A Collegiette's Guide to Pinterest: What Is Pinterest & How Do You Use Pinterest?

Many tech-savvy collegiettes have been pinning and boarding since Pinterest’s birth in March 2010, but in case you haven’t caught on to the trend yet, here’s a more in-depth scoop on social media’s hottest new star.
What is Pinterest?

You’ve already got a zillion profiles to keep track of, so what makes Pinterest different than any other site? The social media market may seem saturated and full of photo sharing websites like SmugMug, Flickr, and Photobucket, but there’s no doubt that Pinterest has introduced a quicker way of sharing images on the web — especially those related to fashion and retail. Pinterest allows you to grab images from any website or upload your own, and then “pin” them to your account. In order to keep everything organized, Pinterest has you create “boards” with themes like architecture you find impressive, clothing and makeup that fit your style, gadgets on your Christmas list, or anything else you like to browse online.
The beauty of Pinterest is that you use it as socially or as personally as you’d like. While its primary function is to help you collect your interests, you can also use it as a social network by following people; liking, commenting on, and “re-pinning” their pins; or having your own followers. Privacy settings are also within your control — you can strengthen your social media presence by linking your account to Twitter and Facebook, or limit your profile’s exposure by restricting it from popping up on search engines.

Why do people like it so much?

Pinterest identifies users’ interests (funnily enough) and lays them out in a particularly appealing format, a feature which has earned it several comparisons to Reddit [link: www.reddit.com] (a user-generated compilation of some of the web’s most popular links) for women. As phrased by the Atlantic, Pinterest has attracted “a fascinating demographic breakdown: it’s strongest among young women in the center of the country.” While that may be true, Pinterest’s ability to cater to each user’s preferences makes it a powerful tool for anyone.
“I like how it allows you to be artistic and organized,” says Toronto high school sophomore Annie Robinson. “I usually follow accounts that have anything to do with fashion (designers, editors, sites, magazines, etc). I like to pin [or] re-pin anything that I think is pretty and that I might want to come back to later for an article that I am writing, or even a status picture.” Plus, Pinterest’s “Pin It” button provides an original, convenient way to consolidate everything that catches your eye on the web and group it into handy subcategories. Instead of a huge list of bookmarks or a never-ending feed, you’ve got all your favorite things in a grid-like format — both pretty to look at and easy to manage.
Now that we’ve convinced you that it’s worthwhile, how do you get on Pinterest?
Starting a Pinterest account works a bit differently than with most other social sites, primarily because it’s invite-only. By using the invite-only technique, administrators have better control of entrant rates, and perhaps members pay more attention to the welcome emails that make clear the aim of Pinterest — to serve as “a community to share collections of things you love.” But don’t be fooled by the term “invite-only” — Pinterest is not the exclusive Regina George of social networking, and anyone can request an invite by visiting Pinterest.com and simply clicking the “Request an Invite” button. You’ll receive an email from “Ben [Silbermann, founder] and the Pinterest Team” that notifies you that you’ve been placed on their waiting list.
There’s a faster way, though: Now that Pinterest has accumulated millions of users, chances are your friend is already on there. Post, chat, tweet, text, or (here’s a new-fangled idea) ask around to see which of your friends is on Pinterest, and request an invitation from her. Once she invites you, you’ll receive an email with a link that allows you to sign up.

What should you use Pinterest for?

Pinterest is your best friend when you’re lost — out of recipe ideas, in need of a starting point for your online shopping, or looking for a thought-provoking book to read. “As a glamour junkie, I look to Pinterest for styling inspiration as well as makeup and hair ideas,” says Boston University sophomore Kelsey Mulvey. “Also, I’m in a ‘I want to grow up and decorate my apartment phase,’ so I use Pinterest for that, too.” Once you get started, one pin will lead to another; search “Tory Burch,” for instance, and you’ll see pins of everything from Tory Burch cardigans to pictures of the woman herself, boards on fashion and influential women, and Tory’s official Pinterest account if you’re looking to follow her.
Don’t forget the capability of sites like Pinterest to serve practical uses, as well, such as guiding you along your career track. You can follow the stars of your chosen field, as well as promote your own brand and aspirations. “I dream of a career in the fashion industry, which obviously emphasizes styling and aesthetically pleasing things,” adds Kelsey. “I use Pinterest to show people and expand my vision.” That practicality can apply to everyday tasks, as well. “My roommates and I pin cool recipes,” shares Kenyatta Giddings, a junior at the University of Texas at Austin. “Every weekend we choose one to recreate at home!”
How do you pin things?

