Pinterest is Still Not for Photographers: Round 2

Pinterest is Still Not for Photographers: Round 2

Whew. People got riled up by my first post entitled “Hey Photographers! Pinterest is Not for You” and the feedback on the blog, Facebook and Twitter provided some great discussion points worth commenting on.

First and foremost, a small minority of people thought I was making a sexist statement. I wasn’t. I am not taking a sexist position about photography being a male pursuit, and that women only care about fluffy things. Some of my favorite photographers are women, half of our staff are women, and even my mom is a woman. Also: I like to wear scarves. Ok, now that that is out of the way…

  • I presented the gender skew because it matters in understanding the psychographic make-up of the audience (If this wasn’t relevant, we wouldn’t have Gentlemint)
  • The order in which I presented the stats wasn’t implying hierarchy, it was the order in which the information was presented by Google AdPlanner.
  • Explaining which categories are thriving on Pinterest helps to frame user intent.
  • I cannot competently comment on international usage. It’s very hard for us to see those analytics.

The thesis of my entry had nothing to do of whether a virtual pin board is a good idea or not. It had to do with whether Pinterest can act as a business tool to drive revenue for photographers. Why did I pick this aspect? Because retailers are driving revenue on Pinterest. They have found a way to monetize the pinning behavior of their audience to drive traffic and revenue. And savvy pinners have signed up with affiliate programs to make money from their pinning.

I completely agree with the commenters who stated:

  • It’s a great tool as a mood board.
  • It’s a great tool of self-expression that allows clients and potential clients to gain insight into your taste.
  • It seems to be popular with wedding photographers.
  • A few superstar photographers have benefitted immensely from it.
  • The service is nascent and evolving, and we cannot predict how it will be used in the future

A number of commenters pointed out the point isn’t to sell directly. That’s fine. I accept that point of view. If that’s the case, we need to recognize Pinterest as a “top of the funnel” tool that is designed lead generation mechanism. You’re not necessarily collecting emails off the thing, but you are creating visibility for your business via pins, repins, likes and follows. It’s great to have a big sales funnel, and we should always be working on widening the top of the funnel. But if you’re not continually improving your conversion in the middle and bottom of the funnel, then you aren’t building new clients.

  • If you’re getting lots of repins, but people are only using your images for “inspiration” (and not hiring you), then it has dubious business value.
  • If you’re getting referral traffic, but that’s not translating into bookings or sales, then it has dubious business value.

It’s not good enough to measure your business simply by saying I have 5,000 hits, 1000 Facebook Likes, 800 Twitter followers, and 560 repins. Those are just statistics. It doesn’t represent qualified traffic. Unless you are tracking conversion of those statistics into paying clients, you’re giving yourself a false sense of security over the real metrics that drive your business. If you’re using it as a post-sale tool (e.g. the client hired you, and now you’re both pinning ideas for a shoot), then you’re using Pinterest in a way that is in support of, but not creating new business. Don’t tell me that “but it’s raising awareness and one day it’ll pay off.” Show me the numbers that substantiate that claim.

Pinterest for Wedding Photographers
Jessica D’Onofrio, a Dallas-based fashion, lifestyle and wedding photographer e-mailed me to explain how she was using the service. She has been using Pinterest as a way to collect inspiration for brides after they’ve hired her. But, because the brides have followers themselves, the pinboard has become a source of additional leads for her business.

“I create a pinboard that I invite said client to join where she can pin her inspiration for a shoot, or for the wedding day…all of her Facebook girlfriends sign up and ‘follow’ her board (in essence also following me.) While not my original intent, I HAVE received solid leads from this. And perhaps the fact it was not the original intent is why it worked…I think if they just post a big display of their personal images and expect the rest of the work to be done by repins, they’re missing the point. It needs to be something they’re using in an interactive format that includes participation from brides, friends, and other like minded demographics. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.”

