Ann Romney Blazes a Trail for Politics on Pinterest

Mudslingers were the first to take up the virtual bulletin-board site, but it could be an excellent tool for candidates to reach female voters.


Someday, we may all look back on February 21, 2012, as the day that Pinterest became a player in the political realm, a technological turning point on the order of Richard Nixon's disastrous televised debate against John F. Kennedy.

Well, maybe not. But the site is having a red-state red-letter day. Today, Ann Romney, wife of presidential contender Mitt,joined Pinterest. That came just hours after liberal blog ThinkProgress debuted an attack Pinterest of sorts, taking mudslinging to a new medium with a collection of luxury hotels that Romney stayed in while on the campaign trail.

For the uninitiated, the site is a sort of virtual bulletin board or scrapbook where users can post items they like from around the Internet -- photos, tweets, products, recipes -- in various categories, then share them socially. To a great extent, Pinterest is a boon to retailers: many users use it to compare products, and as such it becomes free social advertising for clothiers, furniture sellers, etc. The site boasts that it "lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web." Meanwhile, others -- including journalists and politicians -- have been searching for good ways to use it to get their own messages out, and it seems like they might be getting there.

The ThinkProgress board of Romney luxury hotels is a smart satire on the form. Like so many Pinterests, it's devoted to displaying a pricy good. And of course it plays into the liberal attack on Romney as a plutocrat who's out of touch with ordinary Americans. It is not, however, the first attack Pinterest -- nor even the first one to attack Romney. Last week, a joker put together a fake Mitt Romney Pinterest. It features things like a picture of barrels full of cash, captioned, "Ann and I hung this in one of the guest bathrooms." Pinterest forced the owner to switch his account from "mittromney" to "fakemittromney."

So far, most of the politically aware Pinterest boards are fan sites. (The armed forces, not exactly the most obvious client for crafty sites, have also signed up. What's next, Etsy?) User Jessica Svendsen put together an exhaustive set of pictures of first lady Michelle Obama flaunting her famous fashion sense. Gretchen Trevett has her own photo series mostly featuring the president. The social-media team at Newsweek created a page devoted to "Rick Santorum's Sweater Vests."

It looks like Newt Gingrich has his own Pinterest page -- the profile seems official, but there's no equivalent to the helpful "verified" icon on Twitter, and the Gingrich campaign didn't respond to requests to confirm the account. The account was created some seven weeks ago, and doesn't appear to have been used since. It'd make sense for Gingrich to be an early adopter, since he was one of the first politicos to embrace Twitter.

That all makes Ann Romney's account a smart play by the Romney camp. On a very basic level, it means there's a counter to the mudslingers right there on Pinterest. As of writing, Ann Romney already has nearly twice as many followers as both Fake Mitt Romney and Luxury Hotels Of The Romney Campaign (and the number is growing fast), so she's sucking up much of their oxygen. But it's not just the rapid-response value. Pinterest is a great forum for the campaign to cultivate an image of its candidate. Mitt Romney has made a point of depicting himself as an all-American family man, which both blunts the skepticism of conservative Christians who distrust Mormons and also subtly undermines thrice-married Gingrich. Ann Romney's boards reinforce those themes: there's a gallery of patriotic images, a recipe set, and some heartwarming family snapshots (there's also a book list featuring Anna Karenina; it's unclear how that fits). And it's extremely effective as outreach to women: Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak calls Pinterest "digital crack for women," and it's estimated that more than 80 percent of U.S. users are women.

Pinterest remains invitation only, which does limit its utility (although pages are viewable by anyone, account or no). It's a bit surprising, especially given the preponderance of Obama fan boards, that the famously tech-loving Obama campaign hasn't signed up yet. On the other hand, they only recently joined Instagram, which is sort of like discovering Yeasayer in 2012 (actually, given the demographic overlap between Yeasayer fans and Instagram users, it's exactly like that). It's reasonable to expect other politicians to follow closely in Ann Romney's footsteps.