Pinterest Clamps Down on Contests to Keep Them From Getting ‘Spammy’

Rules have been unclear and unfollowed, site admits

Just a few months after Facebook finally eased off its restrictive contest guidelines, Pinterest seems to be taking the opposite approach. In a recent round of policy revisions and clarifications, the network has greatly limited the scope of promotions that can be hosted by brands and bloggers.

In a blog post published Thursday, Pinterest marketing rep Kevin Knight laid out the many types of promotions that Pinterest isn't cool with. Specifically prohibited are promotions that:

• Suggest that Pinterest sponsors or endorses them or the promotion

• Require people to Pin from a selection (like a website or list of Pins)

• Make people Pin the contest rules

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

• Encourage spammy behavior, such as asking participants to comment

• Ask to vote with Pins, boards or likes

• Require a minimum number of Pins

Worth noting: Per these rules, a Pinterest contest can never have more than one entry per person, even if someone pins 100 items or engages with the contest every day for two weeks. Also, brands can't require contest participants to pin from a specific site or set of boards—a frequent tactic for helping spread branded content.

These updates come (probably not coincidentally) as Pinterest staffers have been in a lengthy email exchange with influential mom blogger Amy Lupold Bair, who had registered the trademark for the term "pinning party." When she attempted to enforce the trademark on other virtual party hosts, Pinterest's legal team told her to stop—and that her pinning parties for brand clients were in violation of their promotion guidelines anyway.

But when Lupold Bair asked for specifics on how a Pinterest promotion could or should be run, it soon became clear that the guidelines are complicated, poorly communicated (by Pinterest's own admission) and currently being observed by almost no one. When asked by Lupold Bair for a specific promotion that actually had followed the rules correctly, Pinterest policy chief Jud Hoffman acknowledged, "It's true that there aren't many examples of contests that follow our rules and encourage people to pin things that represent their authentic interests."

One upside of this week's discussions is that Pinterest has finally provided some relatively detailed explanation of its rules and reasoning. Sifting through Pinterest's lengthy responses to both myself and Lupold Bair, here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions:

Why restrict brands from allowing multiple contest entries?

"The distinction we're trying to make is between a contest where someone who creates ten boards would be entered ten times and one where the person is entered only once regardless of the number of boards she creates. We don't allow the ten board/ten entry example because we've found that people tend to create boards and pins that feel 'spammy' to their followers." —Pinterest policy director Jud Hoffman, in an email to blogger Amy Lupold Bair

What's been wrong with the way most Pinterest contests are run?

"Done well, they can be a trigger to help people think about the cool things you're doing. But they can also motivate people to add Pins they aren’t truly interested in, which is why Pins from contests can often feel irrelevant and even spammy. We don't want people to feel like they have to Pin things they don't like because it will help them win something." —Annie Tan, Pinterest Corporate Communications, in an email to Adweek.

What would a legitimate Pinterest contest look like?

"You can imagine a contest sponsored by a canned food company that asks people to create a board representing their ideal Thanksgiving meal, with the winner getting all of the ingredients to prepare that meal. As long as they don't require pinning one of their products or from a selection of pins, that contest would be fine. People would be free to put together a board that really represents their tastes and the pinner would have a chance at a great prize sponsored by the food company." —Hoffman, in an email to Lupold Bair

Will Pinterest be enforcing these rules across the board?

Depends on who you ask:

"If we see contests like the ones you seem to be helping to organize, we will stop them and also let the contest sponsor know. Seems like a situation we all would want to avoid." —Anthony Falzone, deputy general counsel for Pinterest, in an email to Lupold Bair.

"We're a small team, so unfortunately we're not able to reach everyone running contests that break our rules. Please know that we're not asking that you alone follow them. We try hard to reach out to contest sponsors as soon as we discover they are violating our rules to ask that they correct them going forward." —Hoffman, in an email to Lupold Bair.

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