Organized inspiration: how Richmonders are connecting through Pinterest

What is Pinterest? Every time we turn around it seems like there’s some new social network that desperately needs our attention. However, Pinterest is the fastest growing social site out there.

Every time we turn around it seems like there’s some new social network that desperately needs our attention. Many of these new ways to share feel like the others we’re familiar with, and are of questionable value at best. Yet, the platforms that rule the day also had their doubtful beginnings. Somehow sharing a stupid dream you had or what you ate for breakfast became the building blocks for Twitter’s growing empire. Likewise, telling your friends where you are at any given time, as inane as it may seem, became the foundation for a still-growing Foursquare.

The notable feature of these platforms is that they seem to always transform into something beyond the original concept and affect us in ways that we don’t expect. Such is the case with one of the fastest growing social sites out there: Pinterest.

Launched in early 2010, Pinterest is basically a digital pin board–like that corkboard you have in your office or kitchen. However, with Pinterest the goal is more inspiration than organization. Each user has a collection of “boards” with different themes on which they share their interests and aesthetics. Essentially, you connect with other “pinners” and mutually admire each other’s collected visual content.

Sound too simple to be interesting? Think again.

As RVA proves to be ever more fashionable and crafty, it is no surprise that many Richmonders have taken to this new way to share. They’ll be the first to tell you that when it comes to Pinterest there’s more than meets the eye.

Becky Carey, a VCU alum, has been using Pinterest since the beginning. “I personally love Pinterest. I’m the type that is always saving pictures of things that inspire. So, its the perfect place to keep all those things organized without over running my iPhoto or desktop.” When asked how her experience has changed over her pinning career, she points to another Richmonder. “I didn’t so much care about the social aspect of it at first, but now I like that part too, because people like Diane O’Neal have the best taste and find things I would have never found.”

In talking to Diane, a visual coordinator for Brooks Brothers, the more functional elements of the site come into view.

“I’ve come to consider it sort of a testimony to my personal aesthetic, which can come in handy for design-oriented, or visual work. It can be maximized with boards that are specifically focused on my work or inspiration for a specific client project. I think it’s a great tool that has yet to reach it’s potential.”

According to the Pinterest website, its founders had a simple idea in mind: “Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.” Yet, as I spoke to more Richmonders, it became evident that there was a larger potential for the social network.

Jeff McDonald, a student at the award winning Brandcenter graduate program, sees it as a great consumer source. “It’s really interesting to see what [classmates] pin, because I’m always surprised. I never knew that this one guy in school is really into shoes and watches, so I now go to him for advice before I buy any of that stuff.”

Sarah Milston, owner of Milston Consulting and instructor at Southside Community Partners and Non-profit Learning Point, is excited about the business potential for Pinterest, specifically in the non-profit sector.

“In essence, Pinterest is poised to become an amazing tool for non-profits and small businesses to increase their reach and engage in visual storytelling. As with all social media, the world of Pinterest will evolve beyond what the creators had in mind. As more non-profits flock to it, we will see the true power to engage volunteers, citizens, and encourage fundraising.”

Notably, one of Richmond’s most beloved institutions, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, is having great success with using Pinterest to not only engage with the public, but to simultaneously drive tourism to Richmond. Jonah Holland, who manages the Garden’s social media, describes their experience: “Originally, the Garden joined Pinterest with the thought that we’d reach women planning their wedding. What we found was so much more than that. There is a vibrant gardening community on Pinterest.” She further points to the more inspiring elements of the site: “One of our gift shop managers spends time on Pinterest seeking out trends and new ideas for our Garden shop. Pinterest is full of beautiful and inspiring things.”

The Garden also believes it can attract folks outside the city limits:

“I see us reaching a new audience via Pinterest. People who dream about traveling to Richmond to see Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in person after seeing it pinned. For those folks, we’ve also tried to add value by creating a ‘Great places to visit in RVA’ board so they can find out about other great things to do while they are in town visiting us.”

For many, the site began as a simple catalog for things to be remembered, like a digital scrapbook. Yet, Pinterest quickly became a way to connect with others, and stay inspired–a practice that further connects us with the world. As Pinterest continues to grow, we can certainly expect to see Richmond doers and makers take full advantage of its resources.

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Josh Epperson

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