10 Pinterest Tips for Newbies

Pinterest logo
Pinterest got your interest? We've got some tips for you, newbie.
Courtesy Pinterest

Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, oh my! Oy veh is more like it. I update multiple social media sites for several different clients, and it can be a real chore to find fresh, compelling content to post each day. I feel a certain responsibility to be truly enthusiastic on a personal level about anything I post. Otherwise, my posts feel inauthentic, even (gasp!) advertorial.

So, when my sister started gushing a couple of years ago about a fantastic new social media site called "Pinterest," I ignored her. "Not another one!" I told myself, crossing my fingers and hoping the site would fade into oblivion. Not only did the site not fade into oblivion, it thrived. By early 2012, even The New York Times was weighing in with a glowing review, calling it "pure, uncluttered and non-blinky" [source: Pogue].


I've finally caved in and created a Pinterest account. If you're a newbie like me, here are a few Pinterest tips to pin to your "Pinterest Best Practices" board, starting with what, exactly, Pinterest is.

10: What is Pinterest?

The Internet is full of great stuff. Never before have so many of us had unfiltered access to so much information. Yet so much of what we love and need gets lost. We print recipes out, shove coupons into a drawer, bookmark directions on how to program the DVR and then totally forget where we've put these things. Pinterest is an online scrapbook and junk drawer rolled into one. It gives us an easy way to "pin" stuff we like to virtual bulletin boards so that we can access it later.

Unlike a junk drawer, however, Pinterest is beautiful and beautifully organized. Have you ever seen a really top-notch scrapbook? Maybe your Aunt Mindy made one documenting the family road trip across the U.S in the summer of 1992. She pasted in photos of the family waving from the windows as the station wagon pulled out of town, photos of prissy cousin Sue in sunburnt misery at a campground in Tennessee, pictures of little Janie's screaming encounter with a copperhead at a river in Utah and finally, snapshots of Uncle James biking across the golden gate bridge in San Francisco.


Pinterest is like that scrapbook, except it takes no time at all to compile virtual bulletin boards full of the stuff you love. What's more, it's completely free. So how do you pin stuff to your Pinterest boards? Find out next!

9: Installing the "Pin It" Button

Pinterest Pin It button
The "Pin It" button comes in several forms.
Courtesy Pinterest

The easiest way to pin to Pinterest is to install what Pinterest describes in its welcome e-mail as a "bookmarklet" (i.e. the "Pin It" button). You can also pin by clicking the "add" button in the top navigation and pasting in a URL. However, it's much easier to install the "Pin It" bookmarklet and then click it whenever you surf past something you'd like to pin.

There is no "Download the Pin It Button" call-out on the main page, so I had to hunt around for a few seconds before I found the bookmarklet they were talking about. It's located in the drop-down menu under "about." You'll also find it in the "goodies" section on the left sidebar navigation.


Cleverly, Pinterest recognizes the browser you're using and customizes its installation instructions accordingly. I was using Chrome, so Pinterest instructed me to show my bookmarks bar. I suffered a few seconds of confusion since I already had my bookmarks bar displayed. However, by comparing the image in the convenient instructional video with my on-screen browser, it quickly became apparent that all I had to do was drag the "Pin It" button into my bookmarks bar to get started.

Once I had the Pin It button installed, I was ready to start pinning my favorite sites to Pinterest. Was it as easy as clicking the Pin It button? Find out next.

8: Pinning Stuff From the Internet

I'm one of those frustrating people who never read an instruction manual. So, once I had my "Pin It" button installed, I skipped the "getting started" section and immediately began surfing the Web looking for something to pin.

And speaking of "pin," one of my favorite bands, Pinback, has a new record coming out on Oct. 16, 2012. Pinback: What a perfect first thing to pin! I surfed over to their Web site, clicked the "Pin It" button and was greeted with the following disheartening message: "Sorry, couldn't find any pinnable images or video on this page."


Leave it to me to find one of Pinterest's few limitations on my first attempt. Pinterest's support page offers this helpful tidbit: "Currently you can't use the Pin It bookmarklet when viewing Flash sites or Facebook." Pinback's Web site relies heavily on Flash, so that explained that.

I went to another of my favorite artist's sites and was able to add Arooj Aftab to my very first-ever board ("the best music ever") with a single click. Would it be just as easy, I wondered, to upload my own original content to Pinterest? You're about to find out.

7: Pinning Original Stuff

It's really easy to pin things you find on the Internet to Pinterest. But can you also upload your own original content to the site? I decided to find out.

