The world of social media is an increasingly fickle place, and no social media site has gotten more recent hype or questions than Pinterest. Promising signs: it has grown from 3.3 million users in October 2011 to 19 million users in March 2012; it is now the third largest social media network behind Facebook and Twitter, passing LinkedIn (86 million visits in March) with its 104 million visits the same month; in April, Forbes estimated the company was worth $7.7 billion. But recently, the media have started to use the word “bubble,” pointing to the slowed growth in March, and figures that show active users actually dropped off in April.

What this means is Pinterest is a brand-new phenomenon, and publishers, like everyone else, are still trying to figure out how to best utilize it. PW spoke with a number of publishers to see what they’ve done so far on the platform, and where they see their efforts going.

Given Pinterest’s visual interface and its demographics (the most common “pinners” are mothers, and some reports have women making up 68% of the total users), it’s no surprise that children’s publishers and publishers of highly illustrated titles like Chronicle Books are seeing strong results. Chronicle, which launched its account in August 2011, had by November seen Pinterest become the top referring site of traffic to—even more than Facebook.

In the children’s area, Sandee Roston, executive director of publicity at HarperCollins Children’s Books, said, “It allows us to become an authority on our books and we can aggregate the best in children’s books for an even broader audience.” She added: “There’s a big emphasis on two of our core demographics: moms and teens.” For Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, its first months on the site have been mostly devoted to picture books, executive publicity director Melanie Chang told PW. Scholastic, already a strong presence on Pinterest, found, upon starting an account, that some of its work had already been done by readers: “We noticed tons of people were already pinning Scholastic content—from Harry Potter to Hunger Games to Clifford, from fairs to clubs to teaching materials,” said Morgan Baden, director of social media and internal communications. “We are just now getting focused on creating seasonal and themed boards, including editor’s picks and upcoming releases.”

Indeed, many publishers have already found creative ways to tailor their presence around their catalogues and, more importantly, their brands. Boards for winged elephants, dolphins, and penguins can be found under the accounts of Overlook Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Penguin, respectively. “Now maybe you’ll see our dolphin board and see the dolphin on the spine of your new favorite novel and make some new connections,” said Hannah Harlow, HMH marketing manager. Graywolf Press has a board called “Spotted: Graywolf Books in the Wild,” which shows staff photos of Graywolf titles in stores and other places. Said Marisa Atkinson, Graywolf’s marketing and publicity associate, “It’s one more way to put our books on people’s radar, and it’s fun and frivolous. It’s a great way to engage with our readers and build community.”

The benefits of Pinterest and other social media like Twitter overlap in delivering a pithy message that contributes to the conversation, rather than simply pushing products on the audience. “It’s not all about promotion,” said Dana Trombley, Grand Central Publishing’s senior digital publicist. “We make our site Internet-friendly—it’s what makes Pinterest interesting. It’s fun and it’s not jamming promotions down anybody’s throat.” In addition to GCP cookbooks, Trombley noted that Pinterest is “fantastic for Forever Romance, which features an emphasis on imagery that women will like, in particular shirtless cowboys and I Would Read Here (cool places to read).”

In the same way that Forever Romance has boards based on themes (paranormal romance, historical romance),’s Pinterest has boards based on crafts (knitting, beading, quilting), and it’s placing the interest, not the company, front and center. Adam Salomone of Harvard Common Press echoed the point: “It’s not just promotion; it’s building a relationship with readers and the ability to point out the good stuff. It’s quality aggregation.” Harvard Common has a large number of authors whose blogs, Salomone said, receive traffic through Pinterest. “It’s useful to find stories and images to play off their titles,” he said.

Most of the publishers who spoke with PW all conceded that they were still experimenting with Pinterest. Jessica Chaput, senior manager, online marketing at Simon & Schuster, said the house is still trying to understand which “pins” receive the most re-pins and likes, as well as those that are the most effective at driving awareness for their titles and authors. Additionally, S&S is experimenting with joining its Pinterest account with its other online presences, including hashtags for Twitter and pins originating from Tips on Life and Love and Tips, its lifestyle blogs. Though most publishers don’t boast gaudy “followers” numbers, Harvard Common’s Salomone believes that’s not as important as joining the growing online conversation. “Followers are not a big deal,” he said. “Re-pinning and aggregating news is more important, and Pinterest is great for getting that attention. It gets people engaged and helps us be thought leaders.”

Two Pinterest Pioneers

Chronicle Scholastic
Boards 21 11
Pins 746 1335
Likes 266 65
Followers 4776 2618
Most Popular Board "Books We Love" "Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life."