Major Flaws in Pinterest: the Big Numbers Story

I haven’t blogged about blogging or social media in quite a long time — and I apologize to my readers that aren’t interested in this non-travel post, but I think it’s too important to ignore. There is something quite foul afoot at one of the biggest social media platforms out there today and it needs to be talked about…. and corrected immediately. Plus, some of you know that I occasionally blog about bad things going on in the real world.

The Growth of Pinterest

Pinterest is the new social media darling. Its growth has been astronomical in the last year or so. The latest stats I can find indicate that they had 18.7 million visitors in March of this year. The private company, which only launched in 2009, is estimated to be worth over 1 billion dollars.

Perhaps most importantly to the point for this particular post is the immense power that Pinterest now holds to make money for people using its service. And that is why this whole thing stinks.

The click-through rates on the photos on Pinterest are some of the highest on any social media platform. Studies earlier this year indicated that Pinterest is already driving more referral traffic than Twitter, and also more than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. What does referral traffic mean? Simply put, that means that more people click on the photos displayed on Pinterest (and get taken to the website where the photo originally got “pinned” from) than any of those other social media platforms.

Why is this all important?

Lots and lots of opportunities to make lots and lots of money.

Which makes the whole process of how Pinterest handles new subscribers signing up for this service incredibly irresponsible, bordering on simple business malfeasance.

I recently gave a speech on Pinterest at a travel blogging conference and was talking about how it appeared that some users were buying literally millions of followers. It was more of a throw-away observation than anything in my talk, but afterwards I decided to email Pinterest to see what they had to say about it all. What I discovered was far, far worse than people possibly buying followers here and there (more on buying followers later this week).

Pinterest Has Been Intentionally Stacking the Deck

I will get more into the back and forth of the emails I had with Pinterest over the last week in tomorrow’s post, but basically they denied that any of the Pinterest users with 1+ million followers are buying them. Frankly at this point, I completely believe them. But how did some of these people acquire literally millions of followers in a period of weeks?

Here is an example screenshot (and to be clear at this point, I’m not accusing anyone at all of buying followers to get these numbers).

trey ratcliff pinterest sept 2

trey ratcliff pinterest followers

These are two slides I prepared for my presentation showing the amazing growth of subscribers of one photographer using Pinterest. I blacked out the name in each because at that point I thought there was a chance he was buying followers. Again, I don’t think that is the case now and I want to be clear I am not accusing anyone in this post of doing anything wrong at all — except Pinterest.

The top shot is a screen shot taken on September 2, 2012. The bottom is a screen shot of from a website called Zoomsphere.com, where you can track the follower numbers on various platforms, showing the growth of his account from the beginning, until it took off like a rocket ship around August 1st of this year.

How about today?

trey ratcliff pinterest followers today

How does that happen?

Look, Trey is an incredibly popular photographer, but unless your name is Lady Gaga or Barack Obama, you aren’t naturally picking up over ONE AND A HALF MILLION followers in just over a month… especially on a service that was only had 11.7 million active registered users in total back in March of this year. Its just simply inconceivable that is a natural growth rate of followers.

And it’s not.

When I wrote Pinterest asking about this astronomical growth, I got the following reply from their spokesman:

I encourage you to create a new account so that you can test the orientation process.  We’re constantly trying to improve the way people get started on Pinterest.  As a result, the process changes all the time.  It looks like you’ve been on Pinterest for quite some time, which is great. However, the orientation process is very different from what you experienced. I think you’ll find that the account you create today will look exactly like the ones you identify [in my emails to him, asking about accounts that looked fake].  That is, it will start by following an average of 50 or so people or boards that are based on the interests expressed during the onboarding process.

So, I created a few new accounts to see how this process worked now. It was an eye opener.

The Current Sign-Up Process

Here are some screenshots taking you through what happens today, when you sign-up for a Pinterest account. Explanation below:

earl smith sign up photo screen 600px

 

earls initial board 600px

earl initial following 600px

The initial screen (not shown) is where to submit your username, email address (or Twitter or Facebook account information, since you can start an account by logging in with either of them) and your password. You then click “create account” and get taken to a screen that looks like the top screenshot.

Pinterest chooses a selection of its photos and you have to select five photos you like before you can proceed. To be clear, there is not an option for skipping this stage — you must select five photos. After you select five photos you like,  you get taken to the middle screenshot. This is the news feed of photos from the boards and people you are now following.

