Pinterest has more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter.

The social photo sharing site Pinterest, in some corners of higher education, is seen as superfluous, nonessential, and unappealing to a mass audience. A recent spike in the number of Americans joining Pinterest could change that prevailing perception very soon.

Pinterest, which launched a beta version of the website in 2010 and a full unveiling in 2011, lets members post photos, drawings, and images on an online pinboard available for others to peruse. Pinterest members must link their accounts to Twitter or Facebook, where they can more widely share their various pinboards.

Pinterest remains invitation-only – much like Google+ or Gmail when those services were first introduced – but the site’s most recent statistics show it can be another tool in colleges’ constant battle for online attention from prospective and current students.

Pinterest drew almost 12 million unique views in January, and now has more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter, according to a report from Shareaholic, a web traffic tracking service. The Pinterest model, based almost entirely on sharing photos and links, is “naturally inclined to drive referral traffic,” according to the Shareaholic research.

The site isn’t text heavy like Twitter and Facebook, but college social media pros said Pinterest can be just as effective in drawing interest, especially on campuses with picturesque landscaping or striking seasonal images. Displaying campus scenery front and center on a school’s Pinterest page is the direct way to share photos in a social media setting, said Christen Gawan, head of social media sites at Union College in New York.

“On Twitter, you can tell followers that you have a great photo online, and you can promise it’s nice, but you have to have them click to actually see it,” Gawan said. “And sometimes that extra step loses people. … Photos can get lost on Facebook and Twitter, so it’s such a missed opportunity to not post pictures of your campus on Pinterest, where you can really display them in a very prominent way. ”

Even if a college isn’t ready to pour resources into creating and maintain an official campus Pinterest page, Gawan said creating some sort of Pinterest presence will be important in 2012, just as it was on Twitter and Facebook in the late 2000s.

“I think it’s great to be recognized as a place that is very proactive with social media, rather than being reactionary,” she said. “You run the risk of looking a little old and stodgy if you don’t go forward with that.”


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