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The dangers of Pinterest


Even if you've been living under a rock, you should have at least heard of Pinterest. Heck, if it's a halfway decent-looking rock, somebody has probably pinned it by now. But knowing about Pinterest isn't the same thing as knowing what your brand can do with Pinterest. And while the platform is still a somewhat new addition to the web, brands have been rather quick to embrace Pinterest -- probably because it's so darn popular they just can't afford to ignore it.

A marketer's guide to the dangers of Pinterest

But for many brands -- even those that have set up Pinterest accounts -- the platform is still very much in the early stages. So to help you develop a plan to make the most of Pinterest, we reached out to some leading social media agencies and asked them to weigh in on the topic. Here are the questions you should be asking when it comes to Pinterest, as well as some hurdles you are likely to encounter when pitching a presence on the platform.

What can your brand do with Pinterest?

At its core, Pinterest is about content -- great content. That means the platform offers brands two distinct options, according to Genna Franconi, director of social media at 22squared.

On the one hand, brands can choose to curate great content by pinning pictures that they might not necessarily have the rights to. In effect, the brand is saying, "This is wonderful. Take a look!" The image below is from Barneys NY, which Franconi calls a "true curator."

On the other hand, a brand can use Pinterest as a repository for images that it owns, effectively saying, "Our content is wonderful. Take a look!" The image below is from Martha Stewart, which adheres to a strict "no repins" policy and shares only content it has the right to use.

"The core opportunity with Pinterest lies in its ability to facilitate content sharing and curation between the user and brand," Franconi says. "So, when a brand is limited to featuring only assets that they own or have rights to, establishing a meaningful presence is limited. However, there is strategic value in both approaches."

According to Franconi, brands can set several concrete goals for their Pinterest accounts:

Extend their social footprints: Pinning images on a more visual platform allows brands to feature their products or services in an aesthetically pleasing format, facilitating discovery, sharing, and curation on a new platform.

Control attribution: Fans are likely already pinning brand content from your web properties, so establishing an official brand profile allows for easier searching and attribution to your brand's products and images.

Create an additional content stream: Cross-platform linking (i.e., pulling pins into Facebook or Twitter) encourages multi-platform acquisition and engagement.

Improve SEO and drive brand page traffic: Each brand pin links back to a brand web page, which means the image counts for SEO value.

Encourage online purchase decisions: Adding a dollar sign ($) to a description automatically adds a price to a pin and allows your image to show up in the gift section -- and therefore increases the potential for purchase.

OK, but is Pinterest really right for our brand?

There might be a small, persistent stigma with Pinterest, and it goes something like this: Pinterest is only right for brands that appeal to a certain subset of women, basically the Etsy crowd.

But that assumption, which might have been true at the beginning, isn't the case now, says Seton McGowan, VP and account director at Mullen.

"The Pinterest groundswell may have started in Middle America, fueled by female crafting enthusiasts, but the pinning community itself and content shared across the platform is becoming more diverse," McGowan says. "With brands such as Major League Baseball, GE, and The Wall Street Journal becoming active as well as major cultural events like the Summer Olympic Games in London and the 2012 U.S. election on the horizon, I think it will be interesting to see how different audiences begin using the platform to collect, share, and inspire."

But while Pinterest is hugely popular across a broad demographic, McGowan says brands shouldn't just assume that the platform packs a big punch for them. That is, they still have to ask some basic questions:

  • Does it reach our target audience?

  • Does the platform provide an environment that will bring the brand story to life in a relevant way?

  • Do we have the right content to make an impact on the consumer in this space?

  • Will we be able to track ROI?

Our lawyers hate Pinterest; what are we giving up if we just pin our content?

In the last few months there's been a steady stream of stories that go something like this: If your brand pins content that it doesn't have the legal rights to use, it might very well be subject to a nasty copyright infringement lawsuit.

The solution, for many brands, is to adopt a policy to pin only content they own. It's an understandable precaution. But while that move might make good legal sense, it comes at a high cost to marketing, says Matt Wurst, 360i's director of digital communities.

