Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What makes Pinterest so (P)interesting?

A screenshot of my travel board on Pinterest. This is a picture
I took inside the Agra Fort in India.
I never like to make grand assertions about the success of a new social networking site. Truth be told, I’m simply not clairvoyant enough. (Ever seen that ‘I am not a clever man’ meme? I have given some serious thought to starting an ‘I am not a clever woman’ version of it.)

On a more serious note, from the short time I have spent exploring Pinterest, I don't find it addictive, unlike most other users. Though I enjoy good food and off-beat travel photography, most of the fashion-related stuff on it is too fancy-schmancy for me  –  I don’t buy big brands and don't shop much. That said, I do find Pinterest interesting (Or is it Pinteresting?) and think the site has some good potential.

Here’s why:  I went to a dinner party at a friend’s place two weeks ago and a few women there mentioned Pinterest and how much they love the site. This was a little surprising considering that they are not on Twitter – they have no idea how it works. Though they are on Facebook, they are not heavy users of the site either and don’t spend hours surfing the Internet.

But they are women who are creative, who are generally interested in arts & crafts, food, make-up and fashion, and have been using the site to find good ideas and as a potential platform to showcase their own work. So these are people who are using the site because it is very relevant to their interests and not because it is the newest toy on the social media bandwagon. That itself has great potential for stickiness.

There are plenty of good posts on how Pinterest works and some great stats on how it’s growing with a breakdown of its key demographics, which I won’t repeat here. But here are three thoughts on what makes Pinterest oh-so-(P)interesting:

1) Purely visual 
A lot of people tell me they find Pinterest therapeutic. And that’s largely because of the visual nature of the medium. Plenty of research has shown that images and videos tend to attract more attention since it’s often easier to absorb than reading a text-based post.

Every so often, you see a great picture that reminds you of the great potential visuals carry in telling a story. Such as this one I saw on Pinterest called ‘The Rescuing Hug.’

While it may not be for everyone, Pinterest carries some great potential for any product or service that has highly visual elements – food, fashion, travel, art, crafs, design and photography.

2) The ability to drive people to your website or blog
One of the biggest advantages of Pinterest is the ability to drive people back to your site by pinning pictures directly from a website using the Pin It button. It's why news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Newsweek and social media site Mashable have created boards on Pinterest, posting pictures that link back to their stories. And this is a great use of Pinterest – giving a longer shelf life to earlier posts that may appeal to Pinterest’s target audience.

My Twitter friend, @JourneyKitchen, a food blogger and photographer, has been using Pinterest since mid-2011 and says it does bring a lot of traffic to her blog. “Other food photo-showcasing websites bring traffic only for latest posts and then it dies out. But it’s different with Pinterest,” she says, though she points out that she has concerns about the site’s terms and policies that don’t protect photographers against plagiarism.

@JourneyKitchen's food board on Pinterest. This is a screenshot of a picture of a Persimmon Pomegranate Feta Salad with Lime Dressing recipe from her blog.
Since Pinterest allows you to pin pictures directly on its site and provides a link to the original website, I did some research into the potential SEO value that it carries. It turns out that Pinterest is using ‘nofollow’ tags, which prevents passing on SEO juice to other sites that link to it. (Here’s how you can check for ‘no-follow’ tags on a website.)

This seems to be a change Pinterest has implemented recently since a post on Search Engine Land, dated December 2011, indicated that Pinterest wasn’t using nofollow tags. While this is a good move to control the quality of content and prevent it from becoming a spammer’s paradise, if you’re planning to use Pinterest mainly for link-building purposes, you’re not going to achieve much.

3) Discovering versus searching
This TechCrunch story really pinned it when it said that Pinterest signals “the shift from search to discovery.”  When we visit search engines, we more or less know what we are looking for and check out results based on what Google shows us in the first few pages of search results. Though I’d argue that almost all social networks including Facebook and Twitter have been boosting the process of social discovery through social sharing, Pinterest does it better with its exclusive use of visuals since it allows people to easily bookmark or pin things that they like.

Since a lot of the fashion-related items on Pinterest link to online stores, it's easy for users to directly make a purchase, without using a search engine. (See Mashable’s post on how Pinterest Becomes Top Traffic Driver For Retailers.) As engagement on the site grows and users build trust in each other's preferences, it has the potential to influence purchasing behavior.

Have you tried Pinterest yet? What aspects of it do you find (P)interesting?
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