Last time I discussed Pinterest in-depth was in March 2012, when I wrote "Six things I learned from six days on Pinterest."
I've since joked that I should have added, "...as the only man on Pinterest," considering how much of the platform is dominated by women.
It turns out there are men having success with the platform, and one of them shared his tips with me.
Robert Anthony is a veteran tech journalist and former PC Magazine writer who now contributes to the New York Daily News, PC World, Black Enterprise, and other publications and writes a blog called PaperPC. I asked him to talk about his Pinterest experience after I noticed that he has more than a million followers. (NewYorkBob is his handle; he also uses a customized domain name to redirect from PaperPCPicks.com.) I was especially curious since his follow count on Twitter (@NewYorkBob) was under 500 followers.
Of course, raw numbers aren't everything, but they are something. I am very careful to not judge someone by their Twitter follower count. It's not an accurate gauge of someone's offline influence or whether they are worth following. And, as this NYT article shows, you can buy thousands of followers for almost nothing. I know folks with a few hundred followers who do some of the most interesting and relevant tweeting, while I know folks with hundreds of thousands of followers who waste everyone's time, including their own. When I wrote a post about journalists with the most followers on Twitter, I was careful to describe those folks clinically, as just the ones with the most followers, not the most successful or the most important.
Just because someone has a million followers on Pinterest, that doesn't mean they are doing something worth emulating. But in Anthony's case, his insights are useful for many of us. He was kind enough to answer a few questions via email. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Sree: How did you decide to use Pinterest as a platform when there are so many other options?
Anthony: The short answer is that I'll try anything once -- when it comes to social media. I wasn't one of the early Pinterest users and only signed on in March 2012 -- a full year after Pinterest launched -- after reading some articles which talked about how fast Pinterest was growing.
I thought it might be a good way to showcase some of the new gadgets and gizmos I come across at press conferences and trade events without having to write long-winded blog posts. Take one good photo, add a short, but informative description, and voila: instant micro blog. I found that it was a good way to write about under-the-radar products that were interesting, but not well-publicized.
What explains your success there, compared with, say, Twitter. Raw numbers aren't everything, but your Pinterest numbers sure do pop!
Anthony: Despite some diligent research, I don't know why the number of followers for my Paper PC Picks tech board (www.paperpcpicks.com) jumped from a few dozen in July, to a few thousand in August to more than 1.1 million today. I may have had one of my pins repinned by someone with millions of followers and things took off from there.
I think I benefited from two key things:
- Pinterest users are tech savvy, and I write about things they're already interested in: cool new electronic gadgets and new technologies. Since I have the advantage of attending press events where new products are introduced, I can keep the board current and interesting. And yes, the fact that I've been writing about personal computing and consumer electronics since the mid-1980s and have a minor following from my days as senior writer at PC Magazine and my old newspaper column helps. Instead of just pinning photos, I put things into context: So what if this is the newest, glitziest gizmo out there? Why would you care? I try to explain.
- I post unique content. While other Pinterest users pin photos that others have taken and link to articles that others have written, many of my posts have photos or videos that I've shot, and all of my posts come with text I've composed -- not cut and pasted. Some of my pins also link to articles I've written for various publications and websites. In short, I'm pinning content that can't be found elsewhere -- which I guess gives Pinterest users a reason to come back to my board.
What tips do you have for those starting out or already on the service?
- Post what you know: If you post a photo of something interesting, explain why you think it's interesting. Others may agree -- or not. And that kind of banter leads to more followers and more people repinning your posts.
- Ask yourself: Why would someone else come to my board? Why would someone want to peruse your "Cute Cats" board instead of peeking at the one put together by the ASPCA? A "Tough Cats in Brooklyn" board with descriptions of where they were found, however, is unique and could find a following.
- If you're promoting yourself or a brand, include a link to your Pinterest board on your blog or elsewhere. If your board gets popular, purchase a domain name (e.g., toughbrooklyncats.com) and share that in blogs, tweets, etc.
- The same social media rules apply here: Don't overpin -- followers will get weary if your pins overwhelm their home pages daily and stop following you. Think before you pin, just as you would stop and take a breath before you tweet those awful things about your former best friend.
- Think vertical. Tall photos look better on Pinterest than fat ones. That's just the way the site is set up. Cropping photos to make them taller if possible helps.
- Keep it simple, stupid. A good friend had to remind of that golden rule when I crammed too many specifications and feature descriptions into one of my posts. You want your pages to look lively, not gray.
All these followers, pins, and repins are cool-n-all, but how have they helped your actual journalism, your brand, and your ability to make money?
- The jump in followers has literally opened doors at press events and trade conventions. Public relations representatives are always looking for maximum exposure for their products. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a casual mention of the number of Pinterest followers I had was usually enough to get PR reps to pull me aside for closer looks at their products and private meetings with company officials. Suddenly I had my own brand at CES, not just the brands of the magazines and websites I write for.
- Monetizing my connection with a million followers has been slow since Pinterest doesn't allow affiliate links. In other words I can't link an image of a new cell phone to the purchase page on Amazon in a way that would earn me a commission. I can, however, link my Pinterest pins to my blog, where I can embed such links and ads there. I had a brief chat a few months ago with an early investor in Pinterest and he said that Pinterest's own executives don't have their monetizing strategy figured out yet. His advice to me was to "stay tuned." However, the ease with which I can now get review samples of new products sent to me makes it easier to pitch stories to the editors I work for -- thus my freelance writing income has begun to rise after years of malaise.
From reading his answers you can see that he is using Pinterest in a careful, strategic way, which is the best approach for succeeding on social media. At the same time, you also get a sense of how much effort he's putting into the whole process. If you are interested in checking out or improving your presence on Pinterest, be sure to follow NewYorkBob.
A new resource worth checking out: MakeUseOf's free, downloadable guide to Pinterest.
If you have thoughts or tips on Pinterest to share, please use the comments section below.
Note: Want even more of Robert Anthony's tips? Come meet him at Social Media Weekend, which I am hosting at Columbia Journalism School, February 15-17 in New York City. Details at http://bit.ly/smwknd. You can also follow the social media tips and links we're already sharing on #smwknd.