Welcome to Freelance Focus, dedicated to helping answer your questions about the freelance life. If you would like to submit a question about any aspect of freelancing -- from getting assignments and connecting with editors, to freelance contracts and tax issues for small businesses -- let me know. I’ll reach out to our network of writers and experts to find you the answer.
This week’s question comes from a freelance writer who wants to know more about Pinterest:
“Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest. That’s all I ever hear about these days. What the heck is it and how can I, as a writer, use it to promote myself and my work? Is it worth the time investment?”
For those not familiar with it, Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that allows users to share images of things they like. Users can either upload their own pictures or “pin” something from a website. Then, anyone who “follows” the user’s board can view and “repin” the images on their own boards, and anyone who follows them can see and repin the images on their boards, and so on.
When a user clicks on a pinned image, he/she is redirected to the website where the original image is located. For example, if you click on a pin featuring an Ann Taylor sundress, you will be redirected to the page on the Ann Taylor website that features the dress. Because of this, retailers, hotels, tourism boards, and even b-to-b companies are using Pinterest as a way to drive traffic to their website and promote their products and services.
But Pinterest is not just for companies. Many writers are also taking advantage of the viral nature of Pinterest to help build buzz for their work.
To find out how, we turned to Susanna Speier, a digital journalist who has written for Nature, Denver Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Scientific American and Huffington Post. Speier mostly writes about science and culture, and occasionally covers sustainable initiatives in the fashion, travel and beauty industries.
Speier recently wrote an article on Nature.com on how Pinterest can help science writers and communicators. She sat down with us (virtually, of course) to tell us a bit about how she is using Pinterest as a writer.
ProfNet: I really enjoyed your board in support of your Denver Post article on the Titanic's 100th anniversary. Once you created the board, how did you go about promoting it?
Speier: Thanks! The board was actually something I used to promote two articles. I built it after posting the first article and used it to promote it while researching, writing and eventually promoting the second article.
The differences between the two articles were astonishing. The first was the most popular story on the blog for maybe a couple of days, and the second stuck to the top of the "most popular in terms of view" list for almost a week. I don’t know for certain whether that was because of Pinterest, but it certainly didn't hurt.
The board now has more than 350 followers, and gets new followers and repins every day. It’s a lot of ongoing exposure for a couple of articles that were posted over a month ago.
ProfNet: It's easy to see how a writer about fashion or beauty can use Pinterest, but what about articles that don't necessarily lend themselves to images, like science or personal finance articles?
Speier: Industries with visual products are the early adapters, and the other industries are slow to adapt because they don't realize that the way to enter a visual platform is not through literal representation but through metaphor and innuendo. It’s a perpendicular relationship to the topic, not a parallel one. I come from a theater/film background and am accustomed to working this way. Products with strong visual components can, of course, be literally represented on Pinterest, but that approach is limiting.
Speier: My Nature.com article was about how scientists and science communicators can use Pinterest, and I spent about a week analyzing pins, boards and patterns prior to commencing. When I did, the metaphor just fell into place. I compared Pinterest to Alfred Russel Wallace's Cabinet of Specimens. It was such perfect fit; it was like placing the remaining piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Everything just fit together so elegantly. I even wove Darwin's beetle board into it. After publishing the article, I read an article mentioning Ben Silbermann [founder of Pinterest] used to collect bugs as a kid. I checked out his Twitter stream and, sure enough, he had responded to a bug board posted by the Getty Museum with a mention of his childhood bug-collecting hobby, so the idea really came full circle.
ProfNet: How did readers respond to the Nature.com piece?
Speier: Readers shared the article on Twitter and Facebook, followed and repinned the Pinterest board, and commented on the article. NASA Headquarters got permission to run it in their newsletter earlier this week, and a lot of scientists and science writers tell me that reading the article enabled them to finally grasp what Pinterest was actually about.
ProfNet: Have you seen an increase in readership since you've started using Pinterest?
Speier: The Nature.com article remains at the top of the blog's "most viewed" and "most commented on" list. It has been this way for 17 days, and I don't recall something like this happening with any of my previous articles. Although many have hit the top of the most viewed list, it generally can only maintain that for half a week. Nothing like this has ever happened before. I don't have the data to say for certain whether or not that was due to the Pinterest board -- the Nature.com editors have done an amazing job of promoting it -- but the board certainly didn't hurt. And unlike the Titanic board, the board that supplements the Nature.com article is updated daily with new Pinterest tips for science writers, and the ideas in the article continue to evolve and develop on Pinterest.
ProfNet: What is your advice for writers interested in taking the plunge on Pinterest?
Speier: The main thing to remember is that Pinterest is a visual social media tool and writing is made of letters, words and sentences. Do it visually, and use the text to supplement the visuals. What Liz Heron, Brian Aguilar and Emily Steel are doing with the Wall Street Journal's Pinterest boards is a great example of this.
ProfNet: Thanks, Susanna! So, readers, how do you use Pinterest to promote your work? Share your best tips below.
Whether you're a reporter, blogger, author or other content creator, ProfNet can help you with your search for expert sources. You can send a ProfNet query to tens of thousands of experts and PR agents, or search the more than 50,000 profiles on ProfNet Connect by keyword, institution type and geographic location. Both are free!