One of the scholarly uses of Pinterest that I suggest in my project is as a tool for data collection. I conducted a brief experiment–I created a collaborative board on Pinterest and invited my graduate student colleagues to submit images and descriptions of their writing spaces.
Several colleagues pinned to the board, and some emailed me images and text to pin for them (because they didn’t have Pinterest accounts). The board currently has a total of 20 pins–probably not enough to do significant coding work, but enough for a small pilot study.
Suggesting that Pinterest can be used to recruit participant data for empirical research begs the question: what would I do with that data? Because the data I collected is self-reported, I would structure my analysis around the question, “How does X population [in this case, (mostly) graduate students studying (mostly) writing at a large Midwestern land-grant institution] represent their writing spaces to others? What elements of their spaces did they deem important enough to photograph? To highlight in their written description?” From these questions and the data, we could reasonably extrapolate some of the material writing spaces and tools that writers self-identify as valuable.
Now, this is a limited example, because I had little time to collect data, so I didn’t really have time to leverage Pinterest as a social media tool to potentially recruit other writers in other areas of the country. But that’s not necessarily more limited than other snowball sampling methods used by researchers. The self-reported nature of the data is also similar to survey and interview methods, and so shares limitations of those methods, but not necessarily any further limitations.
Collecting data in this way may require Institutional Review Board approval because, though the data is online and public, it does not exit prior to the researcher’s request, unlike archived Twitter feeds, for example. While I haven’t had time to code any of the data I received in this little experiment, such a project might be one I attempt again in the future!