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?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Are We Over-Sharing Content?

Flickr Creative Commons - JulioCrockett
We don’t need Zuckerberg’s Law of Social Sharing to figure out that we’re sharing a lot more than before.

If you take a look at the last 10 tweets in your Twitter stream, chances are, on an average, at least 6-8 of those contain a link. A 100 million links are shortened daily, on an average, using the bitly service alone. Though this depends on how many people you follow on Twitter, friend on Facebook or circle on Google Plus, we are probably being exposed to hundreds of links daily. Even if you do nothing else but hang out over various social networks, it would still probably be impossible to read every link shared (not that anyone would even want to do that) since there is only that much content that you can consume in a day.

Which leads me to the question I’ve been thinking about lately  –  Are we all over-sharing content? And are we adding value if we are sharing lots of links that are getting either very few or no clicks?

But I don’t think that you can delve into either of these questions without first asking why it is that we share in the first place since that's what essentially drives our sharing behavior. In a way, what we share defines us as people – it signals to others what we are reading, what we are interested in and what issues or topics we really care about, helping us connect with others who share similar interests. We also share to make ourselves feel more involved, by providing others with valuable or useful information that informs, shapes or changes opinion or drives action. Much of this was validated by a study conducted a few months ago by The New York Times and Customer Insight Group on the psychology of sharing content online.

Though there have been studies on the science of optimal tweeting, it can still be tough to predict what will and will not get attention, especially on Twitter, since it’s such a fleeting medium. Whether a link gets clicked on Twitter can depend on a range of factors from how compelling the link sounds, how many people are following you, how much ‘influence’ you wield among your followers (how do we spell Klout again? ) and how much attention they are paying to their stream at a given point in time.  But in the end, each of us is competing for attention – every tweet we send out competes for a click or a read in Twitter’s ever-flowing stream.

Though I usually keep the interests of my followers in mind, I must admit that occasionally I do tweet content that I am interested in, which may not necessarily be relevant to a majority of people who follow me – tweets about India-related news or Bollywood, for example (Though I figure spreading a little knowledge about other cultures or countries never hurt anyone, right? After all, it is one of the places you should visit to understand the world in 2012.)

In a conversation over Twitter, someone I follow commented that she sometimes shared links as a way for her to bookmark items of interest  –  more proof that people don’t always share content with a purely altruistic intent. But I do see more and more people complaining of information overload and the need to take social media sabbaticals – most people can’t seem to keep up with their Google Readers and all the other barrage of content being shared daily. All this does make me wonder if we all need to be more eco-friendly citizens of the Twitterverse by doing our part in cutting down on the social media noise that we are inadvertently contributing to.

I do believe that as sharing increases, we will go back toward a greater focus on the 'less is more' approach and in keeping with that, here are my own guidelines for content sharing this year:

1) Share less, engage more – Just sharing content can be boring and sometimes, the discussions around interesting content can be worth so much more than simply tweeting or posting links.

2) Avoiding sharing too much content at the same time - Apps like Buffer are great tools for spacing out tweets containing links. Rarity has value and personally, I am more likely to pay attention to someone who tweets links a few times a day (10 or less) versus a dozen links shared every hour.

3) Greater focus on quality - Share more meaningful (something that offers original, unique or new perspectives) content versus sharing most of what I read.

What motivates you to share content on social networks? How do you define and adapt your own content sharing strategies? Share your thoughts below.

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