Here’s the thing though… you haven’t voluntarily chosen to follow anyone. Pinterest itself has selected boards that you begin following. That’s right. Pinterest selects the initial boards that each and every new subscriber follows when they sign up. Not you. There is no way to opt-out of it.

Note on the 2nd screenshot the explanation Pinterest gives:

Welcome to Pinterest!

This is your homepage. The pins you see are from boards that we picked to help you get started. “Follow” people or their boards and their pins will show up here. (emphasis added)

There is no disclosure in the process that Pinterest is going to select boards/people for you to follow. There is no way to opt-out of it. In fact, even on this “disclosure” that Pinterest gives on the homepage after you have signed up  (and I believe this is the one and only time it ever appears), Pinterest doesn’t even mention how to unfollow any of the boards that they have signed you up for involuntarily.

Given that Pinterest made you click on five photos in the sign-up process, it would them seem at least marginally appropriate that they sign you up just for the boards of the five photos you picked, right? Guess again. Check the last screenshot above.

Five photos selected, somehow 54 boards followed. Now tell me how that makes any sense at all. When signing up I hadn’t had any contact, even remote contact, with the 49 other boards Pinterest signed me up for. They just basically picked 49 extra boards they thought I might like, given on the five photos I picked. Completely involuntary on my part.

And completely juicing the numbers of the entire Pinterest service.

That’s how some people on Pinterest have accumulated millions and millions of followers in the past two months. The numbers are rigged by Pinterest — artificial inflation.

The Pinterest Explanation

When I asked about Pinterest signing people up for boards they had no interaction with at all in the sign-up process, the spokesman replied:

We want to help new Pinners understand how to use the service.  We’ve found that people learn best by seeing examples and doing.  That’s why our most recent orientation system matches people to boards, so that they can see what the following experience looks like and so they have content in their feed to start the process of discovering inspiration.  The feedback on this latest system has been positive, especially in comparison with previous systems, which could end people up starting with a totally blank feed if they didn’t choose anyone to follow.

First, that isn’t what happens at all. Let’s take a screenshot of www.Pinterest.com before you even sign up:

pinterest initial news feed

Note… pictures. In fact, Pinterest provides a perfectly valid stream of photos on its site as users upload them, even if you aren’t logged into the service. Additionally, note at the top there is simple-to-use drop down menu of photo categories, where you can then find possible photos from boards you might want to follow.

The big difference if Pinterest provided this feed to its new subscribers versus the way it does business now?

Any boards or people that new subscribers would sign up to follow would be voluntary, not artificially imposed on them by Pinterest.

The second thing the Pinterest spokesman pointed me to was how other social media services handle new sign-ups, so let’s take a brief look at them.

What Do Other Social Media Services Do?

In a subsequent email, the spokesman mentioned “but one other thing I meant to mention is that every social service offers recommendations to users.” He then gave the following links to Twitter’s policy and Facebook’s policy. I actually signed up for a new Twitter account to make sure I remembered how it worked, but this whole argument by Pinterest is disassembled based on one simple word: recommendations.

Pinterest isn’t offering recommendations of boards for you to consider following… they just sign you up in the first place!

Recommending would be showing a new user a series of photos, perhaps grouped in categories of possible interests, with the links to the boards they came from, so that the new subscriber could make his or her own decision on what to follow. Leave the choose of who and what to follow in the hands of the subscriber and let them opt-out if they don’t want to participate in this selection process.

But Pinterest takes that voluntary action completely out of the sign-up process and just assigns you to 45+ boards… totally determined by some mysterious formula they are unwilling to discuss in any depth (more on that later this week).

By the way, I signed up eight new Pinterest accounts, just to check the numbers and each new subscriber I made was assigned the following number of boards after the sign-up process: 54, 48, 46, 56, 54, 59, 59 and 55.

Quickly, here is what happens when you sign up for a Twitter account:

twitter sign up

 

twitter sign up final shot

First, a new subscriber has the option of skipping the recommendation process entirely, as they obviously should be given the right to do. Secondly, Twitter doesn’t sign you up to follow anyone that you don’t choose yourself, after the ability to click on their profile link, look at their tweets and make that decision on your own.

Can you imagine the outcry if every new subscriber on Twitter that initially followed Barack Obama, for instance, also was just “assigned” by Twitter to also follow Mitt Romney, David Cameron and John Boehner?

“Well, you showed an interest in following people in politics, so…..”

Besides that problem, can you imagine the outcry as certain people’s followers numbers just rocked through the roof — if Twitter was making those initial who-to-follow decisions? That is exactly what Pinterest is doing.

