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Pinterest: I Love You, I Hate You, But Should I Use You?

By March 12, 2012February 1st, 2018Social Marketing
Pinterest: I Love You, I Hate You, But Should I Use You?

It’s the new shiny thing. You can’t go two clicks across the internet without someone exclaiming in paroxysms of joy about how much “free traffic” they’re getting from Pinterest.

If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’ve at least dabbled in this latest collage project.

If you’re like some of us, you’ve got thousands of pins that in a non-digital world would get you classified as a “hoarder” and probably earn you your own cable TV show.

I adopt new tools with caution, knowing full well the hazards of jumping on every bandwagon that rolls through town. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and if I’m going to spend two or three pinning my favorite things, that’s two or three fewer hours I’m devoting to other marketing strategies that I’ve spent the time and effort to cultivate and learn to execute well.

So where does this leave us?

Do we deny the lure of an instant 25% increase in website traffic simply because we’ve thrown a few photos together? Or do we dive in and repent later?

And Pinterest is not making it any easier. Its Terms of Service and questionable practices have made many of the less hoarding-inclined among us take pause.

So this is me taking pause, and asking you to take it with me. I’ll share my opinions and insights and I’d love for you to do the same in the comments below.

I’ll also tell you how I think you can use Pinterest as another marketing tool in your growing arsenal with a couple of tips to get you started.

Pinterest: The Love Affair

Remember when you were in second grade and your homework was to go home and cut pictures out of magazines and glue them on a big sheet of construction paper? I bet you never spent as much time on your math homework as you did cutting out little flowers and bright red cars and pictures of puppies.

In a previous iteration of myself, I taught kindergarten and whenever we had one of those days where “use your inside voice” went out the window along with the blocks that nobody remembered were “for building, not throwing”, nothing could calm the savage five-year-old the way a stack of old magazines, safety scissors and a glue stick could.

Even boys who I would’ve sworn were the worst ADHD cases ever to go undiagnosed could sit quietly cutting and pasting pictures for hours on end.

Pinterest has caught on in part because it appeals to the collector in us and also because it brings us back to those simple childhood days. And admit it, it appeals to the narcissist in us – or maybe the five year old just looking for approval – look what I found! Look what I did! I am so awesome.

My first foray into Pinterest was for fun. I pinned pictures of cats and cookies, my favorite books and my birthday wish list. The astounding thing was – and I  mean this literally – within minutes of posting my first “look how cute my cat is” photo, I was bombarded by notifications telling me people had liked, followed and repinned my stuff. And that was only two cute cats later.

I started to like Pinterest.

Over the next few weeks I scoured the internet for cool photos, amazing art, funny animals, and stuff I wanted for Christmas and my next six birthdays. People continued to like, follow and repin. I continued to trot after the carrot.

At some point I stepped into the marketing waters and decided to post links to this site. In the “chalk one up for jumping on the bandwagon” category, people liked, followed and repinned those, too – and came to the site.

It was a joyous day in the marketing world.

Pinterest: The Disillusionment

Whatever pixie fairy-dust powered Pinterest, I was willing to let it work its magic. Pinterest was a low-impact, clearly useful tool for generating interest and driving traffic.

Then the copyright issue cropped up. It had been floating around in the back of my mind, but I didn’t examine it too closely. I figured Pinterest knew what it was doing, and if nobody was complaining, then it couldn’t be a problem.

But it turned out people were complaining. All those photos I’d pilfered borrowed pinned, all that artwork – turns out it belonged to someone.

Were they credited? Maybe. I couldn’t tell you. If I found a photo I liked, I pinned it, and it retained the URL of the location where I’d found the photo, but that’s not exactly credit. Nor did I spend half a second wondering if the source I’d gotten it from was the original source.

From Pinterest’s terms:

“Finding the original source is always preferable to a secondary source such as Google Image Search or a blog entry.”

But let’s be honest. I’m guessing exactly zero people have the time or inclination to ferret out original sources. It’s a stinkin’ kindergarten collage!

I started to feel uncomfortable about this.

Then I started to read stories by people who were personally affected by this.

Then I started reading articles written by actual attorneys on the subject.

And then I read this, from Pinterest’s Terms (yes, I created an account and started pinning without reading all 4,529 words of its terms… you know you did, too):

“you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content… or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content… and [the content that you post will not] infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights.”

In non-lawyer-ese that means you either own the stuff you pin or you have actual legal consent from the content owner to pin.

Crediting the source is one thing. Obtaining consent to use the content is another matter entirely.

And then, there’s this… and I am going to quote it in full so please bear with me because this is the part where you start to go from uncomfortable to vaguely certain that you’ll wake up tomorrow to a subpoena:

“You agree to defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs, its officers, directors, employees and agents, harmless from and against any claims, liabilities, damages, losses, and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees, arising out of or in any way connected with (i) your access to or use of the Site, Application, Services or Site Content, (ii) your Member Content, or (iii) your violation of these Terms.”

