Is Pinterest Auto-Following Boards on Your Behalf?


Four years after launch, Pinterest is still as focused as ever on driving stronger user engagement, offering up new recipe search refinement options and even slipping their new “Recommended” pins into user’s news feeds. But is Pinterest pushing things a step further and deciding who you ought to follow based on your browsing history? It’s starting to look that way.

A few months back I started to notice an influx of content from boards I didn’t remember following. Mostly this content came from wedding boards. They were easy enough to write off considering my best friend was getting married and we were dealing with a wedding related client at the time. I assumed I’d followed boards without remembering and simply unfollowed them as I noticed content showing up in my feed.

Then I started to notice other types of content showing up. My feed suddenly had Paleo boards, despite the fact that I don’t follow a Paleo diet. It had bee keeping boards and caring for goat boards and other loosely related topics that I’d run searches for, but not actually followed. Once again, these boards were close enough to my interests that I could write it off, but not so close I remember following them. I ran a few searches to see if I could find anyone mentioning a new “auto-follow” feature on Pinterest, but nothing turned up.

Then, this morning, I finally caught it happening in real time.

I was working on a new Pinterest Webinar for Market Motive and was doing research on the Target/Popular Pinners pairings for their new spring product lines. In seeking out screen caps, I clicked on Target’s “Party with Pinners” board and then went on from there to visit the Pinterest account of Target collaborator Joy Cho.

Target is currently working with popular design blogger Joy Cho to design and launch a new Target party collection.

Not an hour later I went back into my account to snag another set of screen shots to showcase how Pinterest’s “related pins” feature works and immediately noticed a pin from Joy Cho showing up in my news feed.

Less than an hour after looking at her boards, I found myself "automatically" following two of Joy Cho's boards.

Clicking through to the board showed I was listed as a follower.

Rather than showing Joy Cho's recipes as "related posts," I discovered I was now following her recipe board.

I immediately clicked over to the profile page of Joy Cho’s account and noticed I was now following not one, but two of her boards. (Incidentally, the boards I was most likely to have followed based on my Pinterest activity.)

Visiting Joy Cho's profile page showed I was now following two of her boards.

Had it not been for the fact that these boards showed up in my account within an hour of my visiting her profile, I could have easily written it off to yet another “I don’t remember following that, but I must have” moment. (After all, I’d been having them for months.) The timing, however was too coincidental.

I took the post to Facebook to see if anyone else had noticed the same thing and the response was pretty consistent.

Several contacts within the online marketing and Pinterest marketing community confirmed they had also noticed this activity, but written it off.

Taking the conversation offline and digging deeper with Polymer Clay artist Katie Oskin, I found that she too had found concrete examples of accounts and boards she seemed to be following without ever making the selection herself.

Katie pointed to two different accounts that had shown up in her feeds without her actively following them.  Her accounts were for a Pinner named “Miranda Clay”

Oskin found herself following a user named Miranda Clay.

And another user known simply as “Clay.”

Oskin also found herself following a user named "Clay," whose content was a far cry from the polymer clay content she usually followed.

Keep in mind, Katie is a polymer CLAY artist. One who runs frequent searches on Pinterest for the word “clay.”

With a few more voices chiming in via email and private messaging, it seems like a pattern may be emerging. Ignitor Digital’s Carrie Hill pointed out that her “following” count seemed to be rising, even on the weeks she hadn’t chosen to follow anyone. Pole Position Marketing’s Kathy Boyle Gray is seeing similar issues with a large number of new accounts showing in her feeds as well.

With Pinterest’s current focus on increasing user engagement, helping pinners find new content and looking for the ties between search activity and interest, I’m not surprised to see them testing this. What DOES surprise me is that it wasn’t announced as a beta test or as “suggested” boards. Perhaps this is part of the promoted post/accounts test Pinterest is running with select advertisers right now, or perhaps it’s something else entirely. Either way, I question how well received it’s been and I question how users will feel if they ultimately learn that Pinterest HAS been following people on their behalf.

Jennifer Cario

Jennifer Cario has dedicated her career to creatively helping businesses and consumers connect in a way that positively impacts the bottom line. With over 20 years of industry experience, she has also written several books and developed social media training curriculum in use by hundreds of colleges, universities and enterprise companies around the world. Jen consistently develops fresh ideas and methods for communicating within the world of marketing.

