Pinterest for Self-Employed Creatives

Of all the social media that emerged over the last few years Pinterest doesn’t seem to have a very cool reputation. The digital pin board is suffering of an image problem: it is thought to be populated primarily by elderly women who use it to exchange knitting patterns. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but apparentlyas a social medium you’re only taken seriously when you’re used by trendy food vloggers (Instagram), bored adolescents (Snapchat) or populist politicians (Twitter).

Visual

But on reflection Pinterest appears to have a much more diverse group of users. Women are, indeed, the majority, but one-third of all pinners is male. The medium is especially popular among people in their twenties and thirties but older age groups are starting to catch up. In the Netherlands there are already two million Pinterest users and every year roughly another 400.000 are joining. As a creative freelancer in the visual sector I simply cannot afford to ignore such a visually oriented medium. So for the last three years I’ve been pinning enthousiastically, resulting in more than 2600 pins on 42 boards.

Overview of all the Pinterest boards by Frans Blok/3Develop: webshops, photography, artist impressions, digital art and inspiration

Glossy magazine

Pinterest presents itself as a digital catalog of ideas. A pinboard or scrapbook to store pretty pictures. A glossy magazine in which everyone can find inspiration for travel, home, cooking. And as an image maker, that is precisely what I have to offer: inspiration, ideas and pretty pictures.

So on my boards I mainly pin my own work. But most other pinners only collect beautiful pictures made by others. 80% of all pins are repins. It’s (P)interesting that all links and other original data are retained in such a repin. This way, a pin can, at least in theory, have a tremendous career and generate a lot of traffic to a blog or web shop.

Description

Pinterest asks for each pin a description of up to 500 words. That piece of text allows other pinners to find the image when using the search function.

For example: in the picture below I have added the following description, in both Dutch and English: “The Old Harbour was once the place where the river Rotte flowed into the Nieuwe Maas, before the dam that would give Rotterdam it’s name was built. Today it is a popular nightlife destination and there are many historic ships in the basin.“. That seems to work because this picture has been repinned many times.

Popular on Pinterest: a photo made at dusk of the Cube houses reflecting in the Old Harbour in Rotterdam

On the other hand: I have a lot of pins with an equally concise description that have never never been repinned so there has to be more to it. I suspect that the system gives priority to pins that have already reacted to by other users. That would create a chicken-and-egg situation, or as the Germans aptly call it: a Devil’s circle. Therefore pins that don’t seem to work can best be pinned again after a while, preferably  with a different description.

Eternal life

A major advantage of Pinterest is that it is much less volatile than other social media. On Facebook it’s hard to find a post back after only one day, if it pleases the algorithm to show it at all. Tweets on Twitter get buried even faster under the never ending avalanche of new posts. Pinterest pins, on the other hand, seem to live forever. The half-life of a Pinterestpin, the average period in which a pin collects half its clicks, likes and repins, is three and a half months. On Facebook that’s ninety minutes, on Twitter even shorter.

One of my most popular pins, for example, the Liverpool pub interior underneath, is a golden oldie that I posted three years ago as one of the first and that still generates engagement.

And why this one? It’s a bit of a lucky shot, made almost ten years ago with a simple compact camera in a bar frequented by the Beatles, near the Cavern Club.

Popular on Pinterest: photo of the interior of a pub in Liverpool, frequented by the Beatles and others

Color

There is all kinds of advice to be found on the internet about what types of images  score best on Pinterest. Photos without people are said to be more successful than pictures with people. Saturday is thought to be the best day to pin. And photos with red and orange as the main color are told to do better than blue images.

I take those rules of thumb with a grain of salt. The photo of the Erasmus MC below, surrounded by the Euromast, the Boymans museum and the Parkhotel, is particularly blue, with a touch of yellow and purple and very little red and orange. And yet it is one of my most popular pins.

Popular on Pinterest: a photo made during the blue hour showing the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, surrounded by Euromast, Boymans Museum and Parkhotel

Portrait or landscape

All the successful pins above are in portrait format. And that’s no coincidence. Pinterest favors pictures in portrait format, a simple consequence of the layout of the page. The width of a pin is fixed; an image that is higher than it is wide covers more pixels and stands out better. That’s unlike the rest of the universe in which landscape images work better; after all, screens of televisions and laptops are still in landscape format.

Nevertheless this trick works only up to a certain, er, height. I tried it for a while with images that were many times higher than wide, like this crop from my Mars 2.0 map. But that didn’t fool Pinterest: such a large piece of digital real estate appears cropped in the feeds of other users.

And it also doesn’t mean landscape format is an absolute no go area on Pinterest. Although many pictures can be cropped vertically in a way that still makes sense, for the image below that was not the case. Yet this view from a terrace to the interior of a giant hollowed-out asteroid is one of my most popular pins.

Popular on Pinterest: science fictionesque artist impression of a hollow asteroid, seen from a roof terrace with swimming pool.

Inspiration

Finally, you can also use Pinterest “in the opposite direction”: as a source of inspiration. Not to send your work into the world, but to let the world come to you. For example, search on cubism (just to give you an idea) and sit back and relax.

The good thing is that the system gets better and better in understanding what you like. In the beginning it showed me many pictures about women’s fashion, cars, avocado smoothies and other things I was not exactly looking for. But by now Pinterest understands that I’m more into architecture, space art, photography and travel. If you feel your inspiration levels dropping, just take a moment to scroll through your feed and get high on all the beauty of our planet and its surroundings. However it is recommended to use it moderately; you just might get an overdose of splendour.

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