That means, friends and fellow marketers, that if someone sues for copyright infringement, not only is it solely your problem, but you’re also responsible for picking up the tab on any of Pinterest’s legal fees, too.

I immediately deleted every Board that had a photo or reference to anything that wasn’t specifically and clearly mine.

So much for collecting.

Pinterest: The Final Straw

Just in case you thought we’d come to the end, I wanted to share this one final tidbit with you, from Pinterest’s “Etiquette” page:

Avoid Self Promotion. Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.”

All I can say is… what if I love myself? I get to pin things I love, right? Presumably I am the exclusive owner of all things myself. **Screw You** Pinterest, you’ve left me with nothing but rampant consumerist hoarding tendencies or self-promotion. I choose the latter.

Pinterest: The Verdict

For me, at least for now, Pinterest is a source of some additional traffic for my site. If ten seconds per day equals ten additional people finding, reading and sharing my content then that’s not a bad use of ten seconds.

And right now, that’s about all the time I’m spending – or willing to spend – on it. It’s a “back of my mind” kind of thing. I can’t ignore it but I’m only in by a toe. For now.

The cut-and-paste fun for me is over, but the marketing value still remains. Plus in a pinch I still have about 5,765 more photos of my cats. I no longer “share things I love” because the things I love probably belong to someone else and I just don’t have the time to ask them if they mind whether I pin it.

And it’s occurred to me that actually sourcing and asking people for permission to pin their content might not be such a terrible thing. I imagine the person I ask will be surprised by the request, maybe even pleasantly so. I imagine this person might not mind if I pinned and credited her content. I imagine she might become another ally, a member of my community and a brand advocate for me.

Not because of a pin but because of a connection – and in the end, isn’t that what all this social media stuff is about?

The Practical Stuff: Ideas For Using Pinterest As A Marketing Tool

You don’t need to have a love affair with Pinterest but you don’t need to completely break up with it, either. And until Pinterest adds “…and we’ll sue you for self-promotion…” to its terms, go ahead and promote. Here are some ideas.

  • Pin photos of your products and add a short description and even the price. Make sure you group your photos into relevant Boards with catchy titles. Some people argue that you shouldn’t just post photos of your products. I say those people don’t understand that Pinterest is not Facebook. It’s visual. Use it that way.
  • Pin your videos so people can watch them right there on your Boards.
  • Pin images of and links to your ebooks or other free content. Even better, pin them with a link to your signup page where people can get your ebooks or content for the price of an email address.
  • Pin links to webinars or other events you’re hosting. Pin the actual recorded webinar when you’re done.
  • Pin links to your blog posts. This should give you some incentive to use imagery on your blog if you’re not doing so already. I’ve seen this work personally. (And if you want a bit of analytics, my visitors from Pinterest stay just as long and explore just as much as visitors from other more “business oriented” sites.)
  • Create and pin coupons or other incentives and promotions.
  • Collaborate with colleagues and even clients to create Boards that showcase their products or services. I’ve collaborated with other bloggers to help cross-promote and I’ve seen that work, too.
  • Create Boards of products with affiliate links that can bring in a little extra cash for you. (If you don’t, Pinterest will anyway.)
  • Pin photos of your business “behind the scenes”, whether your staff, office, events or projects. This is a great way to showcase your involvement in a real-world community if you participate in local or charitable events.
  • Create a Discussion Board. Start with a question around a topic important or interesting to your audience.

Tips For Pinning Like A Pro

Here are a few quick tips for making the most out of your experience.

  • Don’t pin all at once. Much like spewing out status updates on Facebook, this won’t do you any good. Stagger your pins so you’re pinning regularly instead.
  • Remember to include your web address and to connect your other social profiles. Any tool you use should be connected to and integrated with your total plan.
  • Find and follow other people. This will help you build your community and people are usually happy to reciprocate – especially if you’ve got interesting stuff.
  • @ people in comments on your pins. They’ll get notified that you’ve done it and it could open the door to conversation and a branding opportunity.
  • Go to (where “yoursite” is your web address) to see what people are repining. That will give you an idea of what people like most and how they are representing your brand on their own Boards. It can also lead you to Boards where you can comment and engage people who have already shown an interest in what you have to offer.

And remember, only you can decide if Pinterest is right for your business. Don’t listen to the pundits and gurus – or even me! – if you don’t see a return on your efforts. Sure Pinterest is easy to use and free but remember, it comes at the cost of your time.

If you’re looking at your analytics and seeing a positive trend, and getting a response from your community, then great. Keep going. But if it’s just another thing you do because you’re kind of obsessed with collecting stuff… save it for off-hours.

So what’s your Pinterest experience? Have you given it a shot? Do the copyright terms concern you? Has it made a difference to your business? Do you disagree vehemently with anything I’ve said? I’d love to hear about it!

