Social media is hot, but can it help you plan a meeting? The answer from Beau Ballin, director of marketing for MotivAction, the Minneapolis-based meeting and incentive planning company, is an enthusiastic “yes.” Over the past year, Ballin has been experimenting with Pinterest, a photo-sharing Web site that allows users to create and share image collections, also known as “pinboards.” Pinterest, the most popular in a growing list of image-based social media sites (which includes Springpad, Image Spark, FFFFound, and others), allows users to post images on theme-specific pinboards, browse other pinboards for inspiration, and link others to the collections. We talked to him about how MotivAction’s use of Pinterest is evolving.

Corporate Meetings & IncentivesWhat drew you to Pinterest?
Beau Ballin: Pinterest is this wonderful tool that people have discovered as an inspiration board. As director of marketing for a meeting and event company, my challenge was to look at Pinterest and determine if there was a way that we could use it. I looked at it in two ways: one, of course, in marketing our company, and two, as a tool that our planners could use in collaboration with our clients.

CMI: Where does photo-sharing intersect with corporate marketing?
Ballin: From a marketing perspective, it’s pretty straightforward. We’ve used the board to highlight our preferred suppliers. For example, last year, Signature Golf was a Supplier of the Year for us. We created a spot on the MotivAction pinboard that highlighted the company and its capabilities in terms of hosting a golf event. We’ve also featured our technology partners—mobile suppliers, registration suppliers—on our company board [pinterest.com/motivaction]. And the list goes on in terms of the potential for showcasing individuals and partners under the banner of MotivAction. That’s really as far as we’ve taken Pinterest from a marketing standpoint.

CMI: What about using Pinterest to collaborate with your clients?
Ballin: Where Pinterest got really interesting for us as a company was looking at it from a planning standpoint. It comes back to that phrase “inspiration board.” Think of all of the elements that go into planning and designing a meeting—production, color schemes, menu planning, speakers, entertainment, destination selection—these are all decisions that our planners and our clients are trying to navigate together. The traditional way of making those decisions, of course, is via the phone or e-mail. What Pinterest allows us to do is to take a step back and begin to capture those ideas and categorize them. So, we could have an entire board filled with menu choices for a destination and others for room setups or stage design. We can add and remove choices as we narrow down and focus in our selection. We can use the boards to cascade through every element of an event and have a two-way dialogue. And not only are we pushing these ideas forward to our clients, but our clients have the ability to upload content as well. So it becomes this great area that we can share among teams, among clients, and really make some exciting decisions about how we operate our meetings and events. Social media is a wonderful tool that way. It provides an opportunity to communicate on a new and dynamic platform.

The other thing to note is that Pinterest is great from a mobile standpoint. When people are on the go, they can have Pinterest as an app on their smart phone and quickly reference the boards that we’ve set up. It makes it easy to continue collaborative discussions when people are away from their offices.

CMI: Are most clients open to working this way?
Ballin: Pinterest is a new and evolving tool for us at MotivAction. I think probably about 50 percent of our meetings for 2013 are currently using Pinterest in some way, shape, or form to handle that dialogue and discussion. We have some clients who are interested in pressing forward with social media and integrating it into how they produce their events and communicate on the participant level, and we have other clients that are more conservative and would rather manage things through a standard Outlook e-mail chain or other planning platform.

CMIAre there any drawbacks to this kind of social media?
Ballin: One of the concerns with Pinterest is that it is an open sharing tool. Pinterest doesn’t have private boards. So we’re careful when we create a board for an event or a client that we don’t showcase the name of the event or the client name because it is publicly available. We house it in a generic board where we can have the sharing and dialogue, but we’re not advertisingthe event.