First, I created a new board to share some of my original writing. Then, I hunted around that board looking for an upload button. I found the "add" button on the top navigation. Clicking "add" gave me the option to upload a pin from a file on my computer. I selected a PDF of a newsletter I'd written for one of my corporate clients and clicked "upload". I was rewarded with an error message telling me "That is not a valid image." After another trip to Pinterest's support page, I learned that the only file types you can pin to Pinterest are JPG, PNG and GIF image files.


This doesn't mean that original content is out of place on Pinterest, however. Recently, Pottstown, Pa., saw an increase in arrests after the local paper began posting mug shots of wanted criminals on Pinterest [source: Sonderman]. Still, if Pinterest will only allow you to pin photos, what makes it any different from other photo-sharing sites like Flickr or Instagram? The secret is in the sourcing. Find out what I mean next.

6: The Point of Pinterest

Pinterest co-founders at award show
The co-founders of Pinterest (two of which are shown here), founded Pinterest "to connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting."
Araya Diaz/Getty Images Entertainment

After being stymied when I tried to "Pin" Pinback and thwarted when I attempted to upload my writing, I started wondering what all the Pinterest hype was about. What was the point of collecting a bunch of images on virtual bulletin boards? Sure, it looks kind of cool, but what exactly is the point of Pinterest?

The first thing to remember is that when you pin stuff to Pinterest, you aren't only pinning images of the bands, recipes, restaurants, authors, typography, architecture, fashion and other stuff that you love. You're also collecting links to that stuff. Like coupons in a junk drawer or snapshots in a scrapbook, you're gathering all your favorite links into one handy place.


The genius of this became clear to me at a recent dinner party. I was trying to remember the name of this awesome cartoon blog that makes me literally laugh out loud when I suddenly remembered I'd pinned the site to my "things that make me smile" board on Pinterest. After a few clicks on my phone, "Hyperbole and a Half" was right at my fingertips. Not only did I have access to the image I'd pinned, I also had access to the original link.

And speaking of original links, there's some basic etiquette you'll want to follow as you're getting started on Pinterest. Learn the guidelines for proper Pinterest pinning next!

5: Pinterest Etiquette

If you've ever played a game of "Telephone," it's easy to understand why Pinterest's guideline number three, "credit your sources," is the most important Pinterest rule there is. In "Telephone," a player whispers something in another one's ear. The information passes around the circle until it winds up whispered back into the ear of the original speaker. Invariably, the original message becomes garbled. So it can be with pinning.

Say you create a pinboard called "famous pictures I love". Remembering that old, World War II-era, black-and-white photo of a sailor roundly kissing a nurse in the middle of Times Square, you Google "famous photo navy kiss" The search turns up multiple copies of the image. As in "Telephone," the first instance you find may have been copied from a copy that was itself copied. With a bit of digging, however, you'll be able to identify Alfred Eisenstaedt as the photographer and you'll find a legitimate source, LIFE Magazine, which famously published the photo in 1945 [source: Life Magazine]. If you don't take the time to dig up an original (or at least a legitimate) source, you risk copyright infringement and you rob your followers of the chance to learn more about Eisenstaedt.


And about your followers, learn how to find and interact with them next.

4: Finding Followers

screenshot of Pinterest sign-up page
You can find followers through Facebook and Twitter or simply through your e-mail address.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks, Courtesy Pinterest

When you signed up for Pinterest, you had the option of signing up with an e-mail address or logging in through Facebook or Twitter. If you chose to log in through Facebook or Twitter, finding potential followers is as easy as clicking your user name in the top navigation and choosing "find friends." You'll see a column of your Facebook or Twitter friends who are already registered for Pinterest. You simply click "follow" to follow them. You'll also see a column of your Facebook or Twitter friends who aren't on Pinterest yet, and you'll have an opportunity to invite them to join. If you joined with your e-mail, you can choose "invite your friends to Pinterest", or you can search your Gmail or Yahoo address books to find friends. Pinterest will have also automatically followed its top users for you. You can easily unfollow these folks if you choose.

When you follow people, their pins will show up on your home page. I followed the "talented, but certifiable" Sarah Marks, for instance. She is co-owner of Third Half Studio, makers of awesome zombie-inspired anime fabric prints, melamine dinnerware and gift items. Now, any new products she pins show up on my own home page.


Once I'd found some followers, I was able to start interacting with them. Learn about interacting with your followers next.

