Pinterest: The Art of Pinning
Peter is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Media & marketing guru Seth Godin likes to talk about how connecting with social media and web 2.0 is all about finding your tribe. We now are no longer restricted by geography when it comes to who we associate with and who we do business with. Instead of trying to mold oneself to the market in one’s physical proximity, we can now easily find an audience for whatever or whoever we already are, or choose to be.
Islands in the Stream
Traditional social media (too soon?) like Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Twitter represent users as a stream of stuff they choose to share, a reverse-chronological list of links, articles, photos and quotes. Of course users also have a profile with personal information, but that is a side note, an afterthought. The actual face one puts forward to the world is what one pushes out to the news feed. This is not to say that this is not interesting or compelling. It is. Nine hundred million people can’t be wrong. But the news feed acts as more of a real time recording, a documentation of a public conversation rather than a community. It’s called a “Timeline” for a reason. The news feed is a more or less a jumbled narrowcast of items, thoughts and ideas that we choose to show to our friends. We post things on Facebook and Twitter that we think other people are going to enjoy in passing, and those items quickly slip beneath the fold, most likely never to be seen again.
You are Not What You Tweet
By contrast, Pinterest allows people to gather and coalesce around shared interests, and to curate the things they love. People pin for themselves, not for others. They pin to please themselves, to gather around them the things that they feel represent who they are, what brings them joy, what they feel is worth collecting and preserving. When we post to Facebook and Twitter we are saying to the world “this is what I am doing now”, while on Pinterest we are telling the world “this is who I am”.
Facebook and Twitter are the online equivalent of a crowd-sourced news crawl. Pinterest is a collection of tiny, personal museums. But because it exists online in the digital world these museums are able to replicate themselves; splitting off into other tiny museums, galleries and exhibitions in millions of other locations, curated by millions of other passionate and engaged individuals.
Others then follow users and/or boards with whom they share an affinity and spread those things in the same way that people share events or observations on Facebook and Twitter.
A Woman’s Pintuition
Pinterest has exploded onto the scene; becoming the third most popular social media site in the world less than two years, with no sign of slowing down. Whereas Facebook and Twitter have experienced growing pains and have at times confounded some users who didn’t “get it” or see the benefit, people understand Pinterest on a gut level. Using Twitter requires some getting used to. If you tried to get your mother to use Twitter you’d have to do some training first. But people take to Pinterest like a duck to water. One look and you know exactly what it is, and what to do with it. The interface is the very definition of “intuitive”. It works because it doesn’t ask us to learn anything new, it simply provides us with the tools to do the things we already know and enjoy.
GM (NYSE: GM) famously pulled their ads from Facebook on the eve of the IPO. I will not be surprised if they are one of the first, or some car company for that matter, to sign up for whatever premium service Pinterest puts together.
This is exactly what makes Pinterest so powerful for online commerce. It is intuitive, on point, visual and social. It allows us to express ourselves while having fun while indulging our instinct to collect things. As children we instinctively collect, share and trade, whether it be stickers, toy cars or baseball cards. Every child keeps a box of their most prized trinkets hidden somewhere in their bedroom or buried in the back yard. It is no surprise that Pinterest appeals overwhelmingly to women. Pinterest is a virtual hope chest.
You’ve Faced Your Bed, now You Have to Sleep in it
Facebook’s failure to monetize the platform is a problem of its own making. From day one it was Facebook’s contention that advertising is not cool, and they have built their hoodied culture around this anti-establishment philosophy. Advertising on Facebook is like crashing a keg party and standing on the table and asking everyone in the room to stop talking and buy something from you. So not cool, bro. So it should not be a surprise to anyone that Facebook’s attempts to pivot on advertising have fallen flat. Facebook is a hacker culture; advertising is not in their DNA. Advertising is for frat boys.
Moreover they missed their opportunity to roll up a person’s interests into their identity by making pages separate entities to be managed with different streams and requiring yet more time to develop. Facebook is asking you, inherently, to act in a schizoid manner if you have something to sell or advocate. As opposed to building synergy between your personal and professional life, Facebook is telling you to keep them separate, man. Stop harshing on my buzz.
Don’t Ad … Multiply
But Facebook was right in their contention. The advertising age is indeed over. This is the age of conversation. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool available, and digital media has exponentially amplified its effectiveness. The challenge now is how to harness that power in clever ways and use it to generate conversions. Again, this makes Facebook’s separation of your conversations a stupid move. People buy things from people who are a part of their community, who they are proud to buy from. If they like you as a person they are more likely to support your business.
As Seth Godin says, “people don't believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them.” Pinterest is stocked to the rafters with products, from clothes, jewelry, furniture, homes, food and every other type of product imaginable, and people love it. People will spend all of their free time on Pinterest; neglecting family and friends to browse through endless rows of merchandise, pinning and re-pinning, gathering the stuff they covet onto collections called “boards”. And they are buying.
A Bizrate Insights survey found that 32% of online shoppers have made a purchase via some image-sharing site, Pinterest included. And they are spending more than twice as much as users coming from Facebook. The same report found an even higher rate of intent to purchase among Pinterest users. And this is just the beginning.
So it’s not that people don’t like to buy stuff. Quite the contrary, people can’t stop buying stuff. We have a global financial crisis based primarily of over-consumption of high time preference items to prove it. The difference is that people don’t want to be told what to buy. They don’t want to be sold, they want to be shown, preferably by someone they trust. Companies and brands need to stop trying to figure out how to trick people into listening to their sales pitch and start learning how to get people to make their pitch for them. Pinterest may have found the Holy Grail for doing exactly that.
The Search for Stuff
How do people find things they find worth pinning? The essence of the internet experience is still search. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) owns that part of the net and knows how to monetize it. They missed the boat with Google+ by trying to making Facebook inside of Gmail. Fail.
The Fusion Labs experiment from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) So.cl, has more promise than Google+ simply because it is organized around the very thing we use the web for the most….searching for information. So.cl takes people’s searches and puts a visual tag on it and send it out to the world. You nominate subjects you are interested in and can see what other people are saying about that subject. Integrate that with Pinterest and you have a direct funneling system for taking people’s searches and finding out who is interested in what you are selling, with absolutely nothing up front to make the user feel like he’s being sold something.
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