The Rise of Pinterest as a Higher Ed Marketing Tool

By now you’re probably somewhat familiar with Pinterest. If you’re a female over the age of 18, you’re probably very familiar with it. Heck, even if you’re a male, you may have checked out the ropes. Though Pinterest is heavily dominated by women (85% of users are female), 13% of men are active on the site as well.

Pinterest is THE place for fans and influencers to find and follow their favorite brands through pinned products or brand-generated business pages. Some of the most successful companies on Pinterest include Whole Foods, Etsy and Kate Spade.

One demographic that isn’t usually associated with Pinterest is college students. Because of this, not many colleges or universities feel it’s necessary to have a Pinterest page. Why put the time, energy and money into developing a strong presence on the social site if the audience isn’t there?

But this is changing.

The University of Michigan wasn’t afraid to take the lead on this one, as they usually aren’t when it comes to higher ed social media. If you check out their page on Pinterest, you’ll see a clean, vibrant profile that showcases all types of boards and related pins. Some of their boards utilize hashtags to increase engagement (Tour #UMich, #UMinstagram), some showcase the different programs offered (Science & Engineering, Arts at Michigan) and others work to engage students and draw in prospects (Student Life, New Students at Michigan).

Let’s explore how you can successfully utilize Pinterest for your own college or university.

Solve Problems

What are some of the pain points for college students? Many have trouble narrowing down their school choices or knowing how to fill out an application. Create boards that provide students with the information they need to solve these common problems.

Place Pins, for example, were created to help users explore different places that they couldn’t actually visit, at least in that moment. Place Pins are most commonly used for planning vacations, creating a city guide or building a bucket list. But they are also highly valuable for colleges and universities.

With Place Pins, your school can provide prospective students with an idea of what your college campus is like. Create a board that showcases photos of the dorms, the campus at large and its surrounding community. For students that are unable to visit your campus, they can get a good feel for what your campus is like and whether they would be a good fit.

Tell a Story

Storytelling is an excellent way to attract attention to your school and its students. The University of Michigan tells its story through The Leaders and Best board, and it has attracted audiences from all over the world, including students, alumni, staff and people in the health and science communities.

Think of a story that will highlight what makes your school unique. The University of Kentucky tells a story through their competitive athletics teams using photos of athletes, popular quotes and taglines. Maybe you have a unique academics program, a diverse student body or lucrative internship opportunities available.

Show Your Difference

Think of what makes your school unique. You don’t have to limit yourself to the here and now, either. The University of Michigan has a rich history that began in the early 1800s. With nearly 200 years of growth, it’s fun to look back and see how the school has changed over the years.

The UMich community loves looking back at historic photos. Some attempt to find themselves or their parents in the pictures. Others simply look back and reminisce of a different time in their life. Consider creating a historical board for your own audience and post pictures from the school’s history: former students and staff, athletic teams, awards and achievements, campus buildings and dorms and more.

Provide Value

In order to get students to return to your boards, you must provide them with some sort of value. Posting creative inforgraphics and visual answers that address common questions (What do I do with my major? How can I find a job after graduation?) is a great way to provide this value. Students will return to find the answers and inspiration they’re looking for in an easy, visual format. The University of Michigan achieves this through their Student Resources board.

Engage Students

You can effectively use Pinterest to educate prospects about what your school has to offer in terms of programs, staff and campus life. But you can also use it to drive more engagement on campus, particularly when you link Pinterest with your other social accounts such as Facebook and Instagram.

The University of Michigan does a nice job of dividing up the different student interests with their Michigan Athletics board and Michigan Pride board. Another neat thing they do is create boards based on the seasons. This helps current students learn about what’s going on throughout the year, strengthening the community.

Include Alumni

Past students are important to your school’s image and reputation. They are the products of your school, and they tell prospective and current students what they can expect upon graduation as well.

To encourage more engagement from your alumni, create boards that include them. Examples include the Michigan Alumni, Future Wolverines, Michigan Pets and Wolverine Fashion. As you can see from these pages, the University of Michigan does an excellent job of keeping alumni connected to their school and engaging with current students.

Track Your Competition

You can use Pinterest to track your competitors and see how they’re doing on the social networking site. There are a few options using Pinterest analytics, or you can record your and your competitors’ followers and Pins using a spreadsheet on Word or Docs. Track your and your competitors’ progress weekly or bi-weekly to see how you compare.


The University of Michigan has had a lot of success with Pinterest, and they feel it has been a major asset to their social presence. They continue to use Pinterest to draw attention to their school, engage current and new students and strengthen their alumni community. Since Pinterest is a very new channel for colleges and universities, now is the time to secure your spot and be a trending leader in higher ed digital marketing.