If every wedding client who uses Pinterest leads to another client, then I would say this is a highly productive ROI (return on investment). It doesn’t require her to change what she’s doing because she’s already using Pinterest as an customer engagement tool. And if the network effect leads to 5 leads, and 20% convert into clients (I’m making some big assumptions based on word of mouth referrals), then it’s a huge win, and a major step in the right direction in using Pinterest for the business of photography.

We spend a lot of time trying to help photographers understand how to use emerging technologies to improve their business, and we also spend a lot of time educating photographers on business concepts that we use to grow our own business. One of the benefits of running a website service used by so many photographers is that we can see website analytics in aggregate. So I know definitively that Facebook and Stumbleupon drive significantly more traffic than Twitter and Pinterest. I also know that the sales conversion through Facebook is much higher than Pinterest across all the PhotoShelter websites.

When people respond with “Trey Ratcliff gets 15% of his traffic from Pinterest,” I feel really happy for him. But he’s an outlier. He’s a very successful photographer who has a large online following. He’s also a master marketer. You are not Trey or Jasmine Starr. Your audience isn’t other photographers. We’re trying to provide information that we think can be used by the 99%, which is likely you.

Nothing would make me happier than to find another great source of referral traffic that increases sales. So if you’re finding that Pinterest is driving jobs and sales, let us know like Jessica did. We’ll be more than happy to spread the word.


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Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 22 comments for this article
  1. Pauline A Yates at 6:16 am

    I would whole heartedly agree that Pinterest – while ideal for creating mood-boards, does not generate anywhere near the business interest of Facebook or Twitter (it has worked in my case). Even Linked In has provided me with more work than Pinterest.

    I keep a close eye on my analytics and adjust my targeting accordingly 🙂

  2. Steve Slater at 10:08 am

    Stumble, Reddit, Digg, Tumblr, Facebook, Google +1 etc etc
    The problem is sometimes you can spend so much time servicing all these sites that it takes over from what a photographer should be doing and that is taking photos.

  3. Ryan Ketterman at 10:17 am

    Nice post, Allen. I’ve had a friend that’s been trying to get me into Pinterest and I just can’t help but thinking at this point that I need another social site like a need another hole in my head. Thanks for doing the groundwork for the rest of us.

    By the way, my Mom is woman as well!

  4. Jennifer at 1:13 pm

    I completely agree with your perspective on Pinterest and thank you for sharing it! I have been struggling with the ROI of Pinterest ever since I joined, and just wasn’t seeing it. It was quite similar to how I feel about Twitter. I was feeling like I must be missing something. With all of the “peer pressure” for Twitter and now Pinterest, I was certain that I just wasn’t getting it. I have to say that your articles were so vindicating for me! I now feel I can use Pinterest for my own enjoyment and don’t have to stress about frequency, hits, ROI, etc. It’s just a fun way to have a repository of things I like. If people like (repin) the photography I post there, that’s just icing on the cake! I can now focus my energy where I intuitively felt it should be, on Facebook as my business social media outlet.

  5. monique sady at 3:02 pm

    I am a photographer and just started using Pinterest about a month ago. I have my own fun boards of things I like, but I also have a wedding specific board that I pin from my own blog only. My reason is not to get new leads, it is to hopefully improve all the SEO stuff ( I am not super techie, so I understand some things about it, but it is mostly a mystery to me)…. there was a comment on your original article asking about SEO, but I didn’t find a reply to it. If I am originally naming my files for my blog with the key words that are important to me, and in the Pinterest caption of the pin I put ” © Photography by Monique”, which links back to my website, and if clicking on the photo itself links back to my website, don’t all these links get crawled by google, and then help with my organic placement in a search for those terms? Am I wasting my time on Pinterest for this purpose, or is it working the way I think it is for SEO?

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 3:07 pm

      It *might* incrementally help with SEO — but the way SEO works is that it splits the SEO “juice” from the page and divides it into all the links on the page. The way Pinterest is set up, there are tons of products with tons of links — and Pinterest is a generalized site (i.e. it’s not specific to photography). So while I’m not saying that the Pinterest backlink is worthless, it’s not gonna carry much weight either.

