Building Pinterest: Pointers From a Longtime User

The scramble to build a presence on Pinterest is on – and it’ll probably be a major focus of attention in the social media world throughout the year. But, as a longtime Pinterest user, I’ve got a warning for you: Approach it thoughtfully, or don’t bother at all.

People have fallen in love with Pinterest because it’s so useful and practical. The site’s tagline “Pinterest is an online pinboard. Organize and share the things you love” sums it up fairly simply. Users can organize and store images they like from around the Web – the digital equivalent of tearing pages out of a magazine.

Here’s how it works: Instead of tearing out a page, you “pin” an image to one of your “pinboards”, which you can divide into categories like “food” or “home décor. “You can also “repin” something from someone else’s board onto your own pinboard. To see what other people are “pinning”, you can “follow” them, and other users can follow you – that’s where the sharing comes in.

As the site has gained notoriety, its user base has expanded pretty dramatically – it’s a totally different animal than it was when I joined more than a year ago.  What used to be a space almost exclusively for creative professionals and aesthetes is now quickly becoming much more diverse.

From a business perspective, Pinterest gives you the opportunity to connect with a wide array of potential customers, particularly if you keep your “pins” varied. But before you jump in, make sure you keep these tips in mind. They can help you build out a Pinterest presence that makes good on the format’s potential.

  1. Be authentic. I have an unshakable belief that the central element for success of any kind on the Web is authenticity. Savvy internet users can smell a rat from a hundred miles away, which is why hard sells often fall flat.  On Pinterest, don’t force something into a pin that isn’t worth pinning. Do some critical thinking before you pin – ask yourself whether an arbiter of taste would find what you’re pinning clever, beautiful, useful or inspirational.
  2. Think associatively. Here’s a mistake a lot of companies might make: Simply pinning a picture of a product. It might be a good, nicely staged photo, but it’s only one pin. Get your creative team involved and talk about what related pins you could add. Say, for instance, that you’re selling paint – think about the inspirations behind a new color palette. Maybe it’s a tropical beach scene or a luxurious velvet dress or a Persian cat’s soft grey fur – all of these could be pinned on a “color inspiration” board and make the paint colors you’re pitching look even more enticing.
  3. Go beyond the pin. One of the genius elements of Pinterest is its linking ability. It’s a visual bookmark; users can click on an image, and if it was pinned from a blog or website, they will be linked back to the original source. It’s true you can just upload, but a linked image is far more useful for a user. Make sure that link takes users back to a content-rich page where they can get more information and ideas about the pin they’re interested in.
  4. Don’t just use – participate. It’s analogous to Facebook and Twitter – having an account and letting it sit there, or filling it with banal, insular content is a bad idea – and it’s the ultimate in looking inauthentic and misusing social media. Participating on Pinterest goes beyond pinning – it means following, repining and “liking” other people’s pins. If you’re pinning relevant, useful and beautiful things, and connecting with other users, you’ve got a recipe for success.

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