A beginner’s guide to using Pinterest

You have likely heard people obsess over Pinterest so you're curious about what it is and how to use it. If you've felt reluctant to ask for help, don't worry, we are here to clear up any confusion. (And rest assured, your secret is safe with us — we won't tell anyone you were here... probably).

Pinterest is a highly visual virtual pinboard site that lets you "pin" or collect images from the web. You create boards to help you categorise your images, and add descriptions to remind you of why you bookmarked them in the first place. ("This shade of yellow would look amazing in the hall," or "My nephew will love these headphones for his birthday.") Most of these images — or pins — link back to the original website they appeared on so you can easily access them later.

When people hear "Pinterest," they often associate it with recipes, wedding dresses, and braids (i.e. women: Some studies suggest that up to 80 per cent of Pinterest users are female).

It's true that many pinners use the site to glean inspiration in these areas, but the social site is also flooded with teachers, universities, designers, airlines, nonprofit organisations, businesses, and news outlets that have explored other ways to use Pinterest.

Ready to find out how Pinterest can work for you? Follow us as we walk you through getting started, step-by-step. And while you're here, you might also want to check out our Pinterest iPad app review.

Okay, on with the seven steps, starting with the obvious first move...

1. Join Pinterest

Visit pinterest.com and click Join Pinterest. It will ask you to join by connecting with Facebook or Twitter, but a third option lets you sign up using your email address.

To connect with Facebook, you need to give the app permission to access your basic info, email address, birthday, and likes. This lets the app post activity on your behalf, though you can decide whether or not your pins get reposted to Facebook. It automatically imports your Facebook photo; you can then create a username and password. Here you can uncheck (or leave ticked) two boxes: "Follow recommended friends" and "Publish activity to Facebook Timeline."

By connecting with Twitter, you're giving the app permission to read tweets from your timeline, see who you follow and follow new people, update your profile, and post tweets for you.

Not cool with these stipulations? Dive in on your own by signing up with just your email address. You'll be asked a few more questions such as your gender since that info isn't imported from an existing social media account. Upload a profile photo and proceed.

2. Follow some boards

Once you have an account, you'll need to find fascinating boards with which to fill your feed. Pinterest gets you started by suggesting some. Select a category from the list such as Design, Geek, Science & Nature, and Technology among others, and then check at least five boards to continue.

These boards are just to get you going. As you navigate the site you'll find other boards worth following. Keep in mind that most accounts have multiple boards, so if you follow an account you automatically follow all its boards. You can also follow specific boards, and can unfollow a board at any time without the account being notified.

3. Verify your account

After selecting some boards you'll receive an email confirmation.

Once you verify your account, the next screen you'll see is your home feed, which features the most recent pins from people you follow. The more users or boards you follow, the more content will turn over.

4. Adjust settings

Now is a good time to adjust your settings. Mouse over the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner with your picture and click Settings. Here you can update basic information, opt out of email notifications, and connect or disconnect your Facebook or Twitter account.

5. Create your own boards

You need to build boards in order to collect and organise items you're interested in. To do so, click Your Boards in the upper right-hand drop-down menu, then click Create a Board. A box will pop up asking you to name your board, add a description, and categorise it. If you need some ideas, popular board names include For the Home, Books Worth Reading, Favourite Places & Spaces, and Recipes. You may want to get more specific with boards like Gluten-Free Desserts, Home Office Designs, Birthday Gifts for the Kids, or iPhone Apps I Love... you get the idea.

Once you create a board you can pin items to it. By clicking Edit Board at the top you can also invite others to pin to your board, but you need to either follow the user or enter their associated email address to do so.

You also have the option to create a secret board. Whatever you pin to this board is only visible to you and those you invite to it; if you don't want to freak out a new boyfriend by pinning wedding dresses you love, or spoil your wife's birthday surprise by pinning gift ideas, flip this switch to make the board private.

6. Get pinning

Congratulations on making it this far, now you're ready to get pinning! You can peruse the pins of people you follow on your home feed (accessible by clicking the Pinterest logo at the top of the screen), or search more specifically by selecting a category from the drop-down menu in the upper left-hand corner of the screen next to the search bar. Speaking of the search bar, you can also find boards, pins, or pinners by entering a keyword there.

When you see an image you want to pin, simply hover over it and click the red Pin It button that appears in the upper left-hand corner. You'll be asked to choose one of your boards for it, and add a description. Clicking elsewhere on the image enlarges it.

There will likely come a time in your pinning career when you wish every image on the web — not just images on Pinterest — had a Pin It button. Well they do, sort of. Many sites have a Pin It widget on most of their pages to make it easy for you to pin content, but you can also install and use the Pin It bookmarklet in your own browser. (Chrome users can find the extension here and other browser users can grab it from Pinterest's Goodies page.) This allows you to pin an image or article from any external site, such as a delicious dish from that foodie blog you follow.

Lastly, you can upload your own pins. Say you have a picture of an awesome dinner you concocted or a great computer mod you built; visit the Your Pins page and click the plus button that says "Add a pin." Here you can upload your image, pick its board, and add a description. Others can then repin your image.

7. Get social

You're now officially part of the Pinterest party so it's time to make some friends. Follow more boards and build out your own to attract new followers. Get friendly by liking (click Like next to the Pin It button) and commenting on other pins. Have fun!

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