RIP Pin It To Win It: A Practical Guide To Pinterest’s Contest Requirements

PitwitombstonePin It To Win It contests are dead.  At least in the format most people are used to.  In a way, they can continue by eliminating just one word–the second “It.”  If you want to know why, this guide should help you understand.

This all came about when a well-respected blogger and marketer, Amy Bair of Resourceful Mommy, received notice that the Pinning Parties she held for various clients were violating Pinterest’s terms.  I had the opportunity to speak with Amy in the midst of some back and forth with her and Pinterest and I’m glad to see some additional guidance come from Pinterest in terms of emphasizing the rules they have put in place and how they will enforce them.  Here’s Pinterest’s latest blog post on the subject and their Acceptable Use Policy which contains the contest restrictions.  I’ve prepared this guide to give some additional practical guidance, similar to the Facebook guide a few weeks back.  As always, don’t forget about my important disclaimer to the side and be sure to check with your own attorney for specific applications to your business/brand/whatever.

Before getting into the practical aspects of the Pinterest rules, it’s helpful to go over the Social Media Marketing Prime Directive.  At least, that’s what I call it because SMMPD sounds funny.  It’s something that my friend Jim Dudukovich (a marketing attorney at a very well-known brand) likes to say a lot: “Social media was not made for marketers.”  His other favorite saying, “My Vespa is broken” is also good, but less applicable.  Social media sites need marketers to survive (mostly in terms of the advertising revenue they bring in) but the sites are made for the users, not the marketers.  So when a platform is making rules about marketers they are usually doing so with the user in mind, not the marketer.  That can, quite frankly, make the marketer’s job harder in how things change and evolve, but ultimately it should help by keeping users on the platform that marketers want to use.

Keeping that Prime Directive in mind, along with Pinterest’s stated purpose of being about their users’ inspiration, let’s take a look at their contest rules.  These are the things that you cannot do for a contest on Pinterest:

Suggest that Pinterest sponsors or endorses you or the promotion

Not mentioning these things is something obvious to larger marketing organizations but a good point for smaller groups to understand.  Sponsorship brings certain legal liabilities and endorsement carries some legal and disclosure requirements–none of which a platform like Pinterest wants.  You can run a contest on Pinterest, just don’t say that the contest is brought to you by Pinterest or Pinterest loves this contest (even if they secretly do).

Require people to pin from a selection

This is a big one and what effectively kills Pin It To Win It (PITWI) contests as we know them (they’ll evolve, read on).  The traditional PITWI contest asks you to pin an item from a web site or section of a web site and then they will have one user win something they pinned–one item or an entire collection, whatever.  This kind of contest is no longer allowed because contests cannot limit where users pin from.  You can have them pin on a topic, but not from a particular site or only items of a particular brand.

What remains unsaid is whether you can require a single pin for contestants from a collection as part of the overall entry.  I know many contests do this as a way of tracking users entering the contest but that arguably violates this requirement and may best be avoided.

This rule will probably make many brands less interested in doing PITWI contests since they can no longer have users showing what brand items the users like best–instead the users may select items from competing brands or things not related to the brand at all (note that the rule says “selection” and not “web site”–to me that means you can’t even restrict pins to a particular product or line but allow pins to come from multiple sources and any potential subject).

Since brands running PITWI contests typically want the It to be an item they make, this limitation just isn’t possible anymore.  If someone wants to enter your contest without pinning your item, you have to let them.  And since they can’t win a zero prize (without a brand appearing heartless at best) you’ll likely have to set up some alternate prize if you can’t give them what they pinned so the winner still receives something.  For example, I could see a kitchen store running a PITW (notice the dropped final I) contest where users pin their favorite kitchen things–recipes, gadgets, design, etc.  When the winner is selected perhaps the rules state the store can either choose to give the winner something they pinned (blender, etc.) or a gift card.  That seems to meet this requirement but possibly doesn’t have the same brand benefits as an old PITWI contest.  Which, according to the Prime Directive, is okay.

Make people pin your contest rules

This one seems to address a logistical rule that some contests put in place for two very good reasons.  First, contest rules don’t inspire people.  Unless you’re a social media law geek like me or a marketing law geek like Jim.  Since Pinterest is trying to makes pins be about inspiration, it makes sense to reduce pins that don’t inspire people.  And second, reducing those re-pinned rules cuts down on the spamminess (it’s a word because I say so) of a contest.  If you’re looking at a general Pinterest feed you don’t want to see a bunch of rules in between recipes, craft ideas, and other things designed to inspire you.

Run a sweepstakes where each pin, board, like or follow represents an entry

Again, this rule cuts down on the spamminess of a contest.  Keeping these activities authentic will help keep users on Pinterest, so it meets the Prime Directive too.

Encourage spammy behavior, such as asking participants to comment

First, please note that if spammy is a word then so is spamminess.  Case closed!  Also, this is a catch-all for what the previous two rules were already hinting at.  Here, Pinterest is even acknowledging that there may be some super clever marketers out there who come up with a way to run a contest that meets the letter of all these rules but still looks like spam when other users browse Pinterest.  That won’t cut it.  So you can be creative, but you’ll need to avoid spam.  Just like life.

Ask pinners to vote with pins, boards, or likes

Another spam-prevention rule but also a really good idea because objective voting to determine a winner always gets gamed.  And that makes people participating in your contest very unhappy.  Here it could be even worse because someone could create a million boards and that doesn’t help anyone.

Require a minimum number of pins

Less spam, less work for entrants.  Yes, it means someone could enter your contest with a single pin that potentially has nothing to do with the actual contest.  But that may also inspire marketers to do something a bit more creative than just having all the entrants put in a pool and a random winner is selected.  For example, nothing in this (or other rules) prevents you from having a contest where the board that provides the best inspiration to “The Greatest Gift I Could Give My Grandfather.”  Maybe the winning board has one pin, maybe it has 5 that tell a great story.  The marketer will need to figure out how that contest is judged and it will definitely require more work than a random drawing, but wouldn’t that get better entries and provide more inspiring content (a win for the brand and for Pinterest)?


Ultimately these changes may require marketers and brands to abandon some of the old ways of doing contest on Pinterest, but if they can adapt their plans or come up with new ways of running contests they may find a better way to engage Pinterest users and ultimately promote their brands within that population.  Just remember–spamminess is a word and it’s bad.




Filed under Consumer Protection, Pinterest, Social Content, Social Gaming, Social Marketing, Social Platforms, Terms and Conditions

3 responses to “RIP Pin It To Win It: A Practical Guide To Pinterest’s Contest Requirements

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Social Media Legal Concerns For 2014 (Plus A Bonus!) | SoMeLaw Thoughts

  2. Daniel Johnson

    I’m looking to run a contest where the contestants can win a product from my site, by simply repinning my; “contest pin” The contest pin will say “win a free ***”, but require them to go to my site to see the details of how to win. I’d do this since it sounds like I can no longer say re-pin this pin to enter contest. Is my understanding correct? Thanks for your input 🙂

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