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How to Be Awesome on Pinterest

While browsing Pinterest yesterday, I realized that I know a lot of people on there, but not that many people actually use it.  I'm not sure if that's because they just don't have time or if they aren't sure what it's for or if they just plain got bored by it.  These things happen.

I, on the other hand, think Pinterest can be a lot of fun when it doesn't suck your day into a vortex of quinoa recipes and thinspirational quotes about your thighs.  There's a lot of other inspiration to be had on Pinterest, be it fashion or colors, food or fitness, art, photography, home decor, whatever blows your dress up. Sadly, like any hot new thing, Pinterest is both under and over-used by it's pinners, so I thought I'd prepare some helpful tips to new Pinterest users and for clients who may be interested in creating a Pinterest account for their brand.

For those who haven't heard, Pinterest is the hottest new social sharing network online. Or maybe it's in a tie with Instagram, either way, it's popular. (Both are popular enough someone made an internet lovechild called Pinstagram so you can pin Instragram photos, so clearly, there's something to it.)  

Pinterest, according to their website:

Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.

So, what's the point?

You can use it for just about anything you like. Do you collect elephants? Start a pinboard for elephant stuff or if you're into owls, start one of those -- or follow other people's boards about owls.  You have no idea how many owl pinboards I've seen. Owls are the new black.

Are you rennovating your house?  Start a board to save fabric or wallpaper swatches, dog-ear that chic sofa you saw on that style blog, flag your favorite paint colors.

Are you watching your weight? Do you want to be inspired to roll your tuchus off the couch?  There are hundreds of pinboards for delicious healthy cooking and fitness regimens, everything from "you go girl, run the bejeezus out of that race"-type quotes to grain-less cooking to recommended training gear.

Getting hitched?  Then Pinterest is for you -- create boards for the big day, for your favorite dresses, for food, invitationand decor ideas. The possibilties are really limitless.

Pinterest sounds swell! What could go wrong?

As with anything awesome, there's always something that threatens it's cool factor. True Blood -- one of my  favorite shows -- it was so awesome and then...? Werepanthers.  Coca-Cola was doing just fine for 81 years, and then New Coke had to screw it all up.  Love Boat was a Saturday night staple and then Ted McGinley happened.  Someone always has to throw a monkey wrench in the awesome, so here are a few "do's and don'ts" to keep Pinterest on the upswing:

DON'T over-pin.

I follow about 75-100 people on Pinterest, but I only see pins from about 10-20 users because my screen often taken up with 20-30 pins in a row from just a handful of users.  This in itself isn't awful, but when it's all nail art or all paleo recipes or six rows of nothing but gladiator sandals, my instinct is to unfollow that board... if not all the boards from that person.  (Gladiator sandals are grounds for social divorce.)

It's understandable to "get on a kick" when you're surfing online -- you're looking for something specific, so you just start pinning one pair of Ugg Boots after another.  That is totally your prerogative -- we're proponents of "do what you want" (though not so much Ugg Boots) -- but if follows are important to you, then consider mixing it up.  

If you're are on a kick, it's understandable -- we're all human and I get on them, too.  But, perhaps only pin a few "salad in a jar" recipes at a time. Or, if you do post 20 pins in a row, mix it up -- post things from different genres.  One of my favorite things to do is go into the "Everything" section -- I often find a nice mix of things that strike my fancy so my pins aren't a wall of LOL Cats and bunny photos (which, I'll admit, is a slippery slope --  I love bunnies!).

DO re-pin.

People love to be re-pinned.  If you see something you like from a friend or even a stranger, feel free to re-pin it. That's what Pinterest is for!  It also encourages those you pinned to come check out your stuff, as it sends them a notification when you've pinned someting of theirs. Maybe they'll re-pin your stuff or otherwise connect you with someone else that's into what you're into. You just never know and being social is what social networking is all about.

DON'T Over-pimp.

This is specifically for brands, but applies to personal websites, too.  Pinterest has a policy about pinning and sharing your own content on Pinterest, but they really don't enforce it which causes some brands and even owners of personal websites to do a lot of self-promotion.  This means if you're a company that sells Whatzits, don't pin every Whatzit you sell on your boards.  It's not an online store or your own personal portfolio, it's meant to share things that interest you. If all that interests you is yourself, then Pinterest is not the place for you.

I've followed a few brands that I've since had to unfollow because they pinned every promotional item in their own stream. If I wanted to know what they sold, I'd look at their website. I'm following, say, World Market (*cough*), because I like to shop there and I wonder what inspires the people at World Market... what do they like?  I realize that most companies aren't going to want to direct you anywhere but to their own stuff, but again, if that's the case, they shouldn't be using Pinterest.

Look, I realize brands want to market to us -- and I don't mind if I see one or two items from their latest collection in my stream. But when I see 3-6 rows of nothing but outdoor umbrellas and votive candle holders from India, with little price tags in the corner, I am no longer inspired, I'm being sold to. And I, personally, don't use Pinterest for that.

Whole Foods is another that shills a lot of their own stuff, but the way they are doing it right is that they share recipes. They're actually pinning  things you can make from products in their store, not just "Buy this olive oil, it's squeezed from rare olives picked on the solstice by nubile Mediterraneans".

DO or DON'T share boards.

I have mixed feelings on this.  On one hand, I love the idea of sharing boards  with someone else. Kathy and I share two boards: Moxie Dream House and Cocktail Hour.  She contributes, I contribute, it's a very tra-la-la experience. However, when brands you follow make a board a "group board", a couple things can happen:

  1. You end up some stranger in your Pinterest stream and if you're not privvy to the group-ness of the board, you may find yourself saying, "Who is the person? Why are they in my stream? I don't even know them. WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?" Not that I've said that exact phrase or anything. 
  2. Your stream ends up bombarded with strangers. This happened when Sephora opened up some "color wash" board that allowed their followers to add as many pins as they wanted to that board. Cut to my stream, which because I followed Sephora, was awash with photos of gold and tangerine items from people I'd never heard of.  

Like I said, Pinterest is a social network, so I don't mind discovering new people, but if I wanted to see hoards of pins from strangers, I'd go look at that "Everything" stream or go look at that board directly.

DO link the source.

I can't emphasize this one enough. It's positively maddening to click a photo of a great pair of shoes or a lovely dress only to be taken to:

  1. A pin-dump  (there are lots of those now, Pinterest aggregators that promise "more re-pins" for you if you pin through them)
  2. A Tumblr homepage where you'll be lucky if you can find your soul once you've scrolled through pages upon pages of miscellany.  (If you're pinning something from Tumblr, please, please find the permalink to that direct item before pinning. Please. I beg of you on behalf of the internet.)
  3. No link at all -- often found if the person uploads the photo directly to Pinterest. But if it's not your OWN work, if you found the image elsewhere, even if you uploaded it yourself, you really should credit the original link. You are not the creator of that content, you're simply sharing it.

DO read the terms of service.

There are probably always going to be copyright and privacy issues swirling with Pinterest.  They recently changed it due to some outcry from the community, so I encourage you to read the terms of service and to read it again whenever they update it.  If you are concerned at all with things like copyrights or people using your images without your permission (say you're a photographer), do not pin them to Pinterest. 

Finally, Pinterest is really about the people who use it. It's only as good as we make it, for now anyway. So I encourage you to also read Pinterest Etiquette and their Acceptable Use policies.

Happy Pinning!

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