Quick sidenote on the Facebook policy. Again, Facebook just recommends those fan pages — they do not make those decisions for you, as Pinterest is doing.

Bottom Line — Why Does It Matter?

Money. Lots and lots of money.

Let’s forget for a second whether this whole process calls into questions all of Pinterest’s numbers for the purposes of its own valuation for past or future investors. Are they intentionally juicing the numbers of people that new subscribers follow, so as to make their overall product look more enticing to possible investors?

The average person using Pinterest follows 89 different people, showing that the interaction on our service is much higher than Twitter’s where the average number of followers is only 24.

To be clear, I just made that entire hypothetical quote up. I am not saying any of those numbers are accurate. I am merely speculating how artificially juicing the numbers might mean more money in the end to Pinterest when it goes public or sells itself to another service, like Instagram recently did to Facebook (for a billion dollars). Frankly, there are much better business reporters out there than me that can ask these hard questions — I look forward to their analysis.

But let’s talk about how the people that get all those new followers from the sign-up process can possibly benefit. That is the truly horrible thing about this policy that struck me immediately.

In January, Mashable reported that Pinterest had become the top traffic driver for retailers. Recall those numbers on how Pinterest is now driving more referral traffic now than Twitter and more than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined. In the online world, eyeballs on your website means lots of ways to make money.

And Pinterest is artificially skewing the playing field of who gets the eyeballs in the first place.

On one of the Pinterest accounts I created, I clicked on 5 photos of clothing. Pinterest assigned me to 46 different boards. Of those 46 boards, 17 were company’s boards — companies potentially using Pinterest to drive traffic to their websites to make money or certain to do so in the future, with all their new millions of followers.

I created five different accounts over a one-week period where I only clicked on clothing photos in the sign-up process. United Colors of Benetton (1,117,307 followers as of today) was one of the boards followed by each and every one of those accounts. Is Benetton doing anything wrong? Absolutely not. Are they getting a massively huge advantage over everyone else in the process.

Absolutely.

There are dozens of more ways to profit off this sign-up situation, if you are one of the lucky few to get selected to get tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of new followers by Pinterest. I’ll go into more on that tomorrow, since it goes right to the core of why this sign-up process is simply and completely rotten to the core.

Sidenote: I asked the Pinterest spokesman if there was any process whereby someone could pay Pinterest to appear in the list of initial photos shown to new subscribers or otherwise promote themselves through the sign-up process to be selected as one of the boards new subscribers are automatically signed up for and he categorically said that wasn’t the case.

After back and forth with Pinterest on this topic, it was clear it came down to this for them:

Instead, it is pretty clear that what you are observing is the intended behavior of our onboarding system.

Exactly. That’s the entire problem. This is all being intentionally done by Pinterest.

 

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I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all. Read more by Michael Hodson and connect on Google Plus.

70 Responses to “Major Flaws in Pinterest: the Big Numbers Story” Subscribe

  1. Gladley October 9, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Interesting article, and thanks for researching/writing it! I was slow to hop onto the Pinterest bandwagon and didn’t really appreciate being ‘assigned’ 60 or so accounts to follow. Some of them are interesting, but the process was far more opaque than that of Twitter.

    What I also noticed was that when I went to look at the people I followed, it didn’t show everyone at once, so it took me a long time to be able figure out how to unfollow some totally irrelevant wedding dress companies (I’m married).

  2. Jacob Bynum October 9, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Perhaps it’s my youthful innocence at play here, but having read your entire piece and the predicted outcry if other websites adopted a similar model as Pinterest in their sign-ups I disagree.

    In fact – after reading this – and I do not mean this to be a slight in any way, I just think “so what?”

    Is Pinterest driving users to use their product more?
    Yes.

    Are some “Pinners” so to speak – gaining from this process?
    Yes.

    Are some of those gaining corporations?
    Yes.

    But where is the harm?
    You were ‘forced’ to follow boards, but not prohibited from ‘unfollowing’

    Pinterest – whatever their intentions with these numbers – should in the interest of their shareholders (albeit a private corporation) drive profit, and subscribers, and clicks are two ways I would imagine they do that, and the fact that their ‘sign up’ does it better than any one else, is not cause for concern.

    At least not to me…

    • cynthia October 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      It seems to me, the problem is that “regular” users (like me) would not mind having thousands (even millions!) of followers, to drive traffic to my blog. But I am sure nobody ever sees pics from my little food blog when they are in the sign up/recommendation process. But I bet they see Martha Stewart, or Pioneer Woman, etc…
      cynthia recently posted..End of Summer Grilling

      • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:28 am #

        Yep — that’s the problem in a nutshell.