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11 replies
  1. Dani
    Dani says:

    I noticed this a while back, too. It’s been driving me crazy. I also can’t stand how my Pinterest feed is not 95% “picked for you” pins and promoted pins. I miss the old Pinterest when user experience was important.

  2. Lydia
    Lydia says:

    I sort of understand it like you said it’s something you’d probably already followed but I think it’s invasion of our personal board. It’s changing something we were originally in charge of and I hate it!
    I noticed right away because I’m picky about who I follow and it happens all the time right now! I like or pin or look about healthy eating and now this one board is swarming my page. And that board is posting stuff I’d never want to see like crazy crash diets. If I wanted to look at random pins from people I’d go to the popular board or other boards.

  3. Emma
    Emma says:

    I logged onto my Pintrest this morning after a hiatus of a couple months, and I honestly thought I had accidentally logged onto someone else’s account.
    I use Pintrest for saving outfit ideas, some recipes, birthday and holiday wishlists- but largely for saving sites with information I use for historic research (I’m an academic librarian).
    Evidently, Pintrest has decided that I’m a married 30-something male with a small child who eats a Paelo diet. I’m a single 20-something vegan female. Nice job there, Pintrest.
    I’m very curious what made it think those boards had anything to do with me (maybe only men have an interest Roman history??). Epic fail.

  4. Ayan
    Ayan says:

    This is driving me nuts. Like I don’t want to see any recipes or makeup or tight bum exercises. Also not pics of sexy gay guys and bohemian energy burner crap. I assume I’m seeing all of this because of friends on pinterest. Like I’m not following their boards, these are just people I know on Facebook that decided to add me on pinterest and I felt obliged to follow suit. It seems like the algorithm assumes that you would have similar interests to your friends. I really really don’t (other than maybe being interested in after work drinks 😉

  5. Jennifer Cunningham
    Jennifer Cunningham says:

    I have also been a victim of this. I like suggestions, but I find it violating to force me to follow boards I’m not interested in. I get a lot of pins for baby care, which is ridiculous because I don’t have any babies. My children are older and I don’t plan on having more. It’s irritating. I wanted to stop this and went to the source of a pin and found I was magically following a lot of one person’s boards which I never picked to follow, subjects I wasn’t interested in.

  6. Tiana Smith
    Tiana Smith says:

    This has been happening to me lately and I HATE IT. I used to easily see all the pins I’d missed because there would only be a couple between each time of logging on. Now I log on and keep scrolling, and scrolling, and the new content never seems to stop. A week ago, I’d rarely have new content at all because that is how sparse I am with following. Now, every ten minutes, there’s enough stuff there to the point where I cannot get to the end of it. I’ve already had issues with Pinterest in the past, but this is really making it so I want to delete my account.

  7. Devera
    Devera says:

    I just noticed today a few pins that I asssumed were promoted, but when I looked I saw that they were boards for people that I was following when I KNOW I didn’t follow them. I’m going to have to tell my husband about this – it is really crossing the line.

  8. Anne
    Anne says:

    Pinterest had become evil, in my opinion. Same thing: boards I never followed, notifications I can’t turn off. The result is exact opposite of their goal. App is not on my home screen, and I spend less and less time on the app. Total anti-user idiocy.

  9. Graham Walker
    Graham Walker says:

    I have a virtually unused Pinterest page on which I have never followed anyone, yet today I see that I am ‘following’ 64 others! This is preposterous: not only do I have no interest at all in their content; not only do I consider it an invasion of my privacy for a robot to make decisions (as opposed to ‘suggestions’) on my behalf; but it must also grossly distort the ‘follower’ numbers of those other sites. As an example, Craft Candy (whoever that is) apparently has 1.7M followers, but how many of those are artificial, robot follows? Indeed, one must ask ‘Has Craft Candy paid Pinterest for followers?’ Does anyone know the answer?

  10. SocialSea
    SocialSea says:

    I was only following 138 people as of Oct. 1, suddenly I am following 999. Once my following reach 960, Pinterest decided I needed to following an extra 861 people. What the heck?


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