You're Going To Have A Hard Time Spamming Pinterest

Chris CrumTechnology

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Spam has historically been a problem on Pinterest, but it's becoming less of one, according to the company. That's a good thing considering that it's now getting into monetization, and offering advertising options.

Have you noticed a significant decrease in spam on Pinterest? Let us know in the comments.

Pinterest shared some new stats on its spam fighting efforts as well as some information on new technology it's developing to "keep Pinners' accounts safe and secure."

"The Pinterest spam team (called the BlackOps team) has been developing unique technology to out-scale spammers called Stingray, a distributed stream processor and rule engine," a spokesperson for Pinterest tells WebProNews. "They've also added a strong integration test environment and comprehensive monitoring across the system over the last six months to speedily and easily detect problems."

Perhaps to show how seriously Pinterest is really taking spam fighting, they made a short film about it featuring a great deal of robot combat (including one with Wolverine claws, which are used to stab a spam robot through the face).

Seriously, who would take the time to make this if they weren't serious?

"We've made major gains in our operational strategy faster than ever before, and in just a few months," the spokesperson says. "We can dismantle entire attacks in milliseconds, whereas a year ago it would have taken hours to one day. Our system responds twice as fast to internal spam requests. The number of Pinners who click on spam has dropped in half (from few to even fewer). Our system's ability to successfully respond to bad behavior improved from 95 percent to 99.99 percent."

There have been plenty of articles written about spam on Pinterest over the years.

"Spammers set up bogus accounts, hundreds or thousands of them (though Pinterest tries to prevent this) using automated software and then 'follow' you in the hope you’ll follow them back, thereby seeing images of whatever it is they’re promoting," says one from ScamBusters.org. "They may also hack your account by discovering your password, either on Pinterest or elsewhere if you have used the same one on multiple sites, and post their images directly on your page."

A post on the Tailwind Blog a little over a year ago said, "Ever since it’s 2010 launch, Pinterest has been seen as an easy target by spammers. With help from spam-bots (which are sadly readily available for purchase online) spammers were able to pin thousands of fake links everyday. While spamming may seem pointless to most of us on the site, spammers can make serious cash for their efforts...Thanks to affiliate programs through sites likes Amazon, thousands of spammers flooded Pinterest, seeing it as a simple target for fast cash."

In early 2012, Pinterest had already begun cracking down on Amazon affiliate link pinning, and earlier this month, the company put a stop to links from other networks, upsetting some users who had been making money that way. Rival Keep saw this as an opportunity to attract some users by inviting them to pin their affiliate links on its service.

Pinterest's spam problem made a lot of headlines in 2012, particularly when The Daily Dot ran a story about a spammer that claimed to be making $1,000 a day using thousands of spambots. At the time of that article, Pinterest had only deleted one of them.

"Pinterest is by FAR the easiest social network to spam right now," the spammer said at the time, after noting that he had also spammed Facebook and Twitter. "Quite possibly the easiest ever to spam. It requires almost no work to get started and no money to invest. You just have to know how the system works and how you can fix it to your advantage."

"I started on Feb. 20, 2012. Pinterest used to use a script called Skimlinks," he explained. "What this did was when anything was pinned that had any type of affiliate link involved, Skimlinks would replace your affiliate tag with theirs. This caused a lot of bad press and outrage and they did away with it. That's when I saw the opportunity for easy money."

In case you're wondering why the spammer would reveal himself if he was so successful, he also told The Daily Dot that he had a stockpile of accounts waiting to be put to use once the ones he was using were deleted. He said that others were doing what he was doing, but not on the same scale.

The day after that story ran, a Pinterest spokesperson told Marketing Land, "As a growing service, Pinterest is not immune to challenges faced by sites across the web, including spam. However, it is a tremendous priority for us to quickly address them. Our engineers are actively working to manage issues as they arise and are revisiting the nature of public feeds on the site to make it harder for fake or harmful content to get into them."

A few months later, Kairay Media, which said, "While there are already existing anti-spam measures that Pinterest has implemented, it is still questionable whether these methods really catch most spammers’ activities or not," looked at some key differences between spambots and real users on Pinterest.

Most bots, it said, had neither followers nor followings on their Pinterest accounts, and when they followers, these were typically other spam bots. They would also often display suspect Twitter accounts, which also had neither followers nor followings. Sometimes they wouldn't even have tweets. The Pinterest accounts also would often not have descriptions on their profiles, and they would have generic board names and pins that don't match their boards.

In October of that year, Pinterest enabled users to block and report accounts.

To report a pin, simply click the flag icon after clicking to see the pin close up. Choose a reason for the report, and that's pretty much it. To report an actual user, go to the person's profile, click the gear menu, and then "Report". Again, choose the reason and confirm. You can also report comments with the flag icon that appears to the right.

To block a user, go to their profile, click the gear menu, click Report, and then click "Block".

