Why it’s time for journalists to pay attention to Pinterest & what you can do there

The Internet is buzzing about Pinterest, a newly hot social network that sits somewhere between Tumblr and Delicious.

But does Pinterest deserve a spot on the list of essential services for the socially savvy journalist?

Visits to Pinterest took off in the last half of 2011, according to this chart from Experian Hitwise.

These digital, visual pinboards had almost 32 million visits in November, and traffic is about 40 times higher than six months ago, according to Experian Hitwise. Pinterest is now the No. 7 social networking site by visits, ahead of MySpace and Google+.

Rapid overall growth, check.

But growth, in itself, is not enough. Pinterest could be discounted as just another startup fad, driven by New York or San Francisco early adopter hype.

Which is why it’s also important to see where and with whom Pinterest is gaining popularity. It’s exceedingly popular in the Northwest and Southeast, especially in states like Utah, Alabama, and Tennessee. The booming growth is led by women (58 percent of readers) and people ages 25 to 44 (59 percent).

Attracting a distinct audience, check.

So yes, with a large addicted audience and impressive growth trend, Pinterest is worth at least a little of journalists’ time. Here’s how it works and how journalists might find it useful.

Still invite only

At this early stage you still need to have a friend invite you in. You also can request and wait to receive an invitation to create a Pinterest account, which seems to take only a couple days on average.

Boards and pins

Design-related images posted to Pinterest recently.

The main elements of Pinterest are the “boards” — virtual corkboards — and the “pins” you stick in them. A pin includes a photo (or video) with a caption, and can link to a source website. Each user (they call themselves “pinners”) can create several boards on different subjects, and people can choose to “follow” (as on Twitter) their favorite pinners.

How information spreads

Like a retweet on Twitter or a reblog on Tumblr, Pinterest users can “repin” someone else’s item to their own boards. Multiple repins enable an item to spread virally through a network.

What’s it good for?

Pinterest is all about visual expression. It’s a way to show, not just tell.

It’s also another tool to curate the Web, to gather images and ideas from many sources and put them together in a bundle that expresses a style, personality or viewpoint on a particular subject.

For a lifestyle or culture reporter, Pinterest is relevant immediately. Its biggest fans rave about sharing and collecting boards of recipes, home decorating ideas or beauty and fashion tips. But don’t assume that’s all it will ever be. Facebook started as a digital college yearbook; Twitter began as a mobile group-texting service. Expect Pinterest also to evolve new features and uses over time.

How to find interesting pins

You can browse the most popular pins overall or search pins by keyword. You also can browse pins by their source website — try pinterest.com/source/nytimes.com to see all pinned content from the New York Times.

Can brands join?

Pinterest is open to individuals as well as companies and brands. Social media news site Mashable is there, as are many TV stations or shows, including PBS NewsHour, which used the site to present photos and stories of childhood cancer patients.

PBS NewsHour displayed photos and stories from childhood cancer patients on a Pinterest pinboard.

NewsHour social media editor Teresa Gorman, who oversaw the experiment, told me she was “happy with the role Pinterest played.”

“Visually I find it compelling if you go to the actual board,” she said. “I considered creating a Tumblr first, but I think the audience on Pinterest is geared a little more to what we were asking for. … We wouldn’t have learned any of these stories had we not done it, or if we’d asked for people’s stories in text.”

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