The White House joined Pinterest today. Over the past several years, the White House digital team has sought to leverage the growing unprecedented scale of its connections on these networks to influence national debates on proposed laws, policies and rules, applying public engagement to politics with mixed results. Now the team will be pinning as well as tweeting, blogging, liking and plussing.
As has often been the case over the past four years, I learned about the news first on Twitter, directly from a tweet by White House Digital Director Macon Phillips:
The White House was able to secure the /whitehouse namespace* and began pinning at pinterest.com/whitehouse.
The decision by the White House to join Pinterest comes as the photo sharing website enjoys a period of hypergrowth in 2012 that resulted in a ranking amongst the most popular social media platforms in the United States. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, Pinterest grew by over 1,000% over in the United States in 2012, with even high year over year growth in unique mobile Web (4,225%) and mobile app (1,698%) users. Given that the White House has an official presence on every other major social media platform, the move recognizes a new reality: Pinterest is now among the top five social destinations in the country, and therefore worth investing time and resources for staff to engage there.
The White House had already joined other popular social networks over the years, including:
Kori Schulman, the director of online engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy in the White House, blogged about the White House joining Pinterest at the WhiteHouse.gov blog. (Sam Byford was quite dubious about that “open” frame in his post at The Verge.)
Schulman described the White House’s new Pinterest account as another way to open up the White House to more people:
From the very beginning, President Obama and the First Lady have taken steps to make this the most open White House in history. “It’s the “People’s House,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome. And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can.”
That’s why the White House is open for virtual tours 24/7 through the Google Art Project and why you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other places around the web. And, it’s why we’re now thrilled to add Pinterest to the list.
The holidays are an especially exciting time for the White House to start pinning. During the 2012 holiday season alone, more than 90,000 visitors will have the chance to tour the White House holiday decorations, all hung with care by a team of crafty staff and volunteers. To kick off our presence on Pinterest, we’re inviting some of our newest followers to join us for a Holiday Social at the White House. Pinners will be invited to check out the décor, meet with the people that helped transform the White House for the holidays, join us for a craft project — and share it all with the Pinterest community.
According to Schulman, the White House will roll out its first pinboards on December 17th, the day of its first “White House Holiday Social,” a new, more general term for an in-person meeting between White House staff and people who follow its official accounts on social media platforms.
The White House has held a series of “tweetups” for Twitter users over the past year, starting with the first Twitter Town Hall. (I went to the second White House tweetup, which coincided with an in-person town hall with President Obama at the University of Maryland, where he told students that he was “absolutely convinced that your generation will help us solve these problems.”
The new approach to a “White House Social” will be more broadly applicable to future meetups, assuming that a second Obama administration continues to value creating bridges between offline and online networks of supporters.
The last descriptor is key: the White House has been experimenting on the Internet, generally — and with social media, specifically — to share the images, media and ideas that the administration wants to promulgate to the country, from proposed policies to political action. White House staff, including communications director Dan Pfieffer, have gone on the record to say that they believe social media campaigns have affected the debt ceiling debate and led to offline outcomes.
The White House’s most recent effort at public engagement through social media, in which the administration encouraged Americans to share what $2,000 dollars meant to them, resulted in 100,000 submissions at WhiteHouse.gov and 250,000 tweets that used the #My2K hashtag. That conversation was catalyzed this past week when President Obama logged on to Twitter himself again for a presidential Q&A in which he urged Americans to call, email and tweet to Congress regarding the so-called fiscal cliff.
As I’ve written before, however, real issues with meaningful use of social media by Congress persist, including an online identity ecosystem that has not provided Congress with ideal means to identify constituents online. The reality, when it comes to which channels influence Congress, in-person visits and individual email or phone calls from constituents remain far more influential with Congressional staffers than tweets. The probability that pins will prove to be any more significant in political debates remains to be seen.
The White House won’t be politically pinning alone on Pinterest. While Massachusetts Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stayed off of Pinterest because of worries that copyright infringement claims could lead the social sharing site to be shut down, a growing number of political campaigns and government entities have joined the platform over the last six months.
Why? Pinterest represents not just a new horizon for White House digital efforts but one in which a specific interest group — women — can be found in engaged numbers that they are not elsewhere. Pinterest is strongly identified with women, with Pew Internet research back in February 2012 finding that 1 in 5 women on the Internet are on the social sharing service.
Whether the White House’s pins resonate will also depend upon whether politics, Pinterest and political media become more intertwined. To date, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been the primary online forums for digital politics. In 2013, pinning may take on new significance.
*The White House digital team initially could be found as WhiteHouse44, not /WhiteHouse. At some point in December, they were able to secure the standard namespace. The first White House board was “inspiring.”