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this Carol Lynn! I’d begun using Pinterest too, but backed off after reading about the copyright issues. Self-promotion seems like the main and the easiest use for it now.

    • Me too, I had “collected” some pretty cool stuff but I don’t like the implications that 1) You pin with the explicit consent of the owner and 2) Pinterest can sell and use your stuff anyway. That second part even makes me nervous about self-promotion but for now I’ll take the traffic and see where it goes. 

  • Hello Carlo, 

    I just signed up with Pinterest. I wan’t really sure how it was supposed to help my business. Luckily, due to your post I now see the right direction. 

  • Sonia says:

    Awesome post Carol! When I started using Pinterest, I didn’t give it much thought, but once I started using it, I use only for personal use. I love showing things I am interested in and images are so easy to share and pin. 

    Will I ever use it for professional use? Maybe, but right now it’s my personal tool for fun showcasing visual beauty and that’s fine by me. Your post really was very well-thought out and a good post for anyone deciding if its for them or not.

    • Thanks, Sonia, I’m just the opposite – I would rather use it for business (using things that I “own” to avoid any copyright problems) and leave the personal sharing for other sites like Facebook or Tumblr. It’s definitely a great place to share visuals, it’s just a tricky situation and Pinterest seems to want to wash it’s hands of any possible blowback by saying basically, it’s all on you to worry about it. Time will tell if that holds up!

  • Dr. Bob Clarke says:

    Great article and commentary, Carol.

    But I am one who needs to stay focused and away from the next shiny object (I have been very guilty of this in the past). I have precious little time to devote to my business, so chasing after the next best traffic generation method can be a dangerous thing.

    Having said that, I will continue to read great reviews like this one and see it’s truly worth chasing. 

    • Totally agree! I have to stay on top of this stuff so I can advise my clients, but for me, it’s not a big draw. That’s why it’s got ten seconds of my attention 🙂

      I think for a lot of people, if they are doing well with their marketing, Pinterest is a bit of a side trip. For people who are new or struggling, there is some potential. 

  • Adrienne says:

    I guess I’m glad I haven’t gone crazy with this Carol so thanks for this really great wake up call.

    I was just using it mainly to pin things I have found interesting that I can refer back to later.  I haven’t spent time on there checking out photos or dreaming of vacations spots, etc.  Now that I know a lot more of their terms of service involved, I’m glad I haven’t gone haywire like most people.  

    I’m not going to fret over the minimal amount of traffic it may or may not bring me.  Oh sure, traffic is fabulous but I also believe that over extending ourselves on so many different sites can do more harm then good.Thanks for this great post.


    • I’m glad there are more people who think it’s not the be-all-end-all! Sometimes it makes me a little nuts when something new comes out and all the marketers are so overjoyed and they give us so many reasons why we just HAVE to try something. I am a “stop and think about it” kind of marketer. Is this going to work? Do I need another distraction? 

      There will always be something new so it’s important to think about whether it’s worth pursuing or not.

  • Hi Carol,

    Probably the most useful post I’ve read this past all month and I read a lot of posts 🙂

    Wow, I am now ashamed to say that I haven’t read all that. I am going to check all that I have on Pinterest, and remove anything that I feel is remotely uncertain. This is such a great information. I’m going to tweet it all over 🙂

    • Thanks Sylvaine! I’m glad it was useful. And don’t worry, nobody reads those pages and pages of terms. I think that’s what some of these companies count on. They bury stuff in pages of legalese and think we won’t notice. (They are usually right!)

      It does concern me though, especially given how hot the topic of copyright infringement is. And if you think about it ethically, it is a bit questionable to just grab someone else’s work and show it off without their permission or knowledge and possibly without any benefit at all to them. It’s one thing to borrow a photo of someone’s cat but another to use artwork and “real” photography. They’re beautiful for a reason! Because someone else put time and effort into it and they should get the credit for it.

      I like the concept of Pinterest but it’s got a shady execution. Hopefully either Pinterest will improve or people will realize there are problems and take a different approach.

  • Jan Nelson says:

    Thanks Carol!  I don’t think big (or small) company X necessarily minds the viral re-pinning of their product…yet.  In all likelihood they probably won’t sue….yet.  However, in addition to those original source links getting pretty muddy, doesn’t a re-pin essentially boost the popularity of the re-pinner?  

    Reminds me a bit about playing music in your store, which makes the environment pleasant, which lengthens the time spent in the store, which increases sales.  We know where that concept ended up.  I’d rather sleep better and play by the rules.  One day, even small product thumbnails are going to be watermarked.  

    • It’s a touchy area, and as per Pinterest’s terms, if anything goes wrong, you’re totally liable. Lately especially, with all the cracking down on illegal sharing, it seems like something that could get people into hot water. As a small business, I wouldn’t mind people sharing my stuff all over the place! But I’m sure big companies will mind, or photographers who are constantly having their work “borrowed” without attribution. I guess we’ll see how it develops over time.