Feb 2012

A peek into what is Pinterest, why is there a sudden buzz about it and how can brands make the most of it?

Now, I must admit I am a digital addict – even though I have push emails & notifications setup on my iPhone, I have this compulsive desire to constantly check for new emails and Facebook newsfeed updats every now and then. This habit begins right from the time I wake up in the morning, even though I know that every morning prior to 9AM (yeah that is around the time I wake up!), most of the emails I receive are either from lists I had signed up for but don’t value anymore (TODAYonline News), promotional messages (Groupon coupons) or downright junk. I was really perplexed till last week as to why do these same string of emails disturb me each morning, till I saw this infographic, which put matters in to perspective – contrary to popular belief the highest email activity happens to be between 5AM to 9AM!

While this mystery got resolved, another trend in my inbox piqued my interest. In the last 3 months, I had been receiving loads of emails from “Pinterest” – notifications about people following me or re-pinning my content, weekly curated lists and early adopters talking about this new social networking site. 128 when I counted last.

As I mentioned in Happy Hour Episode 2 last week, I have been following this site for the last 15 months (it was founded sometime in late 2008) and had joined the network on 30th June 2011. I was always intrigued and fascinated by their visual interface but only much later did I realize the value of such a network. And it wasn’t just the email avalanche that intrigued me but the fact that suddenly I was seeing Pinterest everywhere – on certain days the top 3 news items on my ‘LinkedIn Today’ segment was all about Pinterest; the techies on my Twitter timeline were going gaga about the network, its valuations and its multiple utilities and I could gradually see colourful, funny, artistic “pins” being featured on my Facebook timeline.

I think it has crossed its tipping point and the buzz, hype and activity on it is only going to grow and grow exponentially. It is enjoying its “hockey stick moment” – in Jan 2012 Pinterest recorded 11.7 million unique hits in a month in US alone – crossing the 10 million mark faster than any other standalone site in history. And more importantly, users were spending about 98 odd minutes each month on the network every month. It is amazing that a company with just 7 employees could create such a “sticky” platform that has not only caught on with users but also with some big angel investors and venture capitalists in the valley. It is basking in glory for the moment – awarded the best new startup of 2011 at the Crunchies & also leads the buzz chart on Crunchbase ahead of Facebook.

So what is Pinterest and how is it different from Facebook & Twitter? Why the need for another social network and why are people flocking to it? And should brand marketers pay any heed to this trend?

What is Pinterest and what makes it unique & sticky?

Do you recall pinning posters, post-its and other notes on those brown pin boards in college quads and dorm rooms? Mine was full of cricket photos, motivational posters and personal greeting cards! Pinterest, in simple words, is an aggregation of such visually appealing pin boards from around the world. But unlike physical pin boards at colleges, dorms, offices & clubs its beauty lies in the following features:

a) Classification – the pin boards are segmented and classified in about 31 odd categories – from Architecture to Gardening to Travel & Places. This makes it much easier to find content and there is a different kind of pleasure in browsing through different thematic pages or pin boards. It is as though someone is dynamically curating different art galleries for you based on your taste and interest.

b) Content Discovery – I am a firm believer that most of us don’t exactly have a specific idea of what we want or like until we are shown some samples or examples – hence the need to seed discussions or give options at focus groups; or show samples when one is selling something, be it creative banner ads in agencies or selling saris or ornaments at retail outlets. While Google helps me search something, social networks like Facebook & Pinterest help me “discover” things. This has the potential to spark new ideas or help me crystallize my thoughts on what I like. And the process refines itself. The more Pinterest knows about what I like or share, it learns about my behaviour and shows me stuff that I would prefer. This to me is very powerful.

c) Design – The interface is visually very appealing. The individual pins are well-sized and has enough meta-data to pique one’s interest and upon clicking the pin, it zooms out in a lightbox, where the focus is purely on that one particular image that you can ogle at in leisure.

d) Personalized – You don’t see random pins and boards. The experience is quite personalized based on your personal tastes and interests. So in my case, most of the pins that I see are about cricket, beaches and book covers I love.

e) Its Social – You can “Follow” specific thematic boards that you like; you can “Like” a particular pin; you can “Re-Pin” something just like how you Re-Tweet on Twitter, similar to forwarding an email to broadcast something; you can share your comment on a particular pin; or like Facebook’s OpenGraph, you can “Pin” something you like on other websites. I recently “pinned” a new shirt design I liked on Threadless on to one of my boards. And most importantly it integrates well with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter – which makes discovering & sharing content a much easier experience.

How is it different from other social networks?

It all boils down to the discussion of “social graph vs. interest graph”. Allow me to explain. Whilst Facebook constitutes a network of people you know personally in real life (social graph); Twitter constitutes people you follow/are followed by with people who share a common interest (interest graph). Similarly LinkedIn constitutes of a network of people you know in your professional space. Each social network has its own niche and provides a distinct value.

Pinterest to me is a beautiful mash up of both my social & interest graphs. I can choose to follow the pin boards of random, unknown people with whom I share a common interest like cricket (similar to Twitter) but at the same time I can also chose to follow the boards of people I know in my social circles (similar to  Facebook).

Apart from this interesting mash-up of social & interest graphs, to me it’s USP lies in its visually appealing design, which is very different from the text-heavy & rigid structures of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And nothing beats the ability to discover & consume visually-appealing, interesting content that suits my taste as well as the opportunity for me to curate things that I love and find interesting across the web.

This is what differentiates Pinterest and this why more than 11 million Americans are spending more than 98 minutes every month on the network.

Is there any value for brand marketers here?

Should brand marketers add Pinterest to their long arsenal of social networking sites? I think they should if and only if they are willing to invest in creating visually appealing photos & info-graphics.

While it makes a lot of sense for B2C companies like fashion, retail and hotel brands to display an interesting portfolio of their products & services, I believe over time we would see a lot of B2B enterprises participate as well. Expect to see pin boards display an array of propeller engines, gear boxes, ammunition, surgical equipment etc.

Like with using any other social network, the idea is not to use it as another store front to sell (although the network has a Gifts tab, which classifies gifts according to different price points) but to engage, enthral & entice your audience with fascinating content that they love. Use the platform to build your brand through visually appealing, curated content. And if your audience is happy, this will not only improve the recall of your brand but also drive a lot of referral traffic to your website/Facebook fanpage.

And if your customer segment is focused on women, you are in luck. Of the 10.4 million registered users, 9 million monthly connected Facebook users, and 2 million daily Facebook users, 97.9% of Pinterest’s Facebook Fans are women. While Facebook Fans is a proxy metric, it is definitely indicative of the actual user base. Interestingly Pinterest by founded by 3 men!

You can read more here to check out ideas about how brands can leverage Pinterest now.

While I expect the Pinterest email avalanche in my inbox to only get stronger in the coming months, what I will be interested to track and analyze is its acceptance and growth in Asia.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, do check out Pinterest now. If you like it and want an invite, ping me at [email protected]

Happy curating!

Prantik Mazumdar

Prantik is a Managing Partner at Happy Marketer, who leads the firm’s Social, Mobile & Display Advertising practice. He sits on the Global Digital Board of Time International, a leading luxury chain in Asia.