How Austin360, Mashable are using Pinterest to cover South by Southwest

If you want a visual representation of South by Southwest, start searching on Pinterest. A simple SXSW search turns up photos of musicians, event posters, styles you’re likely to see, and infographics detailing the festival’s history.

Hoping to reach Pinterest users, Austin360, the Austin American Statesman’s entertainment site, created its own SXSW boards. The boards — which showcase bands that will be performing, SXSW music parties and SXSW Interactive speakers and events — add a visual component to the site’s coverage and help capture the festival’s spirit.

“You see through the pictures and through the party posters just the tremendous visual energy that there is at SXSW,” Assistant Features Editor Sarah Beckham said by phone. “I think what we’re doing on Pinterest is a really good reminder of that.”

Austin360 already has plenty of visuals in its coverage. But by putting those visuals on Pinterest and linking to related coverage, Austin360 has the potential to reach new audiences that may not have otherwise come across the site’s content.

Attracting an audience on Pinterest

Maira Garcia, the Statesman’s social media editor, created Austin360′s SXSW boards after talking with Melissa Martinez, who runs the site’s events calendars. Martinez told Garcia she had created her own Pinterest board highlighting various SXSW party posters and thought it might make sense for Austin360 to do something similar.

Garcia said its Pinterest site, which has a few boards related to food, drinks and music, started to gain more followers after creating its SXSW boards. This makes sense, given that SXSWi tends to attract early adopters of social media who are likely using Pinterest. It helps, too, that Austin is a progressive city.

“Pinterest has been around for a couple of years already, and I think we’ve seen in Austin a few people within the tech community who have been using it,” Garcia said by phone. “We’re always open to trying new tools, and if they work for us, great. In this case, they have.”

Austin360 has been making sure to include “SXSW” in its pin descriptions so that they’ll appear in Pinterest search results. And it has been engaging with other users on the site. Garcia said an active Pinterest user made Austin360 a contributor to his “Guide to SXSW 2012” board, which has helped the site gain exposure. (Anyone who creates a Pinterest board can invite others to contribute to the board and share control of it.)

Some of the pins on Mashable’s SXSWi board, such as this one, link to related Mashable stories.

Mashable also hopes to develop its Pinterest presence during SXSW. Mashable Community Manager Meghan Peters said the site’s SXSWi board will feature images from the festival, some of which will link back to Mashable’s content. The site also plans to use Twitter and Facebook to let readers know about its boards.

Pinterest and SXSW complement each other well, Peters said, because they’re both outlets for sharing inspiring ideas.

“They’re able to motivate their communities in a very powerful way,” she said via email. “…In our experience, people love to look at photos from SXSWI — whether they attend the event or not. Pinterest gives us the opportunity to present these images to our readers in a more compelling way than other social networks.”

Measuring the impact of Pinterest

Garcia is measuring the success of Austin360’s Pinterest accounts by tracking how many people are following their boards and repinning their content. She’s also been paying attention to the traffic Pinterest has brought to Austin360. Almost all of the site’s pins link back to Austin360 content.

Austin360′s “SXSW Music Parties” board.

In particular, Austin360’s “SXSW Music Parties” board has helped drive traffic to the site’s database of SXSW parties.

“We uploaded the photos into the database and then we pinned them. So not only did we get that material in there, but it also clicks through to our bigger database, which is already immensely popular,” Garcia said. “We promote the database pretty heavily on our site and on other social media sites, but this has been a big way to show it off more visually, and we’ve definitely seen a spike of clicks from Pinterest to the database.” (She didn’t have specific stats to share.)

Some of Austin360 SXSW’s boards feature YouTube videos of bands that will be at SXSW, while others feature images that bands and speakers sent to the site. Strong visual elements, Garcia said, can help draw people to your site’s content. Given concerns about copyright violations, Austin360 is pinning only images that it has permission to use rather than repinning others’ images.

Growing your newsroom’s interest in Pinterest

Austin360, which will have more than 20 staffers covering South by Southwest, has asked them to include photos and videos in their coverage whenever possible. “That obviously makes it easy for us to pin them on boards,” Garcia said.

Encouraging staffers to think about how they can contribute to your site’s social media efforts is an important part of developing a presence on any social network. Social media efforts often work best when multiple people in the newsroom know how to use a variety of tools and can suggest ideas for implementing them.

“I plan to look for ways to use Pinterest while I’m at SXSW myself,” said Austin360′s Beckham. “The ways I’ve used it personally have been repining posts I’ve found on other websites, but I hope to have a chance to pin some of my own photos — time permitting.”

Data analysis from RJMetrics shows that 80 percent of users — like Beckham — repin content rather than posting their own.

“I’m going to be editing and tweeting, too. It’s part of the balancing act that we all have to do,” Beckham said. But the effort is educational. “For me as an editor, it helps to look at SXSW from another perspective,” Beckham said. “Seeing what Austin360 is doing on Pinterest helps me think in terms of visually presenting stories. I think that as we learn about Pinterest, it will consciously become a bigger part of our story planning.”

Pinterest has grown quickly as news organizations have been experimenting with it. The growth signals opportunities for news sites that want to cover events differently, find new platforms for distributing content and meeting audiences where they are.

Do you know of other news sites using Pinterest to cover SXSW? Let us know in the comments section. Also, here are 25 SXSWi panels journalists won’t want to miss.

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