  6. CyberGus at 2:47 pm

    Actually, neither Twitter or Facebook are for photographers. In the last 6 years all my clients came from having a Portfolio with the best work I can do (of course this changes every 6 months).

    So far, Twitter and Facebook can help me better to book models or know other artists and I appreciate that much more than you can imagine. But direct sales, not even in a fan page, where mostly you have only fans and no investors (yes you may want investors for artistic photography, not only plane sales or shootings).

    I think Pinterest can help you to discover artists (that may or may not be photographers or use photography as many mediums) and, as many other networks, getting money is not only about getting a transaction in there, you may need to take that to the analog world and keep going, as usual.

    The best SEO so far is in my portfolio, and before many of these social networks exist.

  7. shea swinford at 6:32 pm

    specialize….specialize ….specialize…..create a solid portfolio……build relationships……and this will keep you in business years to come over any social networking site for the 99% of us!!! however…..very curious of how many are pinning from my blog :)….started pinning yesterday with 11 years of experience in the biz….i am going back to what i love …..shooting relationship photography…

  8. Carolyn Potts at 12:48 pm

    Excellent analysis, Allen! Being “popular” is meaningless unless it’s tied to being “profitable.”

    As you said: “Unless you are tracking conversion of those statistics into paying clients, you’re giving yourself a false sense of security over the real metrics that drive your business.” Helping photographers distinguish between the levels of “signal and noise” within the various social media tools, is mission critical for helping photographers how get more business.

  9. Ryan at 2:47 am

    In the name of what works and what doesn’t with marketing.

    What’s the “generic” order of things:
    – word of mouth (free and very easy if you are good at what you do — photos and taking great care of your clients)
    – facebook (free, takes consistent time, and usually talking to the same people, no?)
    – blog ($$ for design and LOTS of time to keep up, and usually not talking to very many people at all)
    – twitter (yikes)

    Would love thoughts on this…

  10. Mike Jackson at 11:42 am

    The tech support people at Photoshelter gave me links to these blogs. I was looking for information about Pinterest and similar sites in regards to Photoshelter’s safeguards for our images on the site. Your blog is talking about whether to expect returns by joining Pinterest and whether the time is worth the effort. The information helps.

    But, here are a few nuts and bolts questions?
    1. Is it possible for someone to pin images from a Photoshelter hosted site?
    2. If so, how large is the largest image they can pin?
    3. If so, will it contain the watermark as seen on the page?

    And, if someone does pin an image from my site (assuming they don’t get access to the large version) is that really a bad thing? In most cases, doesn’t Pinterest link back to my site if they took the image from there? If my web address and copyright information is embedded in the photo, and the photo shows up all over the place after I copyright it, isn’t this a win for me?

    Right now, I added the code in the page headings to attempt to stop pinning, but if I read everything correctly, there are also codes and scripts that can be added to make it easier to pin images.

    This is all way to new to me. I’d like to hear more about how you’d suggest we protect ourselves initially and then any insights on how it might be useful. Your original two blogs indicate it might not be worth the time and energy to try to use it as a proactive sales tool, but maybe the pinners can do some of the work for us? Even if I never sold a print from someone posting it, am I damaged if my heavily watermarked web images show up around the world?

  11. David Taylor at 11:50 am

    Just to play (a bit) of devils advocate here…
    Allen, I’m in nearly full agreement. But we should remember that a services demographics can change as it becomes adopted by a higher percentage of the population. It stands to reason, that as more people start using Pinterest, more people will be outside that younger-middle aged female range. Perhaps the percentage will stay the same, but numbers (rather than percentages) are still key. More people being exposed to my images means more people that had never seen them before are getting exposed to them. Even if that generates a few additional print sales, that’s extra $ in the bank – and it all adds up.
    Furthermore – as a Photo Tour Guide in Alaska, it’s another cheap way of getting some second hand marketing done.

