Ever since the bygone days of the Wild West, folks have always wanted to check out the newcomer in town and hear all the latest gossip before they got better acquainted. These days Pinterest, the fastest drawing social media network in history, has everyone eyeing it with curiosity and just a little trepidation. They wonder if it will settle down — or become another in a long line of drifters who pass through town. Before you take the trouble to get acquainted with this newcomer, allow me to share some insider tips about how to make the most of your Pinterest experience.

I’ll also caution you to keep your eyes and ears open because social networks have a habit of changing things up just as you get comfortable around them. You’ve always got to keep your wits about you.

Are you ready?

The good

  • Pinterest is informal, which makes it a great place to unwind and take in the sights.
  • Pinterest is a great way to get to know people better by their taste in food, decor and fashion. Now I can bond with people I met at conferences over designer shoes neither of us can afford.
  • If you’re looking to appeal to a female audience, you’ve come to the right place. According to AppData, 97% of Pinterest’s Facebook fans are women.
  • Some sites have enjoyed a huge traffic increase due to pins (a Pinterest term for pictures) that were shared from their site. According to Shareaholic, Pinterest had over 260 million unique monthly visitors in January. If you position your brand wisely on the network, it can create phenomenal traffic for your site.
  • Brands are successful on Pinterest when they feature a tangible product with strong visual appeal and are willing to socialize a bit.
  • You get to control your experience based on who you follow. Few self-promoters get followed back on Pinterest for long, so the system is self-policing.

The bad

  • Understand that everything you share could go viral. If it does, you probably won’t get credit for the image unless you cleverly watermark in a way that can’t be cropped. When I share my travel pictures, it’s because I want to share my love of Paris, not because I expect to get photo credit.
  • All pins start out being linked to a site or uploaded from a computer. But somewhere along the way many of the links get lost as pins get shared, so it’s not a fool-proof way to drive traffic to your site.
  • If you decide to sign up, you’ll be presented with a simple “post to Timeline” permission button. Clicking that button posts every single pin you click on to Facebook for your friends, family, and colleagues. You’re a considerate friend; so don’t fall for this innocent looking button anywhere online.
  • Some pictures might not be appropriate for the kiddies. I stumbled across some partial nudes on somebody’s fashion board a couple weeks ago.
  • Even though it’s in Beta, Pinterest has been caught “link-jacking” pins in order to make affiliate income, though the network has said it has discontinued the practice.

So which brands are really rocking Pinterest?

I appreciate Real Simple because its photography is fantastic and its profile description describes benefits for its followers rather than just listing features. Its diverse variety of boards makes good on the promise: “REAL SIMPLE gives creative, practical and inspiring solutions that make life easier.”

Etsy shines because it promotes artwork from artists all across North America and Europe. It is also interesting to follow because its boards, such as Etsy Weddings, Etsy Pets, and Delightful DIY, clearly communicate what it is about and stay tightly defined.

Some lesser known brands include my French acquaintance Valoupette, U.K. based Laura Lahert, and B&B Innkeeper Michael Worm {inspiredbycharm.com} because they sparkle with unusual, refreshing images that inspire.

What do you need to do to make your brand’s Pinterest boards shine?

  • Upload easy to understand images. For example, if you want to spotlight a dazzling piece of jewelry, photograph it by itself instead of on a model’s arm in a party dress, walking down a city sidewalk. Focus the viewer’s attention exactly where you want it.
  • Categorize your boards thoughtfully. Search engines pick up your board names, so be sure to include SEO-friendly keywords to bring in the extra traffic.
  • Emphasize the benefits your brand offers in your description, instead of your brand’s features. In other words, sell the sizzle, not the steak.
  • Don’t start following people until you’ve filled out a few boards of your own. Give them something good to follow back!
  • Follow people and brands whose images truly excite you. The essence of true social media marketing is having a good time sharing what interests you most. People respond to genuine excitement.
  • Log on to the network every day for a few minutes to see what’s fresh, respond to comments, and continue expanding your own inspiring boards.

Correction: AppData’s figure is based on an analysis of Pinterest’s Facebook fans. SmartBrief regrets the error.

This post is by Lori Randall Stradtman, who designs WordPress sites and blogs about social media trends at Social Media Design and Social Media Examiner.

Image credit: Pinterest

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12 responses to “Everything you always wanted to know about Pinterest (but were afraid to ask)”

  1. Joe says:

    Get your facts straight. According to AppData, 97% of Pinterest's Facebook fans are women which is not the same as saying that 97% of Pinterest users are women. Rather, according to AllTop, the percent of women users is closer to 68% which is a far cry from 97%. http://holykaw.alltop.com/very-pinteresting-infog

  2. Shannon says:

    Thanks for the post — good info here.

  3. kate says:

    I love Pinterest. Not only is it a great way to communicate, but it also helps with editing/storing ideas for future feature articles, etc.

    There's also some fun to be hand in coming up with new ways to use it, such as this:

    I'd love to know if you think these have any real application, or are they just a bit of fun?

  4. ConnorMeaks says:

    Interesting take on Pinterest. What do you think about all the copyright issues that are coming out with it?

  5. Olga says:

    Getting credit through Pinterest has become a big copyright issue. I recently read a blog post about a new bookmarking/organizing website called Clipix. I gave it a try and so far I reaI think that Clipix has much better features. My favorite is their privacy settings. You can make boards private of public and only share the things you want to share. Plus I can save Microsoft documents and more. Just a better site that allows a lot more personalizing.

  6. Connie says:

    Too bad we cannot even PIN this article!

  7. Great article, Lori. You have excellently summed up the pros and cons of using Pinterest and this will surely help others to take advantage on its features.

    With the buzz and craze created by Pinterest, the question now is wether it will maintain it or just another fad…

    Thanks for the great tips!

  8. Jack Martin says:

    Yeah Pinterest is still so young so it will be interesting to see how more brands find creative ways to use it. I really love the idea of making the top 9 images of a pinboard 1 image broken up. It looks pretty cool.

  9. Good article, especially the tip on "Don’t start following people until you’ve filled out a few boards of your own. Give them something good to follow back!" Too many times people jump on the next hot social media site without first realizing the purpose for that particular site.