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.
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.
Clicking through to the board showed I was listed as a follower.
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.)
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.
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”
And another user known simply as “Clay.”
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.