    • ClearedCustoms October 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      Completely agree. I think Michael has identified a trend and its driver. Some users have artificially large numbers of followers and it appears this is happening because Pinterest is auto-following popular people when new users signup. I don’t see the harm though. I imagine they do it to engage new users with lots of content when they use the service for the first time.

      • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:26 am #

        There is plenty of harm in choosing winners and losers. I go into the money benefits in the next post after this once, but bottom line, they are artificially creating situations were a select few can make a bunch of money and the rest of their users wallow without the followers.

        • Francine December 28, 2012 at 12:29 am #

          I noticed I have not had new followers or re-pins from non followers since September, and simply couldn’t understand why. Like your article, this one gave a good explanation as to why. However, I’m really frustrated that there seems to be no solution in the near future for people with less followers to gain new followers.

          http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/calling-all-pinterest-users-its-time-to-start-asking-questions

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:34 am #

      The problem is simply money and unfairness. Its not hard (and I subsequently did an entire post on this) to see how this whole sign-up process skews the entire platform to the benefit of a select few. For those of us that like the platform, and also just like to have playing fields be fairly level in life, that’s a problem.

  3. Jodi October 9, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks for this Michael. I noticed in a recent Pinterest sign in that I had ‘followed’ users who I most certainly did not agree to follow, with each of their follower counts through the roof. I took a screenshot as it seemed quite odd to me, and was concerned that my account got hacked. Instead, from what you’ve written, it seems symptomatic of a larger, worrisome issue from Pinterest’s end.

    Looking forward to the rest of this series.

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:33 am #

      Yea, still trying to track down whether the have you follow people involuntarily after the sign up process. Uncertain.

      • Beth March 8, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

        This seems to be happening to me right now. I am getting random people’s pins in my feed and when I go to their home page it says I am not following them. One of them posts offensive political items and unwanted religious crap.

  4. Brendan van Son October 9, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Great analysis mate. I’ve had questions about this for a long time. I have seen zero growth from pinterest…. people have a hard time finding me… my stuff certainly isn’t pasted on the front page of the platform when you join or sign in. I get maybe 1 re-pin a day and very very very few followers. I had one photo get re-pined about 300 times and ever that photo has only resulted in 5 clicks to my website. I keep plugging away at it in hopes it turns a corner… but I don’t like how it’s set up. It’s too hard to find people.
    Brendan van Son recently posted..Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Photos

  5. Mikeachim October 9, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Epic post, Michael.

    I absolutely agree that this is a big problem. I see this post is going nicely viral, so I hope it becomes something Pinterest has to address very quickly.

    Pretty damn worrying. A follow on social media is a personal endorsement, however tiny or ephemeral that endorsement may be, and “suggested followers” is fine as long as they’re not enforced – as long as that decision isn’t made for us. That is what’s actually going on, no ambiguity, it’s what Pinterest have admitted to, and that really sucks.

    And if they’re deliberately doing it to juice the numbers for their own gain, as you’re arguing so convincingly? I’m speechless.

    I really hope someone calls by from Pinterest and answers your questions, here, out in the open.
    Mikeachim recently posted..Hello Darkness Once Again: Walking The Vanishing Holderness Coast

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:33 am #

      I just wish some of the bigger publications in the social media reporting realm would bother to start reporting on this.

  6. Christina October 9, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    This is interest because I just read an in-depth article/interview with the founder and CEO of Pinterest. In said article, it was made very clear that Pinterest is currently making NO money – somehow. If that is true, why would they promote certain companies for free essentially??

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      Not sure what their true intentions are. They claim not to be making money from any of these people or companies that they are artifically promoting via the sign-up process. Would be great if some publication like Mashable would actually get up and ask the tough questions also.

  7. Art October 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Interesting article. I’m going to pass it on. It’s interesting to me to note that the whole IM (Internet Marketing) ‘make money now’ crowd is ga-ga over Pinterest and, although the rush has died down somewhat, there for awhile there was a new Pinterest product or two every week.

    I’ve got an account myself but I don’t use it. I just can’t make myself get excited about joining the apparently massive numbers of people in the country (although I choose not to live there) who seem to have nothing more productive to do but surf social sites like FB and Pinterest.

    I know social media is a big and growing field and I’m actually kinda in it but sometimes the psychology of the masses really baffles me.

    I’ll tell you one thing though….I’ll guarantee you that somebody in Pinterest has a master-plan.

