Is Pinterest Revealing Your Secrets for You?

Visual content-sharing social media site can give away your future plans

February 26, 2013, 6:52 PM

Feb. 27, 2013— -- It was lunchtime. I was checking my social media accounts, mindlessly munching on a piece of leftover pizza, when my Pinterest feed refreshed with two new pins from Megan Daniels, one of my friends from high school. She had added two photos of maternity outfits to a newly created board called "Future Daniels."

I messaged her. "I saw you had pinned maternity outfits [on Pinterest]," I wrote. "Are you pregnant?"

"Yes I am," she wrote back. "I'm due in August."

For those not familiar with Pinterest, it is a content-sharing tool that allows users to "pin" photos, videos, articles, graphics and other objects to their "pinboards." Think of it as pinning a photo or a magazine column found online to a virtual bulletin board. Pinterest was called the fastest-growing social media network on the Internet last year.

Users can create several boards to group similar themes together and name those boards as they like: "planning my wedding," "kitchen decor thoughts," "diet plans that work" -- pretty much anything. Pinterest users can follow each other's boards and receive updates when a person they are following has "pinned" something new.

So when a big change happens in your life, such as a new baby, chances are you are going to start searching the Internet for nursery decorating ideas, baby-proofing tips and maternity clothes. Regular Pinterest users, like Daniels, are going to "pin" what they like, sending their followers, like me, new updates.

There now seems to be a growing trend: Pinterest users quietly -- perhaps even accidentally -- revealing their pregnancies, engagements, style, vacations, kid's birthday party themes and other future plans through their pins, instead of the more traditional way of making one big announcement.

"Pinterest is based on what we would like to do in the future," said Beth Hayden, a social media consultant and the author of "Pinfluence: the Complete Guide to Marketing Your Business with Pinterest." "It's aspirational content -- stuff that we are aspiring to do -- and there is no other social media site like it."

While Facebook and Twitter are like message boards, Pinterest offers a more intimate view into a person's interests because it is so visual. It showcases, in photos, whether someone likes a yellow bathroom or a green one, whether they want a wedding dress covered in lace or satin or if they are having a boy or a girl.

Hayden said there is also a growing trend among people who want to share their interests visually because it's a faster way to communicate, which sets Pinterest apart from other social media sites.

"You do a quick glance at someone's board and you can really get a sense of who they are and what they are about," Hayden said. "[Pinterest is] all about your tastes and you are communicating all of that visually, which was not possible before. So you are getting a sense of someone's actual identity... and I think all of that is new."

When I talked to my friend Megan Daniels, a 26-year-old kindergarten teacher in Cambridge, Md., on the phone, she said she wasn't surprised that I realized she was pregnant from her Pinterest updates. She said other people had asked her about it too after seeing her new board.

"Once I started pinning two or three things at a time, I knew it was bound to happen," she said. "I tried to be sneaky about it, but it didn't work."

Daniels found out she was pregnant before Christmas, but said her husband Ryan told her not to put anything on Pinterest until they were a few weeks along because it would give away the pregnancy.

"I waited until we actually got the sonogram," she said. "As soon as I knew for sure, I was like, OK, I can pin stuff now because it's actually happening."

When Jennifer Gaines, a 32-year-old brand communications consultant in San Francisco, turned to Pinterest to help plan her upcoming nuptials, she said people started wishing her congratulations "almost immediately" after she added photos to a newly created board called "my wedding."

"I remember the first message I got from someone was the same day I created a wedding board," she said. "I went crazy looking for ideas... I probably spammed their feed."

Pinterest Spreads Users' Secrets

Gaines, who helps develop marketing initiatives for her fiance's start-up, Wishcast, said she started using Pinterest for work, but when she got engaged in December, she created a new board for herself to gather and share wedding ideas with family and friends in Texas. She said she was surprised when distant friends and former coworkers started messaging her on Pinterest.

"I expected people to find out about [the engagement] through Facebook because that's where you go to make announcements," Gaines said. "But on Pinterest, I actually started getting messages from people saying, 'I saw your wedding board, congratulations.' I got several messages like that."

Pinterest, which launched in 2010, is rapidly growing. The site had 30.2 million unique users in January, according to comScore -- up 158 percent from a year ago.

Pinterest added a "secret" board feature last November, allowing users to keep up to three boards hidden from all of their followers or only share them privately with select users. The secret board setting would allow Daniels and Gaines to keep their secrets concealed until they were ready to reveal the board publically by turning the setting off.

While Pinterest declined to release any statistics about its users or their habits, site spokeswoman Annie Ta said "wedding" and "baby shower" are among the most popular search terms on Pinterest.

"There is definitely is a trend of people using [Pinterest] to plan these important moments in their lives," Ta said. "We see people planning all sorts of things on Pinterest, from their meal that night to their vacation in a few months to their wedding in a year."

Ta said it is hard for Pinterest to know for sure if people are revealing their big announcements with newly created boards before they tell people the news, but she said the site can reveal what users are thinking.

"You can look at a board and it tells you a lot about yourself and a lot about your friends based on the images they collect," she said. "[For example,] someone starts pinning for their wedding and they start to realize all of the things that they are pinning are a certain color scheme."

That can come with consequences too. Jacqueline Klingebiel, a 29-year-old projects manager for Homefront Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications firm, jokingly said she developed a "love-hate" relationship with Pinterest when she started planning her wedding. While the site helped give her ideas, she said the pictures she found gave her "wedding envy." All of the do-it-yourself wedding projects she attempted added almost 30 percent to her wedding budget, she said, and an additional 300 hours of work.

"I would recommend any bride to not go on there," Klingebiel said, laughing. "You're looking at all these beautiful images, they look like dream, a perfect dream wedding ... [but] you have to remove yourself from the site and say, 'This is what in my budget is, this is what I can do and it is going to be OK if it doesn't look like these pictures.'"

Hayden said Pinterest has become so popular so fast because it is not as heavy and opinionated as other social media sites, like Facebook.

"It's where we share our dreams more so than any other site," she said. "So many things on Pinterest are positive and that is the reason, I think, it's so addictive... It's a wonderful, positive place to hang out."