Pinterest is one of the hottest new social media sites on the scene today. Before you go happily "pinning" away, it’s important to be aware of the risks you may encounter if you choose to use this site in your real estate business.

In case you haven’t heard, Pinterest is a social media site where you create online bulletin boards of your favorite things. Pinterest relies on visuals rather than words. You can look at other users’ pinboards, share your pinboards with your friends, or do both.

To illustrate how Pinterest works, suppose you love to cook. You could pin pictures of the favorite foods you make, take pictures of the ingredients you buy at the farmers’ market, or pin pictures of foods from your favorite restaurants that you would like to recreate at home. You would them share these with your friends who like to cook and they could share their pinboards as well. 

Pinterest — social media’s new rising star

As Mashable puts it:

"Pinterest is social media’s rising star — and now has the traffic stats to prove it. The darling network of brides-to-be, fashionistas and budding bakers now beats YouTube, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace for percentage of total referral traffic in January (2012), according to a Shareaholic study."

Most of the people who use Pinterest love it. As one user described it, "Pinterest is all about the beautiful visuals in life." It’s a place to play and express your creativity.

How to begin using Pinterest

To begin using Pinterest, decide what you really love doing. Stay focused on those spaces rather than skipping from idea to idea. You can drag and drop the Pinterest tool for Chrome (Google’s browser) and when you see something you like online, all you have to do is to click it to add it to your pinboard. You can also follow other people’s pinboards and invite them to pin on your board as well.

Real estate marketing not welcome

Like other social media sites, most users resent someone who is marketing their real estate business on those sites. If you are going to use Pinterest, use it in a way that keeps in the spirit of the site — sharing what’s fun, interesting, and visually appealing. It’s about being social, not about marketing yourself.

For example, if you specialize in selling central city highrise loft condos, you could put together a number of pinboards that illustrate the lifestyle in that area. Some of your pinboards could be devoted to favorite foods, such as "most creative pizzas." Or you could take a ride on the bike trail, take pictures at the prettiest spots on the trail, and put them on your pinboards about the local lifestyle. Invite other Pinterest users to share their favorite images.

Pinning can be risky behavior

The challenge with working with Pinterest is that you may be copying someone else’s copyrighted work on your Pinboard. For example, if you pin a picture that is copyrighted by Getty Images, you may receive a demand letter for $1,000 or more for using their copyrighted photos without paying the licensing fees. Major photography sites now have software that crawls the web looking for photos that were used in violation of their copyrights. If you are going to use Pinterest, make sure you are using photos that you took yourself.

The real risk on Pinterest

Because email filters have become increasingly more effective and many people have shifted to the social media as their primary means of communication, spammers have turned to the social media sites as a way to push out their messages. This new generation of spam has been termed "social spam."

Olga Kharif, in an article on Bloomberg, outlined a disturbing new trend called "likejacking" that puts Pinterest and other social media users at risk. Here’s how "likejacking" works. The spammer sends you a message suggesting that you look at a video that somehow captures your interest. You have to "like" the video to see it.

On Pinterest, the spammer can take one of your pictures and when one of your friends "likes" it, the "like" triggers a porno clip or launches a computer virus that can rip off the victim’s private information.

According to Kharif’s article:

"Spammers create as many as 40 percent of the accounts on social-media sites, Risher (the CEO of Impermium, an antispam company) said. About 8 percent of messages sent via social pages are spam, approximately twice the volume six months ago." The looser the controls, the article said, "the more prevalent the fake accounts. While Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social network, has matured enough to spot and stop much of the attempted spam, younger entrants like Pinterest have yet to erect effective blockades."

Is Pinterest right for you?

You are the only one who can assess the risks of using this site. If someone posts a copyrighted photo to your board, you can be on the hook for copyright violation. Furthermore, given the explosion of "social spam" and "likejacking," there are real risks inherent in using Pinterest. But many of these same risks also exist on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

If you do decide to use Pinterest, make sure that your use of this site does nothing to put your clients at risk. Pinterest is a great place to have fun and be creative, but you also need to remain vigilant about the risks involved.

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