    Regards,
    Art

  8. Jennifer October 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Interesting analysis of Pinterest’s business practices. I noticed that I suddenly had things in my feed that I hadn’t followed boards for.

    For example, I repinned a cupcake recipe and suddenly there were more cupcakes than pretty travel photos in my feed. It seemed I had somehow followed someone that likes to post no less than 75 cupcakes daily. Here I thought I had somehow clicked the wrong thing and accidentally followed them!

    So it would be my guess that Pinterest not only auto follows boards for you at sign up, but also periodically based upon your repins and likes.
    Jennifer recently posted..Jdomb’s Travels and Go With Oh! Want to Send You to Vienna!

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:30 am #

      Still trying to sort out if they do that — if so, that’s a huge problem also.

  9. Gary Arndt October 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Actually, Twitter did use to do this and it got the same reaction. Many of the people with Twitter follower counts over 1,000,000 were put on the suggested user list.

    The only difference is that no one was forced to explicitly follow anyone.

    Google+ is doing something similar currently. People on the SUL can go from nothing to hundreds of thousands to millions of followers just by being put on the list.

    The only company who hasn’t done something like this is Facebook. Their suggestion list is algorithmic based on your friends and other things you like, not on FB picking a pre-selected group of people they like.

    Personally, I’ve never seen the traffic that people are claiming from Pinterest. When I have seen hard data about what people pin and repin, it all seems to be food or fashion.
    Gary Arndt recently posted..Male Great Frigatebird in the Galapagos Islands

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:30 am #

      Gary, that is the core difference and problem I have. “Suggested followers” is fine in my eyes. If people want to voluntarily follow those suggestions, that is up to them. But as far as I know, Pinterest is the only one that is skipping the voluntary part and just signing people up to follow others.

      That sucks.

  10. crazy sexy fun traveler October 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    This is a very interesting posts, Michael! I don’t agree with Pinterest following people on your behalf though, not fair, I think.
    crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..Vadjutka jewelry in Budapest

  11. Rachel October 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Really interesting read, thank you for digging around and sharing your findings. I look forward to the next installment(s). Went and had a look at my Pinterest account…there are defintely some people I’m following at Pinterest’s instigation. It’s interesting that their pins are almost always the ones that appear at the top of the page whenever I log in (which isn’t very often).

    It seems to be a particularly insidious example not being able to opt out and I hate that opting out (rather than in) seems to be the default setting for most of the internet.
    Rachel recently posted..A Tale of Three Tours – Trastevere

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:28 am #

      Follow-up post is up. Hope you like the further details.

  12. Katie October 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    This is really interesting – looking forward to the rest of the posts about this issue,

  13. Jim O'Donnell October 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    Great job Mike. For whatever reason I’ve gotten very little out of pinterest over time 3-4 hits a month. I find this all fascinating but far from surprising.

  14. Alison October 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    I’m on Pinterest, but not really getting any traffic from it. I just assumed I wasn’t using it to it’s full capacity and that, like any social network, it takes a while to work out ways to best drive traffic to a site and to build up some momentum.

    To be honest, I don’t like the idea of automatically being signed up to follow boards, but in the whole scheme of things, this doesn’t bother me too much.

    Yes, it seems that some pinners appear to have an unfair advantage in terms of numbers, but this is the case (maybe in different ways) across many social networks.

    It always feels like the more followers you have, the more you get.
    Alison recently posted..How To Get A Working Holiday Visa For Canada

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:28 am #

      The more followers you have, the more you get is generally true. The actual PLATFORM skewing it so that a select few are the winners in this process is the core problem.

      Let people pick on their own. Don’t force winners and losers upon the system artifically.

  15. Pretraveller October 10, 2012 at 4:40 am #

    Interesting post. I have been actively using Pinterest for a few months now, and have gradually seen my followers increase. I think most of the increase has been due to me being invited to post on a couple of group travel boards, and I have been actively contributing most days.

    I see periodic click throughs to my blog, and I have been experimenting with the title to see if I can set it up to get more click throughs. Still a work in progress… I have just started experimenting with making some of my boards group boards to see what difference that could make, we will see how it goes.
    Pretraveller recently posted..Planning Your Vacation: When Does Your Journey Really Start and End?

  16. Not Pinterested October 10, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    It’s obvious that Pinterest’s business model is to charge companies to get their boards into the onboarding process & in front of as many users as possible. If people are fine with that, then who cares. It’s better than straight up ads being showved in your face like when using facebook.

