May 30, 2012

Several websites, including this one, have published articles recently about how journalists are using Pinterest. But none of these offers data-based analyses that measure whether newsrooms are using Pinterest to engage effectively with readers.

As a way of measuring engagement, follower counts are a basic metric. But knowing how critical the tweet to retweet ratio is for measuring engagement on Twitter, I sought to apply this principle to Pinterest. I wanted to compare average repin to pin ratios for a variety of local and national news organizations.

So, I submitted a request to three newly launched Pinterest monitoring services. I asked each to provide a board-by-board follower comparison and repin ratios for 13 big city dailies, broadcast news and financial publications. My editor and I selected news organizations that were active on Pinterest and represented diversity in audience size, geography, niche and ownership.

Pinerly was the only monitoring company of the three that provided exactly what I requested quickly and enthusiastically. Using the data they provided, we analyzed Pinterest boards for:

Follower counts

The Wall Street Journal emerged as the only newsroom in our group of 13 to exceed 5,000 followers on any single board, and eight of The Wall Street Journal’s boards surpassed 10,000 followers.

Most followed content

Travel boards curated by the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and USA Today topped the list of most followed topics among this group, tied with food boards by the Denver Post, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register. Repinly’s report on Pinterest activity generally put travel and food interest much lower. The difference is notable because it may reflect the news organizations’ awareness that these subjects are of particular interest to their readers; simultaneously, loyal readers may know and trust the news organizations’ coverage of those topics (for example, USA Today and travel). The alignment reinforces the brand identity and introduces new audiences to it.

The Washington Post‘s most popular board was its five-pin Presidential Campaign board. Chicago History was at the top of the Chicago Tribune’s most followed list at the time of this analysis. The Guardian’s five-pin Andy Warhol tribute board excceeded their International Front Pages and Photography boards by over 500 follows.

Repins to pins ratio

The digital newsroom with the highest overall repin to pin ratio was PBS. On average, a single pin on PBS was repinned six times. Following in a cluster were USA Today with an average of 4.4 repins, Newsweek/The Daily Beast with an average of 4.3 repins, and the Wall Street Journal with an average of 4.2 repins per pin. The remaining news organizations had average ratios between 1.1 and 2.2 repins per pin.

The average ratios ranged from .6 to 6.2 repins per pin.

Supernovas, PBS’ most popular board, includes actual cosmic supernova photos and also a pin of author Maurice Sendak.

Using the word “Supernovas gave us the flexibility to place pins for people like Maurice Sendak and literal supernovas together,” said Kevin Dando, PBS Director of Digital Marketing and Communications. As PBS had produced shows on both topics, the images were already on file. For Dando, combining “Supernovas” actual and metaphoric wasn’t much of a stretch. “It’s the kind of thing people associate with PBS,” Dando said by phone, “Newsy, eclectic and smart.”

I asked Dando to explain the connection between the Supernovas board and their high repin to pin ratio. “It’s not a billboard for PBS content,” Dando said. “Our Pinterest account is for both PBS content and content that PBS finds interesting. If there’s particular content related to our programming we’ll pin it.” But interesting content unrelated to programming gets pinned as well.

This chart — and similar ones for the other news organizations we studied — shows two metrics: one a raw measure of popularity (followers) and the other a measure of engagement (repin to pin ratio). As you can see from the “Natural World” board numbers above for example, a less popular board can still have high user engagement.

Dando believes substantial referrals from Pinterest are not yet a realistic goal. “We are focused on engagement,” he said.

“We know the clickthroughs will come and the way to get them is through engagement.”

“Every time someone wants to use it from the main ‘NewsHour’ accounts, I make sure that they have a clear idea, and don’t want to use it just because it is the shiny new toy,” explained Teresa Gorman, former Social Media Editor at “PBS NewsHour.” Gorman collaborated with education team members and local PBS member station reporters on a series and Pinterest board profiling American Graduates. Although Pinterest, “hasn’t been a huge traffic driver in any way, shape, or form, that’s OK … because it has been successful in other ways.

Wondering how this might differ in a revenue generating newsroom, I asked Daniel Schneider, an online news producer at The Denver Post, who concurred. “It’s not a driver of clicks at all,” he told me. The problem with Pinterest, Schneider explained, is that “it’s only fun if you just hang around on the site — not clicking away.”

The infographic below details findings from this analysis.

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Susanna Speier’s writing credits include Nature, The Denver Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Scientific American. Her plays have been produced at HERE Arts Center, The…
Susanna Speier

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