Together, Lindsey Fowler, Brittany Rhodes and Sarah Walsh represent two sororities, three Ohio hometowns and an enormous social network at The University of Akron.

All three are active Facebookers and Twitterers, but lately, they’ve found a new way to share that hardly requires words.

“Sarah’s sister showed us her Pinterest wedding, and I was like, ‘this is so awesome!’,” Fowler said. “I use it for recipes. I look up stuff I’d use for my sorority – crafts and DIY projects, t-shirts, et cetera. I also look at hairstyles. And my wedding is planned on Pinterest.”

An entire day on Pinterest is possible, Fowler said, because the site only asks you to find pictures and share them.

Users can create their own pins, but most don’t. They just organize them into “boards” by interest – Fowler’s include “yummy deliciousness,” which she fills with food pictures (most have recipes as captions), and “Future Home,” with pins of stools, staircases, beds and decorations.

And it’s not just for students. One marketing website estimates that 1.5 million people use Pinterest for about 15 minutes every day.

Last week, Smoyz advertising agency CEO Yael Linen-Zuchman debuted a Kotex ad based entirely on Pinterest.

“I basically fell in love” when she discovered the site, Linen-Zuchman said. “It reminded me of interest boards I used to make as a child.”

Julie Delello, an Assistant Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Texas at Tyler, even uses Pinterest in her classroom to help students learn how to design lessons.

“The students collaborate on the pins and provide feedback to one another on the ideas, working together to adjust the pins and boards as needed,” Delello said. “Although it was a little daunting for some of my older students, once they jumped in, they loved it! I actually see the lesson plans turned in for assessment referencing items that had been previously posted and discussed on the site.”

But the same easy picture sharing attracts scammers, too.

“People seem pretty interested and pretty engaged, and a lot of positive understanding is going on there,” said Cameron Camp, a security researcher at software company ESET. “It grew so fast that the scammers start to take notice.”

These scams aren’t particularly malicious, Camp said.

They usually come disguised as pins of Starbucks coupons, free devices and even Disneyland passes. Pinterest users see them in a search or on a friend’s page, click, and the pin prompts them to repin it to obtain the promised reward.

But after repining, the would-be coupons guide users through surveys and send their personal information to advertisers.

“They’re pretty traditional – ‘Win an iPad! Click on this’ – and when you click on ‘this’ you’re a victim to endless surveys. You’re not going to get the free iPad. You’re just going to take the surveys, and scammers monetize that.”

Rhodes said she’s never felt unsafe on Pinterest, particularly because the site doesn’t ask for personal information like her age or location.

But because she synched Pinterest with her Facebook account, Camp said scammers can use her friends to send misleading pins her way.

When Linen-Zuchman started Kotex’s advertising campaign, however, she targeted women with exstensive Facebook networks.

That way, when Kotex sent them personalized gifts and asked them to repin them, the brand would reach as many people as possible.

Plus, the gifts made much better images than tweets.

“I think the social revolution is going towards minimum effort from the consumer,” Linen-Zuchman said. “In the past the old platforms were all about writing and telling stories. Then mini blogs [like Facebook] arrived and we minimized the writing, then micro blogs [like Twitter] arrived and the writing went down to 140. And now there is Pinterest, with one pin you can say basically your whole story.”

“Instead of, ‘Hey! I have something to show you,’ it’s ‘Hey, look, there it is!’,” Rhodes added.

At the same time, the images that make Pinterest a worthwhile target for scammers also help both kids and adults learn.

“Although Pinterest is a picture board, it is more than just visual images. It’s a seed,” Delello said. “That idea will become a plan and then a classroom experience for children with all types of intelligences. The transfer of what was once just an image takes place in the education of a child.”

To protect their information, users should unlink Pinterest with other social networks.

If you won’t wear your Facebook profile on a t-shirt, don’t link to it, Camp advised.

But Linen-Zuchman wants people to remember that Pinterest isn’t our familiar news feed: Rhodes sends Fowler Mean Girls quotes to lighten a bad day.

“I don’t think ‘likes’ and ‘users’ are the goal,” Linen-Zuchman said. “The goal is creating intimate moments.”

Rosalie Murphy is a Spring 2012 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent. Learn more about her here.

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of USA TODAY.