The most valuable advice we can give you for successful Pinterest use is to install the aforementioned “Pin It” button on your bookmarks bar, which lets you add images from any website to one of your boards. There’s no need to worry about copyright infringement; Pinterest automatically keeps track of the source in order to credit the original owner of the image. You can either use the handy “Pin It” button as you browse, or go to the “Add+” tab at the top right-hand corner of Pinterest, which allows you to pin something from elsewhere, upload a pin from your desktop, or create a board. Note that you spend anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours pinning your face off, depending on your self-control and ability to not click on every pretty picture you see. It doesn’t help that the adjusting scroll bar allows you to scroll down virtually forever. If you finish pinning in less than 20 minutes, congratulations — you have the attention span of a goddess. But to the mere mortals out there, consider yourself warned.
How do you find fun people to follow?
Much like Twitter, Pinterest allows you to follow anyone from your favorite designer to your newest friend. After you first click on that magical invitation link and make a user name, you’re asked to choose whatever you like to browse most, from Food & Drink to Technology to Weddings — a system comparable to StumbleUpon’s initial list of interests.
But when it comes to choosing your first people to follow, Pinterest has a nifty little feature that does the dirty work for you: instead of coming up with your own people to follow, Pinterest chooses prominent figures in your selected categories and has you follow them automatically. After browsing a few of them, you’ll have an idea of what other people’s boards look like and the cool things they post, which will help you get started on your own boards and pins. “I follow people who I notice pin things that interest me,” says Indiana University sophomore Courtney Kabbes. “I’ve also searched the web for the ‘best pinners to follow.’ Once I found those accounts, I look at who they’re following. If they’re the ‘best,’ the boards they follow must be great, too!”

How can you get people to follow you?
Aside from the good old “follow me!” request to friends, Pinterest features a hash tag function similar to Twitter’s, which can help get your pins and boards on other users’ radars. “In order to get more followers, I hash tag the descriptions on my pins,” adds Courtney. You can also broaden your Pinterest span by pinning from other social networking sites, instead of just browsing within the site: “I try not to pin directly from Pinterest,” adds Courtney. “I’m constantly on Tumblr and other sites pinning from other places on the web. It introduces different pictures to the Pinterest ‘database’ and people always love seeing something different.” If getting followers matters to you, strategies like this one pay off: “I have almost 400 followers, and many of my pins have anywhere from 30 to 200 re-pins.” Impressive!

What themes should you use for boards?

When you first create your account, Pinterest suggests generic boards like “My Style” and “Favorite Places & Spaces,” but you can choose any theme your heart desires. Browse around Pinterest for a few minutes and you’ll see boards featuring a broad range of subjects: creative DIY ideas, slick cars, cute babies, witty memes, elaborate hairstyles, yummy recipes, and so much more. In fact, it’s not uncommon to come across a board labeled something to the effect of “Other Stuff,” to which a user pins miscellaneous images that were originally scattered across the Internet and that don’t fit under any one category. “I usually re-pin clothes,” says Ohio University junior Jessica Salerno, “but I also have boards for random posts, DIY, decorating, and hairstyles.” And while Pinterest has a well-deserved reputation for attracting images focused on design and retail, it can also be used for more abstract things. Chatham University freshman Mara Flanagan says, “I use [Pinterest] primarily to create boards full of happy, uplifting images, and ideas that spark my imagination and inspire my dreams.”

What you choose for boards is entirely up to you, so be creative and think outside the box. Be sure to check out cool formatting techniques like Mashable’s image slicing. And now that we’ve got you hooked on Pinterest, Her Campus has thought of some creative boards to help you get started:

  • Items on your bucket list
  • Sweet movie posters
  • Variations of your favorite recipe
  • Inspirational people, quotes and photos
  • Tips and tricks for a skill you’ve mastered or would like to learn
  • Whatever makes you feel nostalgic (e.g., summer camp, the 90’s)
  • Costume ideas
  • Vintage styles you love
  • A visual resume
  • Gifts you want to get or give

Happy pinning!

Photo sources:
Pinterest logo: http://blog.softwebsolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Pinterest1.jpg
Hairstyles: http://media-cache.pinterest.com/upload/22658804345212888_G0FynX8D.jpg
DIY paintbrush holder: http://www.crafthabit.com/
Pinterest boards: http://blondeonabudgetdotca.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/pinterest_boards.png
Been there, pinned that: http://www.simplifythis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/pinterest1.jpg