If you haven’t yet fallen under the spell of Pinterest yourself, it might be easy to overlook the possibilities of this simple social bookmarker. But spend a little time exploring this trading post of images, and you’ll find dozens of ways to put it to work for your organization.

First, what is it? It’s a bit like a giant cork board in a busy coffee shop, 21st century style. It’s a place on the Web to “pin”  images you’ve chosen for others to see, displayed on “boards” you’ve assembled by content, theme, or any idea at all. The organizers call it a “tool for collecting and organizing things you love.”  As you travel around the web, you can pin images from anywhere to your boards.

It’s one of the web’s easiest and sleekest interfaces and can make any collection of random images look great.

But it’s more than just a display tool. Each image retains a link to the original web page it came from, so it’s a live bookmark, too. If another pinner clicks on an image from your museum website, they can use it find their way back to your source. And you can annotate any image with your own commentary.

Boards and pins can be shared. Other people can follow your boards, and you can follow theirs. Like-minded pinners share images with one another,  and social features allow users to like and comment on what others are sharing.

So how is this useful for a museum or historic site? There are lots of ways to integrate Pinterest into your institution’s planning, programming and presentation. Below are some inspiring examples of both audience-facing and internal uses for the tool.

Share Your Collection. “Pinners” are museum people at heart. They love objects, collecting, and stories. Getting collection images out there will guarantee their takeup by fans of a given time, place, or topic. The Chicago History Center and the Missouri History Museum present hundreds of historic images for people to page through, for example. And Pinterest lets you have fun with display, easily remixing categories, genres, or time periods, as on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s boards Mashup and Today in History. How could you present and remix your collection?

Tell a Story in Images. In a creative use of the format, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust uses Pinterest to present a simple, spare exhibit: The Difference of a Single Day. The Museum of London lets you follow Charles Dickens around the city to his favorite haunts. What stories could your site relate in imagery?

Get in on the Party. Link your organization with a celebration! Take advantage of holidays and special days to post content selected just for the occasion, like the NMAH’s Valentine’s Day Advice from History and he National Women’s History Museum’s Halloween Costume Ideas.

Take your visitors backstage. A collection of images might reveal the daily life of a museum worker – like What Does an Archivist Do?, or share the detailed steps of a project, like textile conservation. Can you build anticipation for your next exhibit by sharing some of the collecting and installation in advance?

Promote Your Programs and Resources.  NMAH’s We Love Educators page highlights ideas for the classroom. The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation shows off their homeschool and birthday programs. With enticing, vivid photos, you’ve got a new twist on the old brochure.

Crowdsource. You can allow others to pin to boards you’ve created, if you like. That means you can invite submissions of pins from your followers – original photos, favorite childhood toys, foods that evoke a place and time. This is a fun way to involve people in the museum, but could also help you develop ideas for exhibitions and programs. The Peabody Essex Museum used follower photo submissions to create a “Year of Photography,” including explorations of Ansel Adams’ nature photography.

Extend the Experience. Since Pinterest is social, people can participate in your museum experience even at a distance. The Chicago History Museum asked its followers What Building Inspires You? for a personal look at architecture. Some science museums are offering experiments to do at home, and the Kansas Historical Society is sharing historic recipes to try. How could you extend the ideas from your site to a home experience?

Be a Recommendation Engine. Your followers want more of what interests them, and your museum is a trusted authority. That makes Pinterest a good place to share links to podcasts and books recommended by your staff, favorite restaurants and things to do nearby your site, or instructions for a DIY project. What do you know your visitors would love?

In addition to reaching the public, Pinterest is helpful internally too:

Communicate Design Ideas.  I needed to help our marketing team develop our late-night program. The board Museum Evening Programs let me gather links, inspiration and examples of logo design and landing pages around the web.  We’ve also used inspiration from pinboards when designing posters and flyers.  Speaking to designers in their own language – the visual – lets us start graphics projects on the right foot.

Plan Programs.  Start a board and name it for a program you’re planning, and invite your colleagues to help pin to it. Then search the web and Pinterest itself for ideas related to your theme, topic, or time period. When you find an art activity, related object or photo, video or good idea, just pin it. This “idea board” approach is being tested and approved by programmers nationwide. When your program’s done, post photos and share your event to inspire others, like the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History often does.

Build Exhibitions. With thousands of exhibition images already uploaded, you can browse installations at other museums and archive design inspirations for your own next show. Pinterest is a very easy-to-use home for object “wish lists” and historic reference images. Also, don’t forget to ask your followers what they’d add to your object list.

Network. You’ll find a whole lot of museum professionals already on Pinterest. Just as with Twitter, you can search for favorite terms – like “history” or “1920s” or “museum education” – and find your way to pinners who share your interests. The Center for the Future of Museums and the New England Museum Association are already sharing ideas on Pinterest. Just search for phrases like “museum geek,”  “museum junkie” or “history geek”  to find some like-minded souls.

So try it out.  Once you scratch the surface, Pinterest has much to offer history organizations. Have you tried it yet? How is your site using Pinterest? Share your ideas in the comments below!

NOTE: Some references in this post came to me by way of Melissa Manon’s post Pinterest Revisited on the blog ArchivesInfo and by Jenni Fuchs on the Tumblr site Museum Diary.

ANOTHER NOTE: It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Pinterest’s copyright policies – and your institution’s – before beginning a Pinterest project.