    As an aside – I don’t actually pin my own photos on Pinterest. I think it’s a really tacky way of marketing (but that’s just me). However, as I completely revamp my Facebook Fan Page (thank you PhotoShelter ebook!!!), I can see conducting contests for print give-aways that ask people to pin their favorite photos (from my site) on Pinterest as a way of generating a larger viewing base.

    While Pinterest may not be for photographers right now (the 99% of us, sorry Trey, you just got moved to the 1% club there some how), that’s not to say it won’t be in the future. And it does pay to be active on the ground floor before that surge.

    Just my 2 cents. 🙂

  12. Mandy at 4:58 pm

    I think Pinterest is an interesting social media platform and one I actually enjoy using.
    I think it’s great at seeing what I like in photographs, I think it’s great at getting my images exposed to more eyeballs, I think it’s great for inspiration!

    I think as photographers we may need to think of it more laterally if we want to use it as a marketing tool, instead of traditionally?

    And yes I am a woman, I am a photographer and I am in said age bracket – but I am definitely not into fluffy things?!

  13. Tami kauakea Winston at 3:54 pm


    You are so smart and articulate. Your contributions to the photography community are enormous. It is a pleasure to be associated with PhotoShelter and to feel back in the loop around photographers rights and interests. I have been a past president of ASMP for the Hawaii chapter, I have been a PACA member, been to NYC many times in the past for events. It seems now I can settle back here on O’ahu and keep my finger on the pulse of the industry. Your company is doing so many great things to promote and protect and educate! wowie…I’m tuned back in!

  14. Jeff Cruz at 3:30 pm

    Hi Allen,

    Great article. It definitely opens up a dialog about the viability of Pinterest in a business model. I sell fine art prints and I have been waiting patiently for a “pin” button add-on for galleries on Photoshelter. I asked if this was going to happen and I got a resounding, “not in the works” answer.

    Are the statistics you provided in respect to Pinterest vs. Facebook a fair comparison when Photoshelter galleries don’t even have a true “pin” button but do have a Facebook “like” button? Of course, if this has changed let me know. It has been a few months since I requested the “pin” button.


  15. Brian Tremblay at 12:47 pm

    Interestingly enough, since you write for the Photo Shelter blog, the latest e_book “What Do Buyers Want” states on page 12, under the section “Finding Talent Through Social Media” 24.8% of buyers surveyed said yes, they have found photographer talent on social media sites.

    31% said they found them on Pinterest – 2nd from Facebook at the top with 56%.

    What do you say to that?


  16. Travis Johansen - Minneapolis Wedding Photographer at 11:50 am

    I find it interesting when authors/speakers downplay the effects of social media saying (on one hand) you can gain lots of fans but it won’t do much for monetary gains… Then on the other hand, they say that social media only works if you have tons of fans – so since you aren’t the person with 20,000 Pinterest followers, you’re wasting your time.

    My perspective is that it’s all about building value for your followers. If what you do is valuable, which could be a blog/newsletter/facebook page/twitter/instagram/pinterest board/etc, and if you are able to grow organically, you will be positioning yourself for gain. Whether be direct or indirect, when an art director starts noticing your watermark on images popping up “seemingly all the time”, you are way more likely to get a call.

    Some people call it “creating your own luck”.


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  18. Dev at 8:58 am

    Hi Allen
    I have heard that having lots of traffic ups your Google ranking… wouldn’t it therefore be beneficial to having lots of followers etc? It would increase the chances of someone coming across your website when they seek the services you offer. Especially in a smaller market, or a location specific market. Therefore I believe it is beneficial. What are your views on this? Do you agree? Thanks for the cool article

  19. Jess Duckett at 5:54 pm

    This article was very useful to a photographer with limited time to spend on social media – I’ll keep in mind that there might be a use for Pinterest in the future or as a mood board for already booked clients, but I don’t feel the need to make a big investment of time cultivating a presence there.

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