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:25 am #

      According to Pinterest, they aren’t charging companies to get their boards on the onboarding process. I assume they weren’t lying about that.

  17. Julie - The Fairy Trails October 10, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Very interesting…. I’ve had a pinterest account for some time now, but a few weeks ago, I was forced to go through the “pick 5 photos” process during login. I had no idea what it was about, but found it incredibly frustrating that I wasn’t able to skip it.

    Anyways, it’s not just new users being hit by this!
    Julie – The Fairy Trails recently posted..Style on the Go: Scarves Plus Six

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:24 am #

      Yep, if they’d just let people opt-out of it, that would be a massive improvement. Or just making it so they give you suggestions only… and don’t just sign people up for 40+ boards.

  18. Rachael October 10, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    I signed up to Pinterest two days ago and was flummoxed by the ‘onboard’ process and frustrated by the automatic follows that Pinterest assigned to my account. After the sign-up I removed each one, preferring at the moment to use it for images that I find, and images of my work of course. Will be annoyed if Pinterest insists on adding followers that I haven’t chosen.

  19. Adam October 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    I’m on the suggested user list for a startup social media company and I get heaps of followers because of it. The service doesn’t force users to follow my account, but plenty do when they first sign in.

    I don’t think I like the general policy of automatically following users based on some interests, but instead providing recommendations makes much more sense for everyone involved.
    Adam recently posted..Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Museum is for real hipsters

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:22 am #

      Adam, go sign up for a new account (unless they have changed it in the last week, which rumors are indicating they may be in the process of doing after getting called to task about it).

      They aren’t merely “suggestions.” They are involuntarily signing new subscribers up to 40-60 boards they didn’t ask to sign up for. Those are what the screenshots and my tests of setting up multiple accounts show.

  20. Stuart McD October 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    FWIW I set up an account yesterday trying to recreate this and didn’t score any follow force feeding, so I guess what you experienced isn’t being rolled out across the board. Account here: http://m.pinterest.com/jimmypoolguy/

    But more to the point, does it matter? If you look at say YTravelBlog’s account which is either benefitting from what you’re describing or they’re buying a crapload of followers, then check out their Quantcast chart, you’ll see, at least from a traffic point of view, those bazillion followers are utterly worthless.

    If anything, at least in travel, this indicates what a monumental waste of time pinterest is – in which case, what you describe, really doesn’t matter at all.

    • Caz Makepeace October 11, 2012 at 1:05 am #

      We haven’t bought any followers thanks Stuart and never have. As Michael will tell you when he contacted us in regards to how our Pinterest followers went up, I told him I had no idea. This could be part of it, it could have been spam accounts following us or we could have been hit by something that made us go viral.
      Please ask us before you suggest in a public space we could be possibly doing something scammy.

      And just FYI, I hardly think Quantcast like so many other traffic referral tools are accurate. Our pinterest traffic is now our second biggest referrer. We are getting a huge amount of repins, likes and comments on our photos that are being pinned to our Bucket list board. We are seeing hundreds of repins on those of other photos that we also pin.

      Pinterest is another social community network that builds another arm to what you do. WE don’t get an awful lot of traffic over to our blog from facebook either, but we sure get a lot of interaction, engagement and have a lot of influence.

      We focus on building up our influence in many different social networks, each of these have their own particular purpose and way of working. Our blog is the central hub. I think what we are doing is working and working well. And everything we do is legitmate. We don’t know how we got that many followers, we call it a lucky break for busting our arse for nearly three years and providing shit loads of value. We’ve got nothing to hide, so please don’t call us out like that again.
      Caz Makepeace recently posted..What to Do in Rotterdam

      • Stuart McD October 11, 2012 at 1:22 am #

        Hi Caz,

        Glad to hear it’s working out for you. I’m not sure how me naming your site is “calling you out” — it’s not like you’re trying to hide these numbers — after all, as you say, you have nothing to hide.

        Given you’re not buying followers, and that you’ve mentioned before on Twitter (back around when your site was hacked) about learning so much about increasing your pinterest following via webinars — it seems like with Michael is suggesting kind of fits the bill.

        Anyways, Quantcast is, like Google Analytics, directly measured, so I’d be a little concerned if it wasn’t reflecting the true benefits traffic wise (which, as I mentioned above, is the only angle I’m looking at) that you mention it is, so perhaps you want to check out how you’ve implemented the tracking code.

        Regards

        Stuart

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:21 am #

      It was across the board until I started asking questions a few weeks ago. Apparently, they are now changing the sign-up system to reflect and implicitly acknowledge their errors in this process.

