Pinterest & the Age of Visual Thinking

By Alexandra Cojocaru • 2 years ago • 14 Comments

We’ve all been flooded with news about the way Pinterest’s popularity skyrocketed these past few months. And, since we’re dealing with probably the fastest growing network of recent years (though its success wasn’t as sudden as you might think), an analysis of why and how it happened seems appropriate.

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne

Shaping a world of visual culture

Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr are an expression of our increasing interest for a more visual type of content, one that is easier to digest and share across multiple social outlets. The viral success of memes and infographics is a clear indicator of how much we’re attracted by this type of visualizing data. Images are easier to remember than words and this leads to a quicker understanding of the information they convey – not to mention more engagement.

Pinterest is tapping into behavior that went beyond simply sharing. Susan Etlinger, Altimeter Group

On Pinterest, you can not only collect and organize all the visual reminders of things that inspire you, but it also fuels some sort of serendipitous discovery of valuable content. And that also translates to the way you relate to those collections and discoveries. Here is an interesting explanation by Semil Shah of the way Pinterest actually changes the purchasing funnel and shifts traditional search methods:

“As we make a decision to search for or buy something online, we are trained to go to Google (or Amazon), search by keyword, and sort through results to eventually make a transaction. In return for that sorting, Google charges for advertising, but in order for it to work, we users have to signal our intent: “Red Nike running sneakers.” But, how did I decide to want these red running shoes in the first place? While Google makes money at the bottom of this decision funnel, the top of the funnel is where “discovery” happens. It’s much wider at the top of the funnel, and harder to pin down where the thoughts originate (pun intended).”

What made people so infatuated about Pinterest?

A few of the reasons why Pinterest has become so appealing to adopters:

1. adding new content is very fast. Basically, through tools like the Pin It bookmarklet, there’s no need to look for share buttons, shorten URLs or open new tabs. Of course, you can use sharing plugins for other social networks as well, but Pinterest is focused on collecting interesting pieces of content, not necessarily promoting them, and putting things into boxes has never been easier.

2. user interaction is not limited by lists of friends or followers. From the homepage, you can look at content posted by pinners you follow, everything that is being posted or just view a domain of your choosing. By putting your mouse over an image, you can quickly like the content, comment on it or even repin it on your own boards – no extra steps needed. The site is entirely public, so your pins are likely to receive feedback from people that are not a part of your social graph. Reaching out to fellow Pinterest users is not interrupted by the need to follow them or request their friendship, which simplifies engagement.

3. it has a totally different approach to socialization: the platform helps people gather around ideas, not common friends or groups. The way you relate to your network of friends through shared messages is not that important here, but rather how your content reflects on other people. This is also obvious from the way content is showcased: on other networks, it’s time-sensitive and displayed in a reverse chronological order; on Pinterest we’re dealing with a carefully organized content, with an emphasis on categories and areas of interest. This gives your content a longer shelf-life than Twitter or Facebook updates.

“Consumers are compiling and sharing photos and video, like an earlier generation collected LPs and bumper stickers, as their version of defining and projecting their individual identity.” Antony Young, AdAge

4. another reason why Pinterest is so addictive is that it’s changing users’ social adventure through a great user experience – their secret was an awesome design that includes optimal use of space through a “masonry” layout and an infinite scrolling browsing style. Also note that Facebook is using these 2 “tricks” on the new Timeline. As a matter of fact, the recent revamping of the interface & board layout is a reminder of Facebook’s way of showing photo albums: bigger image at the top and a few thumbnails underneath.

The rise of visual curation

Just as the first wave of social media has transformed the consumption of information, this next wave of social curation will fundamentally change how users find and interact with content over time. Om Malik, gigaom.com

All this success is most likely driven by our insatiable need of finding relevant and meaningful content across the endless ocean of information that the web currently consists of. And Pinterest, along with all the other curation tools (remember weheartit or craftgawker?), are doing a great job at organizing this informational chaos in a compelling and valuable way. It also redefines the way we relate to content – sharing information in a visual format creates more emotional responses and captures attention faster.

It’s a well-known fact that most social web users don’t create content, but rather consume it.  The fact that we have to deal with so much content has shifted our main interest from being successful content creators to thought-leaders - and Pinterest appeared at the right moment. These type of platforms have created a new type of web users – the social curators, which are just as legitimate as any other and have to power of changing the way we relate to social media.

If information discovery plays such a central role in how we make sense of the world in this new media landscape, then it is a form of creative labor in and of itself. And yet our current normative models for crediting this kind of labor are completely inadequate, if they exist at all. Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org

Is Pinterest not being fair to its user base?

However, there are 2 sides to every story: while the service gives users the tools to curate content from all over the web, the first set of rules they’ve drawn up clearly stated that users were responsible for making sure they hold the rights for pinned images. Some have even predicted Pinterest could end the same way as Napster if it lets users share protected images without permission.

What I see Pinterest doing is employing you (without pay, mind you) to amass a giant library of original content for them.  Kalliopi Monoyios, ScientificAmerican

Though you may think that artists can gain a lot from being discovered through such curation tools, the issue changes if someone else gains material compensations from their work. Even the fact that Pinterest doesn’t show ads or any other strategy of making a profit from all the traffic they get can suggest that their rules are intentionally loose, so that they can monetize content later on.

Nevertheless, copyright issues are of a crucial importance to the social network’s future success, and something had to be done. The company offered websites the option of using nopin tags to keep people from pinning their content – but this merely throws the cat in the users’ yard. As a response to copyright infringements issues, Pinterest recently updated their terms of service. They now state that you are not allowed to post content that “infringes any third party’s Intellectual Property Rights, privacy rights, publicity rights, or other personal or proprietary rights”. This means that their previous policy of avoiding self promotion is also getting a revamp, since it becomes not only acceptable, but also advisable to express yourself through your own content. Even Pinterest’s founder deleted his old account in an attempt to “remember how new Pinterest users feel”.

Will you be needing a strategy for your visual content?

Pinterest is a great service for bookmarking and curating personal interests, but since it gathered so much attention, it has also become a playground for brands to discover new ways of promoting their messages. The new type of online behavior generated by sites like Pinterest is determining marketers to create “pinnable” content, with carefully-crafted designs that are visually appealing and easy to share.

Brands have quickly flocked to the new platform, and some of them manage it pretty well. Random House Books are not only sharing books from their shop, but also literature-related tattoos, gifts or book quotes. That’s a great way of interacting with fans through emotionally-appealing content, without being too self-promotional. Another interesting method of using Pinterest is creating event-specific boards, like it happened for SXSWfrom restaurants and music parties, to must-have gears and gadgets. And take a look at how The Wall Street Journal uses their account to share memorable quotes by using a custom method of creating compelling images. Even Barack Obama‘s team maintains an active Pinterest account. :)

What you need to remember is that this new platform is as social as every other, so use it for sharing valuable content and try to follow these simple rules (read the entire blogpost to understand why it’s important to always credit the original source):

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