board, and there is NO healthcare or health and wellness listing (big oversight, Pinterest…have you been reading Pew’s research on where people are going to gather healthcare info?!). I categorized my breastfeeding page under “education,” but there is a real need for healthcare to have its own category.

Some ideas for improvement

Pinterest’s search tool is also in need of refinement. 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 their board.

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.

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9 replies
  1. Jean Kelso Sandlin
    Jean Kelso Sandlin says:

    Ashley and Chris: So glad that both your organizations are getting ahead of the Pinterest curve. I would be interested to hear back from you both in a few months to see how you are using it, and the response you are getting. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  2. Chris James
    Chris James says:

    Thanks for an interesting post, Jean. I represent La Rabida Children’s Hospital, a small pediatric specialty care hospital in Chicago. With limited resources, we are currently exploring whether we should add Pinterest to our social media mix. The real life examples in your post helped illustrate the value Pinterest can offer hospitals. Will keep these valuable tips in mind as we move forward.

  3. Ashley Howland
    Ashley Howland says:

    Great post! We use Pinterest at Baylor Health Care System in Dallas and have found it to be very useful. I’m very interested to see where it takes the health care social media community. I think Pinterest fills the void for people who aren’t confortable with other social networks because it’s not as personal. I think we can reach many more people through it who are currently not active on Facebook and Twitter. I, personally can’t get enough of it 🙂

  4. Jean Kelso Sandlin
    Jean Kelso Sandlin says:

    Jason and Lauren: Thanks for your comments. I was on Pinterest today and was wishing there was a way to create password protected boards – like Youtube’s private channels. That way hospital staff could use them for their support groups, etc. in a more intimate way…but maybe that will come in time. Thanks for your interest! BTW Jason, I sent you an invite. Lauren, if you would like one, please DM on Twitter with your email and I’ll send one to you, too.

  5. Lauren Brendel
    Lauren Brendel says:

    Really loved this post! I immediately starting chatting with one of our hospital social media superusers about this. We have some great ideas now and are going to work on how Pinterest fits/can fit in with our overall strategy. Thanks!

  6. Jason Boies
    Jason Boies says:

    This Pinterest is all the rage right now on my Facebook stream and Twitter timeline. Good job keeping up on the trends, Jean. I’m sure given how often and quickly these social platforms change, many of your critiques will be addressed soon enough. I DO love the idea of a more visual curation tool. Can’t wait for my invite to get approved so I can begin messing around in there. All the best, Jason Boies – Radian6 Community 🙂


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