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The Pinterest security potholes that may derail your marketing strategy

The Pinterest security potholes that may derail your marketing strategy

By Andrew Conway, Cloudmark

As the new kid on the social media block, Pinterest is creating buzz among tech-savvy consumers that want access to digital content around the clock. With an offering very much different to Facebook and Twitter, the social media platform has attracted global attention, prompting marketers to explore ways to integrate this new platform into their marketing strategy.

However, before jumping onto the Pinterest bandwagon marketers need to be aware that, like all social networking sites, there are security implications that need to be acknowledged. Using social media sites without recognising the potential pitfalls could be damaging to the end user’s perception of the brand, and ultimately, its bottom line if not managed correctly.

From pint-sized to prodigious

Since its launch in March 2010, Pinterest has experienced phenomenal growth. In August 2011, Time magazine listed Pinterest in its “50 best websites of 2011”. By January 2012 comScore reported the site had attracted a whopping 11.7 million unique users, making it the fastest site in history to break through the ten million unique visitor mark. However, despite successfully “connecting everyone in the world”, as per Pinterest’s mission statement, not all of the attention the website has attracted has been welcome.

Pinpointing the problem

The popularity of social networking sites such as Pinterest has grown rapidly in recent years and, in response, so has the marketer’s incorporation of social media into communications strategies. However, as soon as any social networking site becomes popular, someone somewhere starts wondering how they can monetise that traffic for personal gain – and some of these individuals do not feel constrained by ethics or even the law. This raises pertinent questions for marketers. Allowing messaging abuse to proliferate on a brand’s pin board will have negative repercussions for the reputations of both the brand and the platform, as users begin to lose trust in the security of the channel.

Social networking scams are not new, and the more users these sites attract, the more attractive they become to cyber criminals.  Tools for spamming social media sites have existed for some time now, and as a true testament to Pinterest’s success, one tailored specifically to the site is now readily available to the so-called ‘black hat’ marketing communities for a few hundred dollars.  The software allows anyone to set up a farm of Pinterest accounts that can then be used to conduct messaging abuse.

Scammers are now adopting increasingly sophisticated methods of attack, often using legitimate links and logos to fool the consumer. When it comes to Pinterest, allowing links to be posted can encourage users to inadvertently visit malicious and inappropriate sites. The affiliate program has also come under fire, with attackers using the Pinterest spam tools to target the site to make money. Despite this being against the Amazon terms of service, there has been much discussion on forums on how to circumvent this. However, any marketer with an affiliate programme may have their reputation damaged by a spammer trying to make money out of them in this very same way.

It’s important for marketers to differentiate their legitimate customer engagement from the scammer’s efforts. Setting up terms and conditions, codes of conduct or rules of engagement on the brand’s pinboard will enable consumers to more effectively identify the validity of the brand’s presence on Pinterest.  

Packing a punch with Pinterest

The potential for scammers to monopolise social networking sites such as Pinterest is growing, but the good news is that all of these attacks can be defeated. eBay allows the posting of third party images, HTML and flash animations in listings, but devotes substantial technical resources to scanning and monitoring all postings, so that click fraud, malware and phishing attacks are not a significant problem for eBay shoppers.  With Pinterest in its infancy, only time will tell if the site moderators will invest the same level of attention and resourcing to fighting the inevitable spam battle.  

If consumers choose to interact with their favourite brands on Pinterest, then marketers need to be vigilant about monitoring all content shared and re-pinned across the platform.  If a brand’s Pinterest board is compromised, then the onus is on the marketer to ensure that issues are communicated to customers in a prompt and honest manner.  If attacks are not controlled, legitimate users will be discouraged from engaging with the brand, therefore damaging loyalty and reputation. Upholding best practice on these sites and addressing any issues that arise will be the best way for marketers to pack a punch with Pinterest.

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