Photographers have good reason to despise social media’s new golden platform but Pinterest is visual, viral and too big to ignore.
In December 2011, Pinterest achieved a landmark. The site drove more traffic to retailers than LinkedIn, YouTube or Google Plus. With two of those services supported by the Internet’s biggest company, that was some achievement for the two-year-old Palo Alto start-up that had struggled to raise cash to get off the ground. The new social media site is now said to have about 1.36 million daily users, an average monthly growth rate of 63.7 percent and an estimated value in excess of $200 million. More than two-thirds of its users are women. Half have children. And more than a quarter have household incomes above $100,000.
For photographers though, the most interesting aspect of Pinterest is that it’s visual. While Facebook and Twitter rely on texted updates to build interest, Pinterest is all about the pictures. Users create boards on which they can pin (or upload) images that relate to a subject — fashion, for example, or electronic gadgets. They can repin images that they spot on other users’ boards, giving the best pictures the chance to go viral. They can also add comments and they can follow boards and pins to make sure that they don’t miss out on an interesting post.
The images might be pinned from the users’ own websites, to which they receive links, but they can also be pinned from anywhere. Any Pinterest user is free to copy someone else’s photo onto their board from where other members can duplicate it.
Not surprisingly, that level of openness has met with some concern from copyright holders. Like YouTube, the site tries to position itself as a ‘safe harbor’ by telling users only to pin items to which they own the rights and by inviting copyright owners to report infringement. The first warning is generally ignored.
Getty has held discussions with Pinterest and the platform recently released a line of code that prevents any images on a website from being pinned. Flickr activates the “nopin” code when a member disables sharing in the privacy settings. Try to pin an image from a Flickr user who has chosen not to share his or her images, and you receive a pop-up inviting you to contact the copyright owner.
The assumption, however, remains that the copyright owner allows sharing unless he or she states otherwise. That’s not always a safe conjecture; there’s no shortage of images on Flickr copyrighted as “all rights reserved” but which can still be pinned. It’s a situation that’s likely to make Pinterest as difficult for image-makers as YouTube is for television companies. And perhaps for users too. One photographer and lawyer has now removed her pins after noticing that Pinterest’s terms make pinners responsible for copyright breaches.
But just as TV shows have benefited by uploading trailers and clips to YouTube so photographers can enjoy rewards by publicizing their work on social media’s newest and fastest-growing visual platform. Retailers are already ahead of the game, as are Etsy handcrafters whose stores are the biggest source sites, helped by the ability to place a price tag on their pins. (Pinterest then monetizes the pins by inserting its own affiliate code into the images’ links.)
In the same way that retailers are finding that Pinterest generates more sales in online stores so the results for photographers should be more traffic and more clients. Jamie Swanson of The Modern Tog, a photography blog, has claimed that in December 2011, Pinterest was her site’s highest traffic generator, beating Facebook by about 20 percent.
With such a visual site, gathering and driving so much traffic, what should photographers do to use Pinterest to build leads, make new sales and land new clients without weakening their copyright?
Pin Your Portfolio
The obvious place to begin on Pinterest is with a board that shows off your own images. These will act as samples that exhibit your talent and display the kinds of photos that clients can expect to receive. As Pinterest is dominated by women and almost half of its users are aged between 25 and 44, it’s a huge opportunity for both wedding photographers and children’s photographers.
Malisa Waldrop, for example, is a Dallas-based photographer with 32 Pinterest boards, including one on which she pins her favorite photos, mostly portraits and baby photos. The board acts a portfolio but one with viral potential as her followers repin, comment on and “like” her pins.
Not all images are treated equally though. According to Jamie Swanson, photos whose subjects look straight at the lens tend to do well, and pinning images with text, such as a headline, can be a useful way of promoting a blog post or a Web page. The image acts much like a link on Twitter or Facebook, with all of those sites’ potential for sharing.
Most important though is that the images should be watermarked.
As an image is repinned from one board to another, the link to the first pinner can be lost. Not every user will notice the source above the image and not everyone will click through to the original site. Nor is there any way to stop someone downloading the image to their own website and pinning it from there.
If Pinterest achieves only one thing for photographers, it will be to reinforce the need for watermarks that are clear, easy to see and tell viewers exactly who took the photo.
Pin Your Products
A portfolio board will help to sell your services. Some photographers are also using Pinterest to sell their products. Etsy, after all, isn’t just for handmade iPad covers and designer tea cosies. The site also has plenty of photographers trying to push their framed prints. Natalie Shuttleworth’s Snap! Shot! board, for example, shows off the prints that she offers on Etsy, as well as some of her images on Flickr. Few of those images have been repinned but each shared photo increases her chance of making a sale.
Malisa Waldrop doesn’t just pin her own pictures to her Favorite Photos board. She also has boards for entertainment and travel, turquoise and sayings. One of her boards is called “Wedding Ideas” and it’s easy to see how a board like that would appeal to wedding clients looking for inspiration for their own nuptials.
Jamie Swanson takes that idea even further with boards for bouquet ideas, veil ideas, details and rings, among others. The boards are aimed both at potential clients interested in wedding issues and provided as a free service to her own clients who get to see a kind of collated catalog of wedding ideas.
“When you can point them to a board of resources that have been created just for them and their needs, it leaves a positive impression on them and makes them feel more excited about working with you,” she says on her blog.
Let Others Pin Your Images
One of the biggest advantages of Pinterest is that because users can repin images, photos that you place on your boards can go viral. But you don’t have to restrict that viral potential to the images that you’ve added to your own boards. Pinterest provides a “pinmarklet” bookmarklet that users can add to their browsers so that they can pin any image that they find on any site that doesn’t carry the nopin code. While that’s little more than a copyright infringement tool, it does give images the chance to spread. This wedding photograph, for example, was pinned from a photographer’s site using a pinmarklet. It’s been repinned almost a thousand times.
Pinterest’s Goodies page provides “Pin It” buttons that photographers can place next to their image to encourage pinning. Putting the button next to some images while adding the nopin code to other pages will help you retain control over the images you’re prepared to see spread into the wild.
Have You Been Pinned?
Find out whether your images are on Pinterest by using the following URL:
After You’ve Pinned, You Have to Push
Pinning images is simple enough. The real challenge will be to make sure that people see your pins and follow your boards. Keywords will be essential both to turn up in search results and — because Google does list pins added to Pinterest — it increases the chances that the source page will win search traffic.
To benefit from that SEO, you’ll need to add a full description to your pins that includes keywords. (Many Pinterest members use hashtags, a technique borrowed from Twitter, even though the method will only work if hashtags are known and agreed.) You can also include the URL of the source, including the “http” prefix.
Networking will be vital too. Most interaction on Pinterest takes the form of Facebook Liking and repinning but just as comments can build an audience on Flickr, so writing beneath images will help to raise your profile and draw to your boards the sorts of people who might enquire about your services or buy your products. As always, building a following will depend on a combination of good, regular content and interaction with plenty of other users.
The question though is whether all that activity will prove worthwhile. There’s no question that Pinterest has the capacity to drive traffic to source sites, and the site’s demographics certainly match some photography businesses’ main markets. If the result of that traffic flow is more clients then photographers might just have to take more liberal view of copyright and allow their images to spread across Pinterest.