Pinterest 101

If you’re like me, your magazines don’t stay in one piece. Anything I want to keep — be it a recipe, decorating idea, craft, photo, inspirational story or gardening tip — inevitably ends up in files or on bulletin boards.

Now imagine applying that organizational strategy to the internet, not to mentioning throwing in some videos and being able to share it all too. That’s the lure of Pinterest: it lets you play curator in world of online content. Thanks to its visual appeal, the site has seen significant growth in the past year. Some estimates peg the numbers at 12 million users and 1.36 million visitors each day.

Another surprising fact: the majority of users are women (60-80 per cent, according to some source) —  a trend which has earned the site some good-natured ribbing in the media about the plethora of recipes, decorating ideas and crafts. (Not to mention a little counterculture — like the Board of Man.) 

What is Pinterest?

We know what you might be thinking: why would I want to join another social media site? This one is less about daily status updates and more about collecting, organizing and sharing the things you find interesting.

Essentially, Pinterest is a “virtual pin board” where you can “pin” content from the internet, organize it and share it. You can pin your own images (like photos or artwork) and content from other websites (like a gardening article or an infographic) as well as videos.

It’s all about the images here, not text. When you pin an item — whether via a special button or by posting to your account — it’s the picture that gets featured on your board along with a description you add. When people want a closer look, they can click on the image to enlarge it and click again to go to the website where the image is found (along with the article or recipe, for instance).

Naturally, part of the fun of Pinterest is sharing. As with other social networking sites, you can “follow” other “pinners” and fellow pinners can follow you. You can share — or “repin” — an item to your own boards so your followers can see it. You can even add pinners to your boards so others can contribute.

When you want to connect with like-minded pinners or look for ideas, you can search the site based on pins, boards and people.

Not sure how to get started? Pinterest’s Pinning 101 page covers all the basics.

How you could use it

What kinds of things are people doing on Pinterest? In addition to collecting ideas and inspiration, here are some examples:

Collect ideas for a special event. Planning a big occasion like a wedding or family reunion? Much like clipping magazines, people can search for ideas for the big day and organize them to boards — no downloading, printing or filing required.

Meet a personal goal. Many users are taking advantage of the information-collecting ability to improve their lives. For example, Time Magazine shows readers How to Create Your Own Healthy Eating Plan with Pinterest.

Promote a business or personality. Companies are signing on to promote their products, including retailers, sports teams and fashion brands. Many media outlets are on Pinterest too. (Including our Zoomers page.)

You may even find some famous faces — like Barrack Obama (and a spoof of Barrack Obama).

Raise awareness. Many non-profit, advocacy and non-governmental organizations like the American Heart Association, UNICEF and AARP have Pinterest accounts to educate readers about important issues.

Demonstrate expertise. According to the Huffington Post, some of the most popular Pinterest users are bloggers and graphic designers. Like other social media sites, your Pinterest account can show what you’re thinking and reading about — and highlight certain areas of interest or expertise. There’s even talk of Pinterest resumes.

Before you pin

Despite its welcoming environment, Pinterest has its fair share of pitfalls too. In the past few months, the site has been scrutinized over copyright concerns — a debate which led to the company updating its Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy and Privacy Policy this past March. (All of which you should read closely before signing up — just as you would with any social networking site.)

Some issues Pinterest users should be aware of include:

Privacy. As with any online service, you should be mindful of how the site collects and uses any information you enter when you register — but that’s only half the battle. When you set up your profile page, be aware that any information you post is public — such as your picture and description. There is no “limited profile” option like you find on other sites.

The same applies to any content you pin — there are no “circles” or “lists” that allow you to control who sees your videos and links. (After all, the point of Pinterest is to share.) Be cautious about what you share, what you “like” and what you say in your comments. All of this content will be public, and you never know who will see it or how far it will travel. A good rule of thumb is to avoid content you wouldn’t want your family, friends, neighbours or employers to see. (Of course, Pinterest bans certain content like hate speech and pornography.)

Another thing to keep in mind: deleting your account or removing your pins does not stop the circulation of any posts that have been shared. Pinterest also archives all content and keeps it for a “commercially reasonable period of time”. However, the site doesn’t own what you post — though it does have broad rights when it comes to distribution.

Pin etiquette. When you’re a business or blog, part of the trade off of having your images available online for free is the traffic it will drive to your website and brand awareness. Giving proper credit to sources is important.

Think of it as giving credit where credit is due. When you pin, experts say the url (the website address), should link to the original source of the picture, not a Google search or another website where the picture has been reproduced. (Pinterest has its own Pin Etiquette advice and some bloggers have started a Pintegrity Pledge.) 

Experts also advise to take advantage of the “description” field when you pin to make a useful comment about the post.

Copyright. Most of the sharing that happens on social media websites falls under “fair use” or “Safe Harbor” laws regarding copyright — especially when proper credit is given and there’s an original comment added.

However, the onus is on users to know if they’re legally allowed to share content — and services like Pinterest don’t offer any protection if someone files a lawsuit. What will likely happen if there’s a problem is the owner of the content will notify Pinterest — and Pinterest will remove the content and issue a warning to the pinner. (See Pinterest’s Copyright & Trademark page for more details.)

You’ll want to be extra cautious if you’re posting on a behalf of a business as some experts think companies are more attractive targets for copyright suits than individuals. Some experts warn it’s wise to stick to content you own or have a license to distribute (provided that license includes social media).

How can you tell what’s allowed and what isn’t? You can read through the information on laws — Chilling Effects and Mashable’s Protect yourself on Pinterest have good overviews — but you can also take cues from the content source. For example, if you see a “Pin It” button on an article on a blog or online magazine, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s okay to share. However, posting a stranger’s Flickr photo or original artwork could be a problem. Downloading, reproducing and selling images is a definite no-no.

Spam. Spammers use Pinterest too. The bait may be an attractive picture or inspirational saying. The result is a nuisance advertising site or business that has little or nothing to do with the pin. Unfortunately, many users repin the bait without clicking through to the source. It’s a good idea to check where the pin will direct you before sharing it.

If you spot spam, you can report it by going back to the picture and using the “report pin” button on the right.

Fraud. Sadly, crooks latch on to any popular site to perpetuate identity fraud, like the survey scams reported by The goal is to not only dupe victims into giving away valuable information, but to get their friends and family in on the scam. In fact, many scams promise rewards for sharing the pin.

What can you do? Be suspicious about any surveys, contests or attempts to gain your information. As always, keep your data to yourself and don’t click on any suspicious links or download any files. (You should report the fraud to Pinterest too.)

Sounds a little intimidating? All social media websites are prone to issues — but we can be informed users who know how to stay out of trouble.

Ultimately, Pinterest may not be right for everyone. Some people call it their new social media addiction while others don’t find the service all that useful. You don’t have to sign up to have a look around, so it may just be worth a look.

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