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For Pinterest Virgins

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Photo from Rhonda Adkins
From left to right: Enid Hwang, Community Manager, Pinterest; Katie Parker, Senior Digital Food Editor, Better Homes and Gardens; Allison Long Lowery, Editor,; Colby Grab, Communications Manager,; Irvin Lin, blogger, EatTheLove

I’ve heard chefs dismiss Pinterest in the past as something that’s for people who decorate. That seemed a bit unfair, but although I joined Pinterest quickly, I didn’t really understand how it functioned or what it could achieve until the 2013 IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) session on Pinterest. It’s one thing to have a social media tool on your radar, it’s another to master it. I’m not quite there yet, but working on it. For all my fellow Pinterest virgins, here’s a short recap with tips. Don’t worry, after the first few times on Pinterest, you might even like it!

The Panelists were:

What is this Pinterest thing anyway?

Enid Hwang referred to it as a pinboard of sorts – you can attach photos, articles and other online content to yours the same way you might stick things that interest you to a corkboard. When browsing other peoples’ boards on Pinterest, you can search for things that interest you and pin them to your board too.

How is browsing on Pinterest different from an ordinary internet search?

It answers questions search engines can’t.

Internet search engines like google are great when you’re looking for an answer to a specific question like “who was Christopher Columbus?” But when faced with real-life questions like “what should I make for dinner?” Pinterest actually offers more relevant search results, since people devote whole boards to that very questions.

It’s for browsers.

Pinterest is also for browsers. Hwang made a great analogy. She imagined walking into the Ferry Building in San Francisco on a whim, and wandering into Scharffenberger, then noticing some amazing cocoa nibs there. When you entered the building, you had no idea of looking for cocoa nibs, but by browsing, you came to that item. Browsing on Pinterest is much the same – you didn’t necessarily go to Pinterest knowing what you were looking for.

It makes you discoverable to your audience in a more personal and controllable way than search engines.

Browsing creates new cycles of pinning – you discover things that you love and pin them to your own boards, sharing with your followers things that reflect your interests or your brand.

Why is Pinterest important to my personal brand or business?

You can track what your customers want.

Allison Long Lowery couldn’t stress enough the growth power of Pinterest in showing what their readers want. By tracking what your readers are pinning from your site, you tell what content they’re interested in, as opposed to the content you think they might be interested in. It eliminates some of the guesswork.

For many major businesses, it’s overtaken facebook and twitter as a referrer – the way people get to your site/blog.

Since beginning to use Pinterest, experienced a 747% increase in referral traffic. That’s more than facebook and twitter. That little tidbit had everyone in the audience (myself included) shifting uncomfortably and trying to figure out why they hadn’t taken the time to master Pinterest already. Colby Grab reported that for 80% of their traffic from social media sources came from Pinterest. Again, that’s a huge amount more than twitter and facebook.

What else can you do on Pinterest?

Fill in any gaps on your site.

You can join with strategic partners on Pinterest to fill in any gaps in content on your site.

Connect with a new audience.

Twitter, facebook and Pinterest all bring unique followers to your brand. By adding Pinterest you can amplify your visibility to your readers.


I’m not going to attempt to walk you through how to set up an account on Pinterest, ’cause I’m just not that tech person, but try here or here for more basic info that score. Here are some of the most useful tips from for once you’ve already set up an account:

  • Mass brands like Better Homes and Gardens pin 15 to 20 times a day. If you’re an individual you can cut down on this but pin throughout the day so you don’t overwhelm your followers, suggested Katie Parker.
  • Keep boards broad (in other words, don’t necessarily create one for Christmas cookies 2012, one for Christmas cookies 2013, just do the one). Instead of constantly creating new boards, Parker recommended adding to existing ones you’ve created.
  • If you’re doing a seasonal or holiday board, create it a month or more in advance of the holiday.
  • Pin, watch, adjust and repeat. If you go to (replacing “yourwebsite” with your website, obviously!) it will show you what your readers wanted to pin. You can also check out which tracks the history of an individual pin.
  • Add Pinterest to your site. You can add a pin button to your site. You can also on most blogs run a plug-in that makes a Pinterest icon pop up when people hover over any image on your blog.
  • Allison Long Lowery gets story ideas by watching what readers are pinning from other peoples’ sites as well – for example, new hot ingredients will experience a sudden surge, and that’s a sign that a story needs to be done on that ingredient, if it hasn’t already, because her readers are interested.
  • People won’t necessarily go to the pages on your site that you want them to visit. If they visit something old or a page that you dislike, do not take it down. Update it, Long Lowery suggested.
  • Show an interest in what others are doing. Approach your followers on Pinterest, and reply to comments, even if just to say thank you, said Colby Grab. Make sure your content is functional and not just cute – add hash tags, and think about creating a newsletter for Pinterest followers that highlights the top pinned items from your site that week.
  • Label your images, adding branding and the recipes name. Irvin Lin recommended adding a graphic title to the image itself so it can’t be grabbed from unscrupulous readers without referring to the original link. You can do this on most photo editing programs, like photoshop or picmonkey.
  • Bottom line, even though you can pin articles as well as images, the interest of your Pinterest followers is visual, Parker pointed out. If readers want to read the article attached to an image from your site, they’ll go to the site.
  • Vertical images are better than horizontal, said Lin. They are more pin-friendly, because there is a set image width on Pinterest, and if your images is longer than it is wide, you get more image real estate, so to speak.
  • Put the image you want people to pin up front in your blog post. Don’t bury it later in the post or it is less likely to be pinned, Lin pointed out.
  • All the panelists agreed that you shouldn’t just add images from your site or that you’ve taken to your boards. Add other peoples’ content too, or it’s as though you’re reciting a monologue, instead of engaging in a conversation with your readers.
  • Set pin description settings to automatic so the content says what you want it to say
  • Make sure you include a URL in the image description when you’re adding it to your Pinterest boards. Some recommended using hash tags in your descriptions.

About francoiseeats

I'm currently working as a freelance travel and food writer, and photographer. I spent two years at, the culinary on-line magazine for the industry insider. My articles have been published in New York, NY and Richmond, VA. After graduating from Columbia University and recovering from the tragedy of not being able to read Camus books for a living, I attended The Culinary Institute of America, where my scone consumption rose drastically. Fluent in French and Italian, I've worked in some of New York's top restaurants and covered food-related stories in a number of publications, from The Richmond Times-Dispatch to Time Out New York.

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