      As to whether it matters, the stats pretty clearly show it does. Pinterest drives more click through traffic than Twitter. Does Twitter matter? It drives more click through traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. Its a platform that matters, drives traffic, and in that regard can drive money.

  21. Mark E Tisdale October 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    As a photographer/visual artist, I was initially very excited about Pinterest, but the interest waned for many reasons. One of them was realizing how little of the images I encountered actually linked back to the people who made them. Most dead-ended on some random Tumblr account or just went nowhere. I didn’t want to “like” or re-pin things that were floating and it was just too much work for me to stay engaged.

    Reading that they have a forced suggested user list is just another reason to shake my head and wander in the other direction. I allow pinning from my blog so that others can find and share my work, but I have certainly never seen them rise to any prominence in my site stats so far.
    Mark E Tisdale recently posted..Abstract Photography – What’s in A Name?

    • wanderlass October 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      I know what you mean. I was looking for more info on the hidden beach of Marieta Island Mexico and found the same photo without the originator.

      I basically use pinterest as it was marketed to be; as a pinboard for things I find online. I’m getting ideas for my home renovation and funny tshirt ideas for our retail business.
      wanderlass recently posted..Spanish Film Festival in Manila

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:19 am #

      I really don’t have a problem with the links not going to the right places. For the most part, that is just simply a reflection of what is already happening on the internet. But this sign-up thing from Pinterest — intentionally screwing with the numbers. Bad.

  22. Lorenzo Gonzalez October 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Great write up with excellent research.
    Lorenzo Gonzalez recently posted..My First Dive in Belize

  23. Linda October 13, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    Ironically, when I retweeted this post Twitter suggested that I might like to follow Pinterest :=)

  24. Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories October 13, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    I signed up for Pinterest a few months ago when I started my blog, but haven’t gotten any traffic from it at all. It makes sense though, when I look at the popular travel photos–they all look much nicer than the ones I take. I’ve pretty much stopped using Pinterest at all and only occasionally pin something just to see if anything’s changed.
    Daniel McBane – Funny Travel Stories recently posted..New Year’s Party in a Tiny Laotian Village

  25. D.J. - The World of Deej October 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Awesome piece…I haven’t caught on to the Pinterest craze too much, although I do have an account and pin things from time to time. It delivers zero traffic for my site, and so I tend to forget it’s even out there. Still, it seems the system is definitely rigged, and they are pretty intent on keeping it that way…

  26. Talon October 14, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Wow! I was wondering about some of these. There was one in particular who shot up rapidly to 2 million and couldn’t explain how that happened. This is crazy!
    Talon recently posted..Road Tripping New England in the Fall

  27. wanderlass October 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I just got hooked on pinterest. Such an amazing time waster. haha. When a certain blogger twitted they have over a million followers, I was super curious. Now this explained it perfectly so thank you for that.

    While I often don’t like how everything in the internet is monetized, schemed, and not organic, I can’t blame people who grab opportunities and geniuses who create these new products.

    Now having sometime to reflect on pinterest, I say they’re a genius and deserves the popularity.

    I’m a blogger who got into twitter in hope to drive some traffic to my blog, but failed because i don’t find any sense in tweeting unless I’m Lady gaga with millions of fans who cared what I ate for breakfast.

    I’m a travel blogger and I know some people followed me because I tweet about travels, but I have other interest too, like arts and environment. I notice people unfollowing me on certain tweet. So pinterest is genius because you can follow someone without having to follow all their interests. I’m seriously hooked on pinterest because it only shows what I want to see.

    As for the millions and millions of money pinterest might make when they go public, I say they only have their genius to thank for. I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    I don’t see how it is different from google’s pagerank and search power. We all have to figure out, thread about, how not to make them punish us bloggers and website owners.
    wanderlass recently posted..Spanish Film Festival in Manila

  28. Chris Ciolli (@ChrisCiolli) October 15, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    Wow. This is very interesting. I’m not sure if I’m particularly upset about it, but I there’s certainly a lack of transparency in this behavior by Pinterest.

    • Michael Hodson October 17, 2012 at 6:12 am #

      Transparency in their processes would be a good start. Their answers to my questions were pathetic.

  29. Ali October 18, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Really interesting stuff, Michael. I kind of remember when I first signed up months ago (February maybe?) that they started me off following a bunch of people, but that wasn’t even based on any interests I had told them or the image selection thing you mentioned. I quickly unfollowed all of them. I completely agree with you, suggestions of who you might like to follow is fine, but auto-following without permission is completely different.

