GSA clears Pinterest for feds

A government-specific terms-of-service agreement makes it safe for agencies to use the picture-hosting social-media service.

pinterest image

The White House's first pin to Pinterest featured Bo, the White House dog.

The General Services Administration has reached a federal-friendly terms-of-service agreement with Pinterest, negotiating its 62nd such agreement with social media providers that already include Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others.

While the White House and several branches of the military are already prominent Pinterest users, agencies have been slower to join without a terms of service agreement that addresses federal concerns.

With one now in place, they’re much more likely to get into the fray, and social media experts believe options abound for agencies looking to make use of it.

“On Pinterest, the irreducible element is a picture, and any agency that has visual assets is going to benefit significantly if they haven’t already” started using it, said Gadi Ben-Yehuda, innovation and social media director at the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Pinterest’s central feature is the “pinboard,”  on which users organize and share images.  In only two years, it has become the third-most popular social media website behind Facebook and Twitter based on monthly site visits, according to Forbes.

Officials from GSA, which coordinates terms-of-service negotiations on behalf of federal agencies to ensure appropriate use, said it hopes federal agencies will use Pinterest to “create compelling visual stories with the public.”  While the site is commonly used for activities like sharing cupcake photos or gathering interior-design ideas, it has uses in the federal space as well.

“If you’re the National Park Service, you could create a pinboard for every park and take a picture of every kind of tree there, or if you’re the United States Department of Agriculture, you could pinboard healthy dishes,” Ben-Yehuda said.  “There really isn’t a limit to the possibilities.”

The White House joined Pinterest in December – its first pin was a photo of Bo, the Obama family dog. President Obama’s campaign joined back in March 2012, posting items including the Obama family chili recipe.

But even Obama was beaten to the Pinterest punch by the U.S. military – the Army, Navy and National Guard joined Pinterest in February 2012, taking advantage of its photo-sharing capabilities to connect the military population and link soldiers with spouses and loved ones.

While retailers and others in the private sector have jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon to spur sales and interact with customers, social-media pros say there is no reason to think the government can’t use the platform to create a similar dialogue. 

“When you’re talking about social media, what is more social than pictures?” said marketing specialist Christina “CK” Kerley of CKB2B.

“Where social media is evolving to is more than just words, it is a community and expression around image,” Kerley said. “And it makes a lot of sense, whether you’re in the commercial space, nonprofit or federal sector, that images are going to be most compelling to users and are going to facilitate more conversation and buzz. A picture really is worth 1,000 words, and that’s where the web is migrating to.”

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