Health Care Organizations Turn to Pinterest To Connect With Community, Boost Brand

by Lisa Zamosky, iHealthBeat Contributing Reporter


Pinterest, the social bookmarking site where users collect and share photos, is now the third most popular social network behind Facebook and Twitter, according to Experian Marketing Services' latest Digital Marketer Benchmark and Trend Report.

As Pinterest grows in popularity, health care organizations looking to connect with their community online are taking notice.

"For me, the tipping point with Pinterest was when I noticed that people were actually pinning images from our site," said Amanda Davis, director of marketing and communications for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance in Washington, D.C.  "So I said I can see that our community is actually using this and they are finding visuals that they want to share, so I think it's time for us to join and make sure we're a part of that conversation too." Davis' organization has been on Pinterest for about a year now.

Meeting the community where they are rather than attempting to drag them to where you want them to be is a critical element of good marketing, and the reason more organizations are paying attention to Pinterest, said Dan Dunlop, president of Jennings, a North Carolina-based health care marketing firm. And, Pinterest attracts just the audience most health care organizations are eager to connect with. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 12% of adults online are using Pinterest, the majority of whom are women. In fact, women are five times as likely to use Pinterest as men.

That's important when it comes to developing marketing strategy for health care organizations, Dunlop said. "Women influence so many of the health care decisions in a family. They typically schedule the appointment for their husbands. They definitely plan out the health services for their children. And now we see this trend with the growing aging population where women are not only taking care of their children, but they're taking care of their adult elderly parents," he said.

"I think that the Pinterest audience is one that is highly engaged in the health care system and that connecting with them in these social spaces will be important to build connections and brand recognition," said Jessica Maki, social media specialist with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

What Health Care Organizations Are Pinning

The Pinterest audience is predominantly looking for a few things when it comes to health care topics, experts say. Wellness topics -- diet, exercise and parenting, for example -- all draw followers to health boards.

"Our two most popular boards are about healthy recipes and parenting," Maki said.  "It's been our experience that, from a health perspective, consumers are using this social tool to find simple and usable advice on how to improve their health and the health of their families at home."

That fits in with larger changes occurring in the healthcare system and points to the shift organizations need to make both with regard to their approach to patient care and marketing strategy, Dunlop said. As hospitals and physicians are increasingly paid for keeping populations healthy, rather than for treating medical episodes, they will need to find ways of reaching out to and educating patients in an effort to get them more involved in their own health and well-being.

"With population health management, everyone has to start making a shift to marketing wellness and prevention and truly engaging people," Dunlop said.  Health care organizations on the leading edge are starting to adapt tools like blogs, Pinterest and online communities, he said.

The Pinterest audience is also looking for high-quality images, which is perhaps not so surprising given the nature of the site. "On Pinterest, it's imperative to have a strong visual element as part of the content that is being shared. For Twitter and Facebook, that is not always as important," Maki said.

According to Davis, there is a higher standard for Pinterest than other sites when it comes to the quality of pictures shared. "It's not so much the self-generated, it's much more sharing professional images," she said. 

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 41% of adults online take photos or videos they've found online and repost them on sites designed for sharing images.  

Experimenting To Find What Works

Although there are common themes drawing people to the various health boards on Pinterest, organizations are experimenting to strike just the right note with their audience.

For example, the Brigham and Women's Hospital Pinterest account, which was launched in July 2012, featured the hospital's Do No Harm campaign, where users were asked to share photos of themselves holding a "Do No Harm" sign to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness month, Maki said.

Davis' organization created a board featuring items to be sold at the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance's annual gala silent auction for the first time this year. "Our guests really liked it a lot more than what we used to do which was just [offer] a PDF list of items available. Being able to show them that image got them much more excited about the things they could bid on at the event," she said.

The organization raised more money this year than in years past. "I can't say it's directly due to Pinterest," Davis said. "It may have been the items, but we definitely saw people clicking through when we sent emails and really looking at the boards. I thought that it was a success and a good idea to carry forward."

Teal Toes -- an Ovarian Cancer National Alliance partner that raises awareness for ovarian cancer -- uses Pinterest to bring attention to a serious health issue by having a little fun with nail art. The organization encourages people to paint their finger and toe nails teal, the color of ovarian cancer awareness, as a way to start a conversation. "Because it's a somewhat unusual color, people will often ask questions about it. It's a good way to introduce ovarian cancer," Davis said.

The same organization engaged its community through the social networking site when it was asked to participate in a Christmas tree decorating contest that yielded a cash donation. Teal Toes used Pinterest to collect ideas for decorating their tree.

Dunlop uses Pinterest in conjunction with Twitter, Facebook and blogs to raise awareness for his clients. For several hospital clients, Dunlop has started "mommy blogs." Every post on the blogs has an image that is also put in Pinboards. "Pinterest has become the number two driver to women's blogs behind Google," he said. "It's not because we're tweeting 'come check it out.' It's because people spend hours a day on Pinterest, and they're looking for information."

Meanwhile, many hospitals use the site to educate patients by pinning links to videos about various medical conditions. Hospitals also offer boards featuring healthy recipes, and information about exercise and community events, such as health fairs.

Overcoming the Drawbacks of Pinterest

According to Dunlop the major drawback with Pinterest is that it's harder than with other sites to build a relationship with the end user. "We can engage them, but it's hard to have two-way relationship. It's more static even though the content is dynamic. The relationship is more driven by the consumer," he said.

And as with any form of social networking, health care organizations are challenged to find the resources to most effectively manage the various sites. "It's really easy to say, 'I'm going to set aside an hour, and I'm going to pin everything related to this project we have coming up.' But that means you're really flooding your followers' Pinterest boards with 20 or 30 images related to the same thing," Davis said. Generally, it's more effective when pins can be spaced out, but that's harder for staff.

In the end, health care organizations still are fairly new to Pinterest and are working out the kinks. "I think it's interesting. I'm glad that we're there," Davis said. "But I'm not sure we've found our exact perfect way to use it yet."

John Trader
It should be noted that using Pinterest also has SEO benefits with the strategic use of hashtags on pins. Carrie Morgan recently wrote an article ( where she demonstrated the use of hashtags on Pinterest as an SEO boost. She states, "I tried for quite a while to rank well organically for “az seo” – a term every SEO pro in the State of Arizona uses, which also has a lot of garbage grandfathered in. Not only is it highly competitive, but instead of competing against inexperienced optimization tactics – you are competing with the best who really know to rank. It’s tough… But thanks to Pinterest, I’m now listed in #3 position on page one. They work! As long as the keyword or phrase is in the pinboard name and description, and used in that board’s pins as a hashtag. It’s also continued to rise over time, even though I only add a fresh pin very sporadically." Just another tidbit of information about the value of using Pinterest! Thanks Carrie!

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