    BTW I like the new header!
    Ali recently posted..Is a Fear of Getting Sick While Traveling Holding You Back?

  30. Lovinglf October 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    I’ve been on @Pinterest since close the beginning so I got to choose the boards I followed. That it until about 9 months ago when I noticed lots of photos showing up in my timeline that did not match my interests.

    I clicked on one of the photos that had several comments and saw multiple complaints from users who had been auto-signed up for a Typography board.

    I also noticed that the number of boards I followed at the time (around 125) had suddenly jumped to 160+ boards. I unfollowed all the boards @Pinterest signed me up for and assumed it was a system glitch until I started seeing boards with millions of followers.

    I don’t understand this process either because @Pinterest should have had a very clear idea of what my interests were at the time it auto-signed me up for these boards. Regardless I don’t want to be auto-signed up for any boards I don’t find interesting.

  31. Adam Sommer November 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Wow, what a well researched article! I had no idea all of this was going on at Pinterest. I use Pinterest about opnce per week, and get some traffic for my travel blog, but most still comes from 1)Google 2)Twitter and 3)Facebook. Pinterest is usually a distant 3-6 rank in terms of traffic.
    Adam Sommer recently posted..Nashville, TN: Family Friendly Eats

  32. Julie December 4, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Were you able to determine the average number of followers a Pinterest user has? I haven’t had any success figuring this out but it appears you have done quite a bit more research than me!

  33. Paul Bola December 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    It’s really tough to make presence on pinterest and increase the followers but this post can help a bit for everyone who are new to pinterest. I really appreciate for sharing these tips with us.

  34. Liza Wild December 29, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I found your article because I questioned why I started having people show up in my boards that I never had before. All of sudden hundreds of pictures of cats are showing up on my page ( I don’t even particularly like cats) then when I click on their names it doesn’t look like I’m even following them. I don’t like it.

  35. Allison February 9, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    To avoid the on-boarding mess (in case this method has not yet been mentioned):

    When I signed up for my account, I was presented with the on-boarding. I didn’t want to do it, so I didn’t! I closed the Pinterest tab on my internet browser because I didn’t see a “skip” button, and like I said, I didn’t want to do it. I immediately opened a new tab, went to Pinterest, and was in my fully functional account, following no one!

  36. Rob February 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    This is the whiniest, most non-sensical post I’ve read in quite some time. Why do you care? Is Pinterest harming you or doing anything illegal?

    So, your complaint is that some are benefiting more than others? That’s business baby.. I’m sorry that you think the world should be perfectly fair and full of rainbows, but it just isn’t.

    Also, why don’t you just unfollow them?

    Bottom line: Pinterest is a private site/business and they can do what they please to grow it. They’re providing tons of value to their users and have created an absolutely amazing marketing channel. Tons of people including myself are making great money just from Pinterest alone.. and you’re whining about them automatically giving you followers that you’re then able to unfollow?

    I almost question as to whether you wrote this post as some type of link bait.. If so.. good job. I can respect that. I can’t respect someone crying about the unfairness of a company legally growing their business in the best possible way they know how. It’s obviously working.

  37. Nikki February 23, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    From a Pinterest user perspective this is completely annoying. However, what makes it more annoying, and something no one has mentioned, is that even when you in-follow all if the boards they subscribed you to random boards still appear in your newsfeed that you are not following at all. It does not ever stop. There is no opt out. This will continue indefinitely.

  38. Clair March 2, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Interestingly, I have repeatedly unfollowed one of the boards I was automatically signed up to, only for it to keep miraculously reappearing in my account. This organisation currently has over 4.6 million followers. I wonder why.

  39. Trevortni March 30, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    I came to this blog looking for a way to skip the board selection screen that comes up every time I log into pinterest. Apparently it’s impossible to skip, so I’ll share how I glitch past it: open pinterest through some page other than the main pinterest page (pinterest.com). Previously I had been googling for some random pinterest page to serve as a portal; today I realized I’m an idiot and went in through my user page instead.

    Looking at my friends and family on pinterest, it appears I’m the only person to not be following anything, which is exactly how I want it: I don’t want to follow anybody unless I choose to.

  40. авиабилеты в Лондон April 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    hey there and thank you for your info – I’ve definitely picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise some technical issues using this web site, as I experienced to reload the site many times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for a lot more of your respective exciting content. Ensure that you update this again soon.
    авиабилеты в Лондон recently posted..авиабилеты в Лондон

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