Pinterested? 09 February 2012

“So it’s basically Tumblr with categories?”

“Well, no, not exactly.”

Just when I thought I couldn’t handle one more social media outlet, my roommate introduced me to Pinterest. Beta launched in March 2010, Pinterest is a social media platform that is unique in its use of ‘boards’ and posts that are exclusively images (‘pins’). Each category/board is where the owner and his or her friends can draw and share inspiration from organized pins – a virtual scrapbook if you will.

After signing up (or ‘requesting an invite’ rather), I began pinning to various boards and getting used to the vertical layout and unique arrangement of images. Within seconds, other users I didn’t know began ‘repinning,’ commenting, and following my pins. I was startled by the quantity and immediacy of the responses. It turns out the site reached 1.7 million unique monthly visitors last month, making it the fastest independent American site to cross the 10 million mark. This rapid growth yielded a shocking 329% increase in unique visitors from September to December 2011.

Apart from the number of users, what really caught my attention was the clearly intentional feminine influence Pinterest was channeling. Everything from the recommended board categories (weddings, style, decor, fitness, etc.) to the design of the Pinterest logo suggest the site’s main demographic. In fact, Pinterest’s explosive popularity isn’t attributed to East or West Coasters, but rather by women ages 18 to 34 from middle America like Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Mississippi – 59% of all Pinterest users are women between the ages of 25 and 44. There are so few men on Pinterest that ‘men-friendly’ Pinterest alternatives like Gentlemint were created and solidified the dichotomy of the sexes.

So how else can Pinterest be used if you’re not an engaged Minnesotan woman who enjoys pictures of puppies dressed like humans and Ryan Gosling? Many brands are exploring the possibilities of this new social media outlet and have been quite successful. Whole Foods, Martha Stewart, Real Simple, Bergdorf Goodmans, the Today Show, and the Travel Channel have all warranted very positive responses by engaging other Pinterest users through a broad variety of pins as well as frequent repinning.

A brand can use Pinterest like any other user by giving their community and customer-base an idea of its personality while also promoting new products. Pinterest essentially creates a new way for brands to communicate with current and potential customers, making brands more accessible and placing customers more in control.

And it only gets better. Unlike most tech startups, Pinterest is making money. Lots of it. The site uses a third party service called Skimlinks that modifies the link with a special tracking code and when a purchase is made from an initial Pinterest click, revenue is sent to Pinterest. Combine this strategy with their main demographic of high-income young adult women and you’ve got an unstoppable make-it-rain machine.

But, as I mentioned before, Pinterest is not for everyone. Apart from the fairly positive response to Pinterest, it has some shortcomings that should be addressed in order to maintain growth and expansion to new users. For example, many brands are not visual. What about service-based businesses? And even if there was a way to get tech brands involved, having Pinterest users follow a brand rather than just simply “repinning” something is a problem in itself. It’s almost as if Pinterest is too visual to the point where the people doing the pinning are out of the spotlight therefore creating a major dilemma for a social media platform.

After being on the site for about a month now, I’ve realized that Pinterest is less social media, and more blog-like. Blogging is a form of social media, yes, but interactions between authors and readers are less frequent on a blog than say on Facebook. Every time I pin an image, I feel as if I’ve sent this pin into the internet universe instead of sharing and interacting with my friends (especially my guy friends) and peers on a new and exciting level. My Pinterest homepage is just a hodge-podge of images from people I’m not all that familiar with and a seemingly endless scroll to find something I’d actually like to repin or comment on.

In the end, Pinterest is young and has great potential. It does great with a specific demographic, but such a concentrated audience can prove to be a hindrance for a social media platform. Its growth spurt will eventually plateau and when it does, we’ll all be waiting to see what’s next.