"Only pinning your own images will not be enough to drive engagement, not to mention the fact that it comes off as too sales-y and misses the entire point of Pinterest altogether," Wurst says. "If you don't have good content and aren't willing to support others with good content, Pinterest is not right for your brand."

We want to push back on our lawyers; what do we tell them?

Copyright laws are a serious matter. And even the possibility of opening up your brand to a suit for infringement would send most marketing executives running for the hills. But the discussion about whether to pin third-party content shouldn't end with the statement, "Legal said no."

According to Franconi, there are a few things your lawyers can tell you about the law and a few things you can tell them about best practices elsewhere in the industry.

What legal will tell you:

Pinterest has taken several steps to limit liability for users and brands. It has:

  • Created terms of service that adhere to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

  • Introduced "no pin" code that websites can install to block visitors from pinning content.

  • Updated its terms of service on March 23, 2012, to make it easier for users and copyright owners to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notice of Alleged Infringement.

  • Created "pin etiquette" guidelines that encourage users to be respectful, authentic, credit their sources, and report objectionable content.

  • Publicly acknowledged the issues and stated that the company is working to resolve them in the near future.

What you can tell legal:

The fact is that some brands are taking the risk.

"Several high-profile brands, including Whole Foods, The Home Depot, and West Elm, have either assumed (or are not aware of that they have assumed) the business risk and are repinning other's content with limited attribution," Franconi says. "Other brands like Real Simple and Martha Stewart are adhering to the 'no repins' policy and only post boards and pins with content they own. There have not been any major public lawsuits regarding brand copyright infringement...yet."

Besides the legal stuff, how can we really screw up on Pinterest?

If there's one really big mistake a brand can make when it comes to Pinterest, it's thinking of the platform as an avenue for making money. Yes, there are brands committing that very sin right now. And yes, some of those brands might even be making a pretty penny. But when it comes to brand marketing on Pinterest, monetization is a shortsighted approach, at best, and poisoning the well, at worst.

"Brands often look to monetize traffic deriving from Pinterest, but they must also be wary of not alienating the audience by overtly pushing commerce in an arena built on authenticity," says Scott Forshay, mobile and emerging technologies strategist for Acquity Group.

"As we've witnessed in the fashion-blogging space, as brands interject a paid media strategy, the suggestion of disingenuous editorial influenced by advertising dollars often proves counterproductive," Forshay added. "Brands are better served by simply joining the conversation in this social setting and further creating brand loyalty by engaging with their enthusiasts and promoting their voice in the community."

But a rewards strategy is OK, right?

Money changing hands can sink a brand's Pinterest account. But brands should definitely use Pinterest as a platform for extending existing rewards and loyalty programs.

"Social media contributors and participants desire deep levels of intimacy with the brands they most admire, Forshay says. "These brands are woven into their audience's social DNA, and, as such, an overly-intrusive commerce strategy could actually damage the relationship. That being said, brands would be smart to incorporate a rewards-based strategy for their most loyal contributors and publicly promote these followers as brand advocates. This strategy provides incentive for more authentic participation among brand loyalists and provides motivation for others to contribute more extensively to the brand conversation on the Pinterest platform." 

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow Estrin at @mestrin. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Proceed at your own risk" image via Shutterstock.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Lindsey ONeill

2012, September 07

Business people are more comfortable with risk than lawyers are - especially when it comes to Pinterest. There is an interesting take on whether a cease and desist letter to a "fan" for copyright infringement over sharing your brand on Pinterest is a good idea. As described in one good article - threatening your biggest fans with legal action feels like a slap in the face to your fans. http://www.duetsblog.com/2012/06/articles/infringement/update-on-pinterest-and-copyright-infringement-still-pinning/. Bottom line - the issue must be carefully considered. It isn't a cut-and-dried issue today with social media creating a two-way conversation between brands and consumers.