None of us need to be told that social media is a fast-moving world and the site du jour is a vivid example. Pinterest has come a long way in a very short space of time. Launched just two years ago and still in open beta status, Pinterest is already attracting more 1.9 million visitors a month in the UK, and more than seven million globally.
Pinterest is an image-sharing service, based around the design metaphor of a pinboard. Users ‘pin’ images of things they find interesting or products they like onto virtual pinboards with different themes. Despite its focus on visual imagery, Pinterest is closer to Twitter than Facebook in its approach to social networking: users ‘follow’ rather than friend others users to view their inboards, and can ‘repin’ pictures they like onto other people’s boards, just as Twitter users can ‘retweet’ other people’s witty remarks or insightful comments as they wish. Pinterest also supports Twitter-style hashtags.
One of the easiest ways to use Pinterest is as a product moodboard or shopping wishlist and the site certainly brims with pinboards devoted to such topics as home decor, hair and beauty and wedding planning, leading to a popular perception that the site is ‘for girls’. This may sound like a stereotype but in fact the analytics bear this out: a massive 83 per cent of the site’s users are female in the US. Interestingly, the gender split is reversed in the UK, with 56 per cent of users male. Of course, pinboards can be created on almost any visual topic.
Superficially the site resembles flickr in its focus on pictures but the resemblance ends there. Flickr is built to host and display large numbers of photographs and other images in virtual catalogues but these are, in the vast majority of cases, created by the user themselves. Jus its name implies, however, Pinterest by contrast is firmly focused on allowing users to pin and share images which have caught their interest around the web. And of course, many of these images will be subject to copyright. Major stock photography libraries such as Getty Images and iStock have already expressed concern about Pinterest users repining their images without permission, with the former known to be having discussions with Pinterest on the issue. Commentators have cast doubts on the legal status of copyrighted imagery on Pinterest, and it is an uncomfortable fact that site users run a theoretical risk of legal action by pinning such images.
Pinterest has now established a system allowing copyright holders to notify the site of copyright breaches and as recently as last month the site also introduced a HTML meta tag which will allows sites to prevent pinning. Flickr has already begun to offer this tag as an option to its users.
Social media sites almost invariably grow from the ground up: they are created to provide a compelling service for individuals and it is only when (and if) they begin to take off that commercial and business interests begin to explore the possibilities of the site. Thanks to recent explosive growth, Pinterest has now reached this stage, with a variety of firms beginning to slowly and cautiously establish a presence. These include US department stores Nordstrom and West Elm, international clothing retailer The Gap, and popular vintage and handmade e-commerce Etsy, which already has more than 50,000 followers on Pinterest.
Of course, the site’s focus on visuals limits Pinterest’s commercial potential. If you are a lawyer, accountant or sell car insurance, Pinterest is probably not the social networking site for you. But if compelling pictures can be attached to your product – or your client’s products – with some degree of relevance, then a presence on Pinterest could yield value. An attractive product photograph linked to your or your client’s site could easily be repinned by one or more of your followers. In turn their followers will see the photograph, and some may repin and display it to their followers, and so on. This is the online equivalent of that most valuable of all marketing commodities: word-of-mouth advertising. And anyone sufficiently interested in a photograph to repin it is also quite likely to click through to your site and may even make a purchase.
Pinterest is still in its early stages but is already pushing more traffic to commercial websites than LinkedIn, Google+ and Youtube combined, according to a report recently published by Shareaholic.
But Pinterest is not a shopping catalogue and the same rules unwritten rule applies to commercial use of Pinterest as to any other social network: don’t be too strident. Blow your own trumpet too loudly and your are likely to be ignored. Create a sense of community around your images. Repin images posted by your followers if they are relevant or of potential interest, even if they show products you do not sell. Give your followers more than a commercial reason to follow your pinboards.
And of course, don’t forget to make it easy for people to pin your images. Don’t rely on people to acquire the Pinterest ‘pin it’ java bookmarklet themselves – sprinkle ‘pin it’ buttons liberally across your site. They should be as ubiquitous as the familiar Facebook ‘like’ button. A range of Pinterest plugins are also now available for popular blogging platform WordPress.
What is the fundamental difference between Pinterest and other big fish in the social networking pond? On Facebook, Twitter, Quora and Google+ I think it is fair to say that words are fundamental. Yes, you can post pictures and videos but in most cases these only illustrate the words and ideas expressed. On Pinterest this equation is reversed: images are the fundamental semantics of the site. Descriptions and comments serve only to illustrate the pictures and provide them with meaning and context. The image is primary.