A screenshot of just a portion of the work pointing back to my website

Pinterest – Making Lemonade

Sometime around the fall last year, I started hearing waves about Pinterest. I had friends encouraging me to join and share some of my photography and just in general telling me how much they personally enjoyed the site. As someone active on social media, I hate to say that hearing a new site is up and coming is not music to my ears. Instead the general reaction I hear from many friends and utter myself is “oh no, not another one!”

The first few times, I was too busy to make much notice but I finally hit a critical mass point of hearing whispers of Pinterest over and over, so in mid December, I asked for an invite and after receiving it I was so busy getting ready for Christmas and my trip that I did nothing with it other than set up an account. There was still a sense of resignation to the process. Still, if I was hearing about it from friends I figured it was worth trying.

Flash forward to late January and I finally started looking at Pinterest. At first, I was a fly on the wall. I looked at the things friends were sharing or in the local parlance, pinning. Mostly I clicked like and moved on. Soon, I moved on from liking to re-pinning things friends shared into my own boards. And before long, I began pinning my own items, some of my own, but the bulk being things I encountered online that I really liked and wanted others to see. But it was more than that, I logged on, excited to see what new things my friends had shared and if there was nothing new, I would look at the main boards to see what the wider community had discovered recently.

I personally think that’s one of the neat things about Pinterest. Not only can I see what my friends are sharing, I can discover gems the wider group has uncovered. The default view is the boards for your own friends, but it’s easy to move past that, much like a real community where the end of the world isn’t your own circle.

At any rate, this post isn’t just an opportunity to explain how or why I came to be on Pinterest or anything like that. I just felt the need to set that part up. What I really wanted to talk about is a little more complex. It’s the artist/photographer reactions I’m hearing to Pinterest. Mostly, I’m reading it from various community message boards that friends have sent me, and there’s predictably a mixture of enthusiasm and anxiety.

For every “I love Pinterest” there’s a voice of concern that they are stealing our work or profiting from it. I understand the concern. Visual artists who post our work online for the world to enjoy are losing a degree of control over said work. It flies to the four winds. People appropriate it and slap cute quotes on it and post them near and far online. There’s a degree of misunderstanding about copyright in the world at large if nothing else. I’ve read people post lengthy defenses that once something is posted online it becomes public domain. FYI, so not the case!

Still, I understand the concern, it sometimes feels like a never-ending job when you uncover a use of your work that was not only done without your permission but may be attached to a subject with which you disagree. And while I’ve given up hunting for those issues, if they rear their heads, you address the situation. From that point, Pinterest provides a process, albeit one I think could use streamlining. Rather than a page with contact information, it would be preferable to have a button attached to any pin that leads to a form to fill out with the necessary information.

And although I would suggest a cleaner, easier process to request an image be removed, that was not the primary point of feedback I submitted to Pinterest this afternoon. No, what I’d like to suggest you all ask of Pinterest is to make it easier for artists to benefit from what is otherwise free publicity. You see, most of us post our work on the web hoping to get noticed. We hope people will see it, be moved by it, be so taken with it that they share it, and their friends share it and so on. And if all those eyes landing on our work leads to a few sales, all the better. I can promise you that I, and I think most of us, wouldn’t post our work online at all if we didn’t want people to see it.

A screenshot of just a portion of the work pointing back to my website
"Free" Publicity

No, the problem becomes that when our art is shared it sometimes loses connection with us and our online websites and galleries. Invariably someone shares an image or finds it on a website with no connection to us and it finds its way to the likes of Pinterest and Tumblr. Unfortunately Murphy’s Law seems to favor that those very images, the ones that have no ties back to the originator are the ones that go viral and tons of eyes see them. Yet only the most determined and savvy web-searchers will ever find the true source.

And this was the crux of my suggestion to Pinterest. Go a step further, be a forward thinking website. Your site in no small part relies on the content we’re creating. Your site is very much a visual website and many of us appreciate the opportunity to be seen. Instead of just offering the bare minimum (and required by law) way to request images be removed, give the artists a way to lay claim to their work that’s already being seen. What I envision is a process that doesn’t just allow me to show that the work in question is mine, but instead of removing it, simply link it back to the website of my choice.

The examples in the screenshot above already all link back to my site, but what if I found one that doesn’t? Yes, I could get incensed and upset that said image has been re-pinned by hundreds of people and none of them know it’s mine. I think it would be so much better if Pinterest established a mechanism to make that content, that’s already benefiting their site also benefit the creators of that content.

So, what do you think? Would a process that allowed the artist to claim their work and link it back to their galleries be a way to make lemonade out of an otherwise sour pill? Would you support a site that went the extra mile to work with visual artists in recognizing they are the originator of their work?

Sound off in the comments, please and share this topic with your friends. And if you think this idea or your own variation on it worthwhile, then please go to this page on pinterest and scroll to the very bottom where you can send feedback to the team at Pinterest.

And for those on Pinterest who would like to connect, my boards are here.


  1. Hey Mark. I read your post and appreciate your request from Pinterest. I received an invite about a month ago. I did the initial account setup. I’m stuck trying to figure out how Pinterest can benefit me and my photography business. I guess I don’t have a grasp on the concept yet. A photography friend of mine told me he thought this would be the next big medium of interaction – especially since the average Pinterest population was females between the age of 25 – 40. I’ll keep looking at it to find the benefit hopefully.

    1. Hey Stephen, My personal take on it is that all of the social sites are not per se a good fit for each of us. I know I have my favorites and ones that I find less exciting. And to a degree, I think it shows when we’re phoning it in. So, my advice is always to spend more time on the ones that work for you.

      Generally, I feel like getting my work in front of more eyes is a good thing. If if is an audience who might not find me on another venue, all the better. I want people to ultimately be able to trace it back to me if they have a greater interest in it, but more eyes are good. And like all the sites, you don’t necessarily have to be active yourself to get that. I joined Pinterest and found a decent number of my images already there, some pinned by friends, others by strangers.

      That said, I have seen articles that do suggest that Pinterest is good at driving traffic:

      Mashable Pinterest Study is one.

      My suggestion is if you have friends on there already, observe what they are doing. And also go to the main boards and see what’s there. It’s very much like it’s name implies, a visual board where you pin the things you like or things that inspire you, places you’d like to go, etc. I try to make sure I’m not the Mark Channel which I think could get old fast. Besides, personally I encounter a lot of visual art online every day that inspires me to share it with my friends. I like that I can categorize it on Pinterest where on most other social sites, your links are just an amorphous pile when all is said and done.

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