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Pinterest Isn't the Social Platform You Think It Is

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Repeat after me: Pinterest is not a social media platform.

When was the last time you conversed with someone over Pinterest? Let me rephrase that. Have you ever had a conversation with someone on Pinterest?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the answer to that question is no.

Most people consider Pinterest to be a social network because you can share stuff, but that idea doesn't necessarily hold much water. Amazon allows you to make wish lists public, thereby in a sense sharing. Yet no one considers Amazon to be a social network.

Yes, you can add comments to a Pin. But in all honesty, threaded comments on a blog work better. Of course, we don't consider blogs as social media platforms.

I'll hand it to you that Pinterest does have certain social elements. After all, you can follow your favorite people and specific boards. But is that enough to call it social media?

If you consider Pinterest just a social platform, you're at a serious tactical disadvantage.

What is Pinterest really?

If Pinterest is not a social media platform, then what is it?

First, realize that Pinterest takes advantage of our human tendency to collect stuff.

As a kid, I collected coins, stamps, and rocks among other things. Plus, I had a cork board to which I used to pin things. I'm not the only one with that hobby. Many people with similar childhood experiences have carried that hobby into adulthood. It's that desire to collect and organize that makes Pinterest so powerful.

So, Pinterest is powerful... But what is it? With more than 130 million visual searches performed every month, and the recent introduction of automatic object detection, Pinterest is really a visual discovery tool. I know it's safe to say this because even Pinterest uses the term.

Now I know that "visual discovery tool" doesn't have quite the same ring as "social media," but let's call a spade a spade. Besides, this revelation is rather quite exciting.

Why does the term matter?

Pinterest helps people conduct image searches, just like Google does. Well, not quite, because Google searches the entire Web, and Pinterest searches are restricted to its platform. But with over 100 million monthly active users, Pinterest is not that big of a deal.

What makes Pinterest more attractive is that it helps users sort and store their discoveries for later referral. (Good luck doing that in Google.)

The result is a remarkable longevity of pins. Unlike most social content, whose lifespan is frequently measured in seconds, Pinterest pins can last for months, if not years.

Moreover, unlike other true social media platforms, people don't go on Pinterest to chat, post selfies, or engage in other social behavior. Pinners (Pinterest's term for its users) engage with the platform to find, sort, and classify ideas—and most importantly for marketers, to buy stuff.

In a Millward Brown Digital survey, almost every respondent indicated that they use Pinterest in helping them decide what to purchase. Would you get a similar response in a survey of Instagram or Snapchat users? That's highly unlikely.

Here's more food for thought. Despite your best efforts, your position in Google's SERP can get knocked down overnight. But a pin on someone's board stays there until it's removed. On Google, you need to fight for dominance. However, gaining supremacy on Pinterest isn't as much of an issue.

It's not a question of semantics

This whole thing about Pinterest not being a social media platform isn't just a case of your saying "to-ma-toe" and my saying "to-mah-toe." Strategically, you need to grasp the specific nuances of each marketing channel utilized. So, in regards to Pinterest, you need to leave what you think you know about social media at the door.

At one point or another, Pinners always occupy a point somewhere along the buyer's journey. Pinners are not on Pinterest to connect with old high school buddies or provide friends with a status update. They are there to plan, search for ideas, and ultimately make a purchase.

Every pin needs a purpose

Every piece of content produced for Pinterest needs to match the buyer's journey.

Some Pins should appeal to consumers just beginning their research. Those are the Pins that build awareness of the brand.

Yet, it's not just about building a brand. Take advantage of Pinterest's Rich Pins, so consumers can make purchases without ever leaving the platform.

Social media marketers typically struggle to quantify their efforts because there is often little correlation between their activities and an increase in sales and revenue. But Pinterest is a different beast. It's not really a social networking site, and people love using the platform to help them buy stuff.

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Stephen Jeske handles Growth and Marketing at Viralwoot, a Pinterest tool used by over 70,000 marketers, bloggers, businesses, and agencies in 43 countries around the world.

LinkedIn: Stephen Jeske 

Twitter: @stephenjeske 

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  • by Alisa Meredith Tue Aug 23, 2016 via web

    YES! I've been saying this for over a year - and it really irritated some people at first. I was so happy to start seeing articles from Pinterest that backed us up - it is a search and discovery engine. If pinners want to make it work for their businesses, that is a distinction they MUST embrace. It's really the perfect blend of tech and creativity.

  • by TheRickTown Tue Aug 23, 2016 via web

    You’re just wrong.

    I know you're trying to sell Viralwoot, and to gain views for your advertisers, but your tone could use some work. Yes, your choice of a title drew me to begin reading your article. But utter disappointment at your patronizing language, disregard of the facts, and disrespect for your audience led me to spend the time on this response.
    Nevertheless, not one to point out a problem without a potential resolution, I recommend the following:

    1) Less advocacy for your own ideas, and more for those of your readers. They are the ones your advertisers are paying for, after all. Try not to piss them off.

    2) Just get on board with the idea that Pinterest is, indeed, social media. Since you apparently skipped the definition-of-social-media part of your research for this piece, I provided an excerpt of the Wikipedia version at the bottom of this response, (though you’re free to choose your own version; “To-ma-to, to mah-to”.)

    3) I recommend that instead of promoting an overly simplistic and transactional view of Pinterest users as mere points of purchase, that you embrace the fact that Pinterest uniquely enables the involvement with- and the sharing of- visually appealing and stimulating ideas and opinions among its members. That capability is its most valuable asset, not only to its participants, but also to it's revenue-oriented constituents. Given your personal objectives, it's remarkable that you minimized that.

    Pinterest members develop, collaborate, show, and SHARE their own BRANDS; they actively evaluate, communicate, and leverage the BRANDS of OTHERS; and they respond to, and are influenced by relational ideas and engagements, both with their subject matter and their networks. Think of how much more “Yes, and…” there is in that perspective than in categorizing the majority of users as ignorant, and then condescending to them as points on a line! It's so much richer, don't you think?! Without the ability to connect members socially, and artfully support their emotional and artistic interests Pinterest would be as effective at promoting products as a broom closet is at promoting chores. I'm sure your next article will be better.

    Now for the definition of Social Media: According to Wikipedia, “Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people, companies and other organizations to create, share, or exchange information, career interests,[1] ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.” The link can be found here: I'd say all the characteristics of Pinterest are in there, wouldn't you? Of course you can find your own source; “To-ma-to”, “To-mah-to”.

  • by Alisa Meredith Tue Aug 23, 2016 via web

    I think perhaps the founders might be allowed the last word on what Pinterest is and is not - not to mention the fact that the average pinner uses Pinterest to collect for personal use much more than they use it to share. Here's what Pinterest's co-founder says:

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