Pinpointing A New Social Media Tool for Utilities: Pinterest

by Carolyn Elefant on March 27, 2012

in Social Media in Regulated Utilities

Even though I’m a lawyer and you expect from this blog the latest, greatest legal analysis on next generation energy issues, I’m also a bonafide social media aficionado spending my time in search of the latest, greatest tools that I can use to educate and serve my clients. These days, my current fancy is Pinterest, a social curation site that functions as an online online file box and a bulletin board for storing and displaying treasures discovered round the web. I’ve used Pinterest to create a board depicting infographics related to green energy issues.

Is there a way for utilities to use Pinterest as part of their social media campaigns? There are benefits to doing so. Pinterest is popular with women who make the majority of the household purchase decisions . And Pinterest reportedly drives more traffic to websites than Twitter.

A quick search of Pinterest didn’t immediately turn up any utility accounts (if I’m wrong, let me know) – but I did come across this article about another public service provider, the Kansas City Police, currently using Pinterest. And no, they’re not posting mugshots, but rather, photos that personalize what the police department does,from officers helping out in the community to women police officers to the history of the department. I can envision many similar uses for utilities as well.

By the way, utilities should not be deterred by some of the legal issues surrounding Pinterest, significantly, the possibility of copyright violations for posting protected materials without consent. For starters, most utilities will likely post photos or materials that they have created or already own, so the copyright issues are not relevant. But even for companies that, like me, choose to link to photos elsewhere, the fair use defense applies. First, Pinterest is a transformative use of photos gathered from various sources on the web. Curated at Pinterest, a user’s handpicked photos become part of a unique collection that reflects the user’s tastes and is an entirely different animal from the original context in which the photo was displayed. Transformative use is one factor of fair use. Second, Pinterest has been shown to increase traffic to the underlying site and boost sales. The fact that a copyright holder isn’t harmed by postings on Pinterest also militates against a finding of infringement.

Of course, fair use is a defense so it won’t keep a Pinterest user from being sued. Still, the potential success of the fair use defense is likely to deter a copyright holder from suing, particularly if the holder has profited from Pinterest-driven traffic. But again, if a utility would rather avoid the hassle of sorting out fair use issue, it can simply limit its use of Pinterest to pinning photos that it already owns.

With that in mind, why not take a stab at Pinterest? You just might discover that pinning can help in winning over customers.

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