What’s the buzz about? It’s just another social network and another way to waste time on the Internet, right?

Not quite. A few weeks ago, GalleyCat shared a post on how writers can use Pinterest. Then they followed up last week by collecting several fun reader-themed boards, proving the speed of the network’s growth as publishers like Vintage Scholastic and Chronicle Books hop on board and develop major followings. A number of other of sources, such as marketing blogger and Twist Image CEO Mitch Joel, have remarked on Pinterests’ growth and the innovative ways brands are using it to develop name recognition and loyalty and to promote their products. The most successful of these businesses are using the site intuitively and authentically. They are behaving like humans and “pinning” relevant items to public boards in a creative and fun way. Don’t believe me? Check out ClickZ’s list of 7 companies using Pinterest; you’ll be shocked at the diversity of the list (hint: this is what a organic grocery store, a nationally-syndicated talk show, and a high-end department store have in common). Then check out the fine folks over at HubSpot; they came up with a different list and show which techniques are working.

So what is this Pinterest? What are the benefits? Disadvantages? How can authors use it for writing and for building an audience?

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard, letting you organize and share visual content from the web. You can create your own pinboards based on topic (“My Favorite Books”), category (“Book Design”), or special interest (“Gourmet Chocolate Creations”, “Must-have writing tools”). Alternatively, you can browse the site and look at others’ pinboards and see what inspires and interests people around the world. With a focus on pinning “primary sources,” rather than Google search results or blog entries, users are challenged to attribute and cite their pins instead of pirating them. To aid in this process, there is a handy “Pin It!” bookmarklet available on the Pinterest “Goodies” page that can be dragged and dropped onto your browser’s bookmark menu. The creators of Pinterest discourage the use of boards for purely self-promotion, but their mission is to connect “people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests”. Thus the (inevitable) loophole: brands will pin products to their boards in order to connect and share with consumers over its purpose, value, effectiveness, design, and more.

I first heard about Pinterest from a writer in Ithaca who attended our workshop at the public library this summer. When our workshop discussed using social media for research, Tara Finlay shared that Pinterest was useful for finding Regency-era costumes and for saving links to original sources. As a writer of historical fiction, the visual power of Pinterest to guide her in world-building and the appearances of her characters – beyond what she is limited to in her narrative – was a crucial perk. Tara joined in August 2011 and, since then, looks at Pinterest “almost every day” and actively pins a few items a week with an effort on keeping content fresh. I asked her to share her experiences using the rapidly growing  social network. Check out Tara’s responses below and learn more about the value of Pinterest from a writer’s perspective.

Q: How do you use Pinterest in your writing life?

A: The fact that you can pin any photo or graphic is very valuable. With the “Pin It” button on my browser toolbar, I can pin historical clothing plates, for example, from La Belle Assemblee, or pictures of English Manor houses, actors, and actresses… really anything to fuel my inner eye, which in turn fuels my writing.  I pin or repin things relating to my genre and check the “Share on Twitter” box. I also pinned some actresses to my board for my own book, to get a sense of what my characters might look like beyond my narrative description. Every now and then, I pin something from my own blog, to try and drive traffic to it. I am trying more and more to pin things from outside Pinterest, rather than repinning, as that is how content stays fresh. I also try to pin, for example, the books of my favorite authors (from Amazon usually) so that I can help them make sales. I firmly believe in supporting people whose work I enjoy.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the biggest appeal of Pinterest?

A: I hate the word “eye-candy”… but, eye-candy. I am a visual person. I have to be able to envision everything in my mind as I write, as if I was writing a screenplay, and I rely on that inner visual to fuel the words. Pinterest exposes me to so many ideas that are presented, often, in finished form. I cannot really attend to a lot of auditory information, but show me a picture and I’m on board.

Q: Is there anything you dislike about Pinterest?

A: Privacy settings. Once you are out there with your name on it, you have to censor yourself if you want to avoid offending your future audience.

Q: What other social media networks do you use, if any?

A: I started actively using Twitter after attending [your] Historical Fiction Writing Workshop. I now have 142 followers, many of which are fans of my genre. I feel honored to be followed by authors of my genre. Let’s face it: what is better than finishing a book at 12am and tweeting to the author how much you loved it, and getting a response a few minutes later? Back in the early part of the last decade, I emailed my favorite living author, and she responded. I just about fell over and died. That was huge for me. My first blog follower, after my best friend, was Mary Lydon Simonsen, a favorite author of my genre. I jumped up and down and clapped my hands… my husband asked what was wrong, and I walked over to my special bookshelf, reserved only for Austen-ish novels, and picked up a handful to shake at him and said, “Nothing is WRONG! Mary Lydon Simonsen is FOLLOWING MY BLOG!” I use Blogger, a free blog site by Google, for my blog because it is so easy for people with Google accounts to follow it. I myself follow about 250 blogs in my Google Reader. It helps search engine results to use a tool made by the largest search engine provider in the world.

Q: For writers joining Pinterest now, do you have any suggestions?

A: I was an early adopter and am a fervent user – I can see how this site is huge for anyone who can represent their product (a piece of art, a tool, a recipe, or a piece of their imagination) visually. Given the propensity of those who have grown up in the world of Facebook, to spontaneously share things that instantly grabs them, writers can use this tool to catch a potential reader’s heart – provided they have the tools to create the graphics or add them to their blogs so they can drive traffic there. The message is on the other side. Many new users haven’t figured that out yet. New users often go through an “OOO! Pretty!” stage and never click through to the place from which the pin is linked. But those people either lose interest or learn and, soon enough, traffic to the pinned page [or] blog post skyrockets. DIYers, crafters/artists, and recipe bloggers are reaping huge benefits. Authors just need to figure out how to harness this energy and drive it to a blog post that is interesting. It’s no good if I just pin a picture of Colin Firth from my blog, if the post is boring or doesn’t engage the reader.

Thanks Tara! You can see her Pinterest boards here, or you can chat with her about Pinterest and all things Austen by following her on Twitter, @TaraFin.


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