02 February 2012

Why You Should Care About Pinterest

My daughter and I have joined Pinterest. We’re not alone.

For me, Pinterest is a fast-growing social medium that knows how to build a community. My 13-year-old daughter was interested in what she had read about “pinning” things that piqued her interest like design, art, fashion, recipes and clothes. It looked like a perfect opportunity to do something together. So we created a joint account which you can see by clicking here.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest has been described as a social bookmarking site (a more user-friendly del.icio.us perhaps), a social photo sharing website, or, simply “like having all your favorite pages of magazines in one spot”. One of my tweeps says “it’s like getting a new magazine to peruse every day.” Pinterest says they are a “social catalog” or a “virtual pinboard”.

Like a real pinboard, it’s visual and instinctive. Pinterest asks its pinners to pin big images, with thoughtful descriptions, of “things you really love.” It’s obvious that people are following these guidelines, because the result is a visual feast. You instinctively go to those images you find most interesting, informative, entertaining or appealing. Our first image clicked? These baked shoestring garlic fries.

We also “liked” a book about social media content, a photo of Paris, my daughter’s favorite actress, a great dessert, ballet pictures, and that great currency of social media, cat photos. Looking back over our activity, I was surprised to see we had “liked” 42 different pins. It seemed like a lot for our first hour using Pinterest, far more than I “like” things on Facebook.

How will people use Pinterest?

In fact this personal experience teaches me something about Pinterest: It invites a lot more interaction because of all the options you see as soon as you arrive. Somehow it doesn’t come across as too cluttered. The things you like stand out easily. It’s also new every time you log on, so there are always new things to – as my friend put it – “peruse.”

Perusal of magazines and catalogs is the behavior Pinterest leverages. (My daughter has a file folder of all her clippings from catalogs and Martha Stewart magazines.) What’s new is that Pinterest gives you a place to store it all and to share it all.

The sharing part will be the subject of a future post because we haven’t followed anyone yet. Sharing will make Pinterest, like any social medium, strong. Witness the story of Kate, a North Carolina hairstylist.

Why does Pinterest matter to Marketing?

Inevitably, among the plethora of options is some content that represents a brand of some kind. We saw very little branded content, just things that people liked enough to pin for all to see. Some of those things can be bought, like this fashionable wristwatch. It’s not there for you to buy, however – it’s there for you to admire.

“Pin things you really love.” People are following that guideline, so Pinterest can show you the wisdom of crowds. When it comes to brands, people will only pin you, your product or your messages if they really love you, your product or your messages. Marketing was never a substitute for great products anyway and that goes double for social media. (Mashable recently ran a breathless headline about Pinterest driving retail traffic, but the evidence looked kind of thin to me. See for yourself.)

There is another factor to consider with Pinterest, one that I will call “catalogability”. That is, a brand will fit better with Pinterest if it already has or understands a catalog business. Brands like Etsy and Gap make sense on Pinterest because you might pin their products anyway. (We might caution Gap for selling a little too hard, however). Less intuitive examples – for me, anyway – are the Today Show, Chobani and Whole Foods.

There’s no telling where Pinterest will go from here, so I’m quite willing to be wrong about how people use it and how marketers infiltrate it. We can safely predict that word-of-mouth will drive Pinterest’s development. As those tens of millions of new users start connecting with one another, communities will form. Brands should proceed carefully, but at least get familiar with it.

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