3: Interacting with Your Followers

Interacting with followers on Pinterest is a cinch. When you log in, you'll be directed to your home page, where you'll find loads of things that people you're following have pinned. You may not be interested in following all the boards your friends create, and Pinterest gives you the option to unfollow individual boards.

If a friend pins something you like, however, you can interact with that pin in several different ways. First, you can "like" what they've pinned. This is a fast and easy way to give your followers kudos for posting something you like. Second, if you really like their pin, you can leave a comment. This is a more personal and interactive way to communicate with someone you're following. Finally, if you really, really like what they've pinned, you can "repin" it to one of your own pinboards. This will enable people who are following you to also see the item. They'll also be able to click through to the original pinner and see the rest of his or her pinboards.


With all of this pinning and repinning, it's easy to let your pinboards get out of control. We talk about organizing your pinboards next.

2: Organizing Your Pinboards

Pinterest personal page, empty pinboards
All that empty, white space is so tempting that it's easy to jump in without any forethought, but planning ahead will keep your pinboards from running amok.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks, Courtesy Pinterest

Your Pinterest home page is a great way to keep up with the things your followers are into, but your personal Pinterest page, where your boards are organized, is like slipping into a secret garden of your own very favorite things. And just like a garden, your Pinterest page can quickly get overrun with junk if you don't take a moment to organize your pinboards. There are two pitfalls newbies fall into. I should know -- I fell into them both.

First, I created boards with no forethought. I pinned Arooj Aftab, my first-ever pin, to a board called "the best music ever" without once thinking about whether or not the rest of the music I might like to pin would fit into that category. After pinning several of my favorite bands and patting myself on the back for creating such a superb board, I stumbled across a band I felt obligated to pin but couldn't, without lying, label a "best-ever" band. (OK, OK, it was a friend's kid's thrash band.)


So then I committed newbie organizational pitfall number two: I started over-organizing. I dissected my "best music ever" board into 24 separate pinboards. Eventually, poor Arooj Aftab was all alone on the "Modern Sufi/Pakistani Vocalists" board.

It's especially important to organize your boards so that they're useful to you and to anyone else who might see them because, for now, all Pinterest boards are public. We'll talk about Pinterest privacy and managing notification settings next.

1: Managing Pinterest Privacy and Notification Settings

In Pinterest's etiquette tab, one of its guidelines invites users to notify Pinterest of any desired changes, missing features or problems with the site. Many users are calling for Pinterest to add privacy settings. For now, however, all pinboards are public. That means expecting mothers might want to announce the pregnancy before they create baby boards, for instance.

You'll also want to take a look at your notification settings. Within minutes of creating my account and following 42 of my Facebook friends, I received 42 e-mails notifying me that my 42 friends had followed me back. Almost all notifications default to the "on" position. Click "settings" under your name in the top navigation and then click "e-mail settings" to view and change your notification settings.

Pinterest is a really novel, beautiful way to keep track of things you like. It's also a great way to find new things to like. We've only skimmed the surface in this top 10 list. Be sure to explore how to categorize your pinboards and how to create collaborative boards by inviting other pinners to pin to your boards. Most of all, be sure to pin this board!

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Eisenstaedt, Alfred. "V-J Day, 1945: A Nation Lets Loose." Life Magazine. Aug. 27, 1945. (Sept. 27, 2012) http://life.time.com/world-war-ii/v-j-day-1945-a-nation-lets-loose/#1
  • Hawkins, Sara. "Avoiding Copyright Pitfalls on Pinterest." SavingForSomeday.com. Feb. 9, 2012. (Sept. 27, 2012) http://www.savingforsomeday.com/avoiding-copyright-pitfalls-on-pinterest/
  • Mitroff, Sarah. "1 in 5 Women Use Pinterest. So Where's the Money?" Wired.com. Sept. 14, 2012. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.wired.com/business/2012/09/pinterest-popularity/
  • Pogue, David. "A Scrapbook on the Web Catches Fire." The New York Times. Feb. 15, 2012. (Sept. 27, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/technology/personaltech/reviewing-pinterest-the-newest-social-media-site.html?pagewanted=all&gwh=8D0FDAA3630254C846B0DEDA47E2954D
  • Sonderman, Jeff. "Arrests Increase After Newspaper Posts Criminal Mugshots on Pinterest." Poynter.org. Sept. 28, 2012. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/189941/arrests-increase-after-newspaper-posts-criminal-mugshots-on-pinterest/