Pinterest as a transportation tool – Useful or just interesting?

The office bulletin board
The bulletin board in my office is a literal Pinterest.

There has been quite a bit of talk about Pinterest recently. Several friends and colleagues have asked why this social media site is so popular (what do I do there!) and how it might be useful for transportation communication programs.

First, Pinterest is like a series of bulletin boards that you might have hanging in your office or  kitchen. Things posted on the cork bulletin board in my office include photos of my son, an old article I wrote for a magazine, a demo cover for an AASHTO report and the steps for posting an AASHTO news release online.

For me, the bulletin board is messy and chaotic, but it is what I use if I want to remember something, set it aside to use later, or store it for easy access. Pinterest works in much the same way, allowing users to post (pin) images from either their own hard drives or other web sites into self-created categories (virtual cork boards).

In addition, Pinterest integrates with Facebook and Twitter, making for a seamless connection for the big three social sites.

My small but growing Pinterest site includes boards about music, places I love, products I like, books I’ve read recently. Pinterest is social, too. I can like other people’s pins and they can re-pin things I posted. I linked to friends from Facebook and Google Mail, and I have enjoyed watching others build their own virtual boards.

I get Pinterest and I like it. But I am very interested in whether the site makes sense for transportation agencies.

First, transportation agencies cannot ignore the huge growth of Pinterest as a social site. According to the latest articles about Pinterest, the site garnered 104 million site visits in March and ranks as the third most popular social site behind Facebook and Twitter. If you want to see your agency staking a claim where the people are, Pinterest is definitely a place to watch and experiment.

I also think that the different look and feel of the Pinterest experience could open some doors for transportation agencies. For instance, what if an agency wanted to share images about a futuristic, multi-use roadway – perhaps part of a controversial project. Posting on Pinterest might make sense, because the site is all about pinning not only your own material, but also the material of others. You might see residents in your state or community re-pinning your images on their own boards, sharing them with their friends and neighbors via the online connects.

I know of two transportation agencies using Pinterest and there could be more. Rhode Island DOT (RIDOT) announced last week it had launched a Pinterest site. The Washington DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) launched a Pinterest site last month. RIDOT has pinned images of bridges, a signature Iway project and commuter rail. DDOT has pinned historical images, transit information, and photos of its urban forestry program among other items.

Perhaps it is too early to decide whether Pinterest really makes sense for transportation agencies. But as more groups like RIDOT and DDOT stick in their toe, we will begin to get a better sense for whether the tool ultimately ends up just another shiny site to pin to our wall.

Editor’s note: As I said above, there are more transportation agencies out there using Pinterest. After posting this piece, I was forwarded a link to the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit’s Pinterest site. Check it out. Very cool stuff.


Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

4 thoughts on “Pinterest as a transportation tool – Useful or just interesting?”

  1. We’re on Pinterest, too. Still getting a feel for it and learning the ropes. We’re kind of hoping photos from this year’s North Cascades Highway clearing give us a boost in followers. We’ll see.

  2. NYSDOT is using Pinterest now for 511NY to link to construction pages for larget construction projects in the state. With the option to link the photo to a website, it’s a great way to continue to get more information out to the public.

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