In December of 2012, Pinterest began removing spammy accounts for good.

In 2013, Pinterest tightened up its guidlines on contests in order to prevent that kind of spam. Contests are okay if they're done right, but Pinterest doesn't allow those that: suggest Pinterest sponsors or endorses them; require people to pin from a selection; make people pin contest rules; run a sweepstakes where each pin, board, like or follow represents an entry; encourage spammy behavior like asking for comments; ask to vote with pins, boards or likes; or require a minimum number of pins.

"Even if your contest follows the rules, we encourage you to ask whether it’s the best experience for Pinners," wrote Pinterest's Kevin Knight in a blog post. "If you do decide to run a contest, make sure it complies with all our contest rules. And remember: contests are just a tactic and shouldn’t replace a long-term Pinterest strategy."

Contests are a common social media marketing tactic, though it's gotten harder to successfully execute these campaigns in some places. There are plenty of ways to legitimately use Pinterest for marketing. As the second leading driver of social media traffic referrals to websites (according to Shareaholic), it might even be foolish not to use it.

Optimizing for Pinterest's continuously improving Guided Search and utilizing Rich Pins would be good places to start.

“Guided Search allows for businesses and marketers to see what other topics or products people may be interested in,” long-time Pinterest marketer Vincent Ng told us in a recent interview. “For example, you may be in the business of selling wedding dresses, but you’re not too sure what dresses are popular. When you use Guided Search, it tells us that people are looking for princess wedding dresses, vintage wedding dresses, and lace wedding dresses and so much more. Now you can create boards and pins around those specific topics and keywords. You don’t have to guess what people want. Guided Search will tell you what people want.”

“Rich pins for a blogger is a must, because rich pins are a factor in search rankings for Pinterest," he said. "Pinterest prefers to show blog posts or pins that are rich pins. On top of that, rich pins also have more credibility and authority because rich pins for articles show off, in bold text, the title of the blog post article and the meta description when clicked through.”

He said he worked with one blog which saw traffic more than double two days after implementing Rich Pins.

For additional non-spammy Pinterest marketing ideas, I urge you to read that article. Also have a look at these considerations for Pinterest SEO. Just don't think you can go spamming Pinterest's search engine either.

Last month, Pinterest provided a look inside its Guided Search technology and into how it ranks its search guides. Spam detection is heavily factored into this.

Another helpful tip that marketers may want to keep in mind is that you'll want to avoid using shortened URLs on Pinterest. As Marekting Land reported a couple years ago, these aren't allowed.

"We want to be able to show users where a pin leads. Unfortunately,
 bit.ly/xyz doesn’t tell them much," Pinterest's Barry Schnitt told the publication. "We want to be able to offer users more relevant content from a site (and more distribution for the site) by suggesting other pins from a site. Again, we can do that for marketingland.com but not for bit.ly.
 Unfortunately, we’ve found that bad guys out there abuse redirects and URL shorteners to send people to malicious sites.”

The article does say that sites that have their own branded short URLs can submit a request to be whitelisted.

Last week, Pinterest released some new guidance on what works best for businesses when it comes to pins and boards. The company performed three studies, analyzing over 100,000 pins to see how differences in things like background and text affect clicks and repins. The main takeaways Pinterest highlighted are that great pins are “helpful,” “beautiful,” and/or “tasteful”.

The following videos elaborate, and are little more helpful than that:

We summed those up here if you don't feel like sitting through them. Also check out Pinterest's guide to making great pins here.

Spam is an ongoing problem for Pinterest. Eight months ago, Pinterest spam was in the headlines again as the social network had been hacked, with large numbers of accounts "spewing weight loss-related messages," as TheNextWeb reported.

A spokesperson told that publication, "The security of Pinners is a top priority. We were alerted to some instances of spam and responded by immediately placing impacted accounts in safe mode, and reaching out to Pinners as we solved the issue. We’re constantly working on ways to keep Pinners safe through reactive and proactive steps, as well as educating them on the importance of using complex and unique passwords."

Hopefully Pinterest's new "Stingray" system is as efficient as the robots in its short film.

"Stingray is a distributed stream processor and rule engine that enables us to react to known malicious behavior in milliseconds," explains Marty Weiner from Pinterest's BlackOps spam-fighting team. "We can even pre-empt attacks if they match signatures along hundreds of different dimensions and stop the attack before it starts. Because we architected Stingray with certain fundamental distributed systems guarantees, we’ll soon be able to write a rule and easily apply it in the past completely annihilating an attack and the mess it leaves."

Pinterest is also apparently looking to hire in its BlackOps unit, so it appears this will be a continued area of focus. As the company looks to bring on more advertisers and prepares to launch a rumored "Buy" button, that's certainly a good thing.

Has Pinterest's spam problem noticeably improved? Tell us what you think.

Images via Pinterest

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.