New Platforms: Pinterest

Oddly enough, only a few months ago I was lamenting the rapid influx of new social media platforms trying to supplant (or support, depending on how you looked at it) the holy trio that are Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Yes, I know YouTube, Flickr, etc. all have their own history and their own niche markets, and are ready to be tapped at a moment’s notice for the right purpose.  But by and large FLT (FB, LI & Twtr) are based on communicating with other members of the community.  Sure, you’ve got soap-boxers on each of them, but success isn’t based on soapboxing on those platforms.  The other platforms don’t really require engagement from the content creator for them to be seen by the right audience or even considered successful.

And so it was, with a bit of nostalgia for the good ole’ days of cool new platforms that I began to consider the upstarts – FourSquare (though it’s somewhat in the middle of the foundations of SM and the spawn), SCVNGR, GetGlue, Empire Avenue, etc. Each of these new platforms relied heavily on your existing digital footprint.  You connected with people you knew primarily elsewhere and saw what they produced on each of those platforms.  For the record – I’ve yet to find anything worthwhile about GetGlue that I couldn’t just get from posting a normal status update to FB and Twitter.

Then along comes Pinterest.

It’s interesting (at least to me) that I first discovered the platform through Stephanie Smirnov, President of DeVries PR who had a fantastic inspiration board in her office when I first met her in person nearly two years ago, something that’s not particularly common in the B2B PR world in which I primarily live.

Pinterest (if you happen to be lucky enough to have an invite – and if you’d like one, drop me a comment below – I’ll send out as many as I can), provides you virtual pinboards (think bulletin board but for ideas rather than garage sale notices) to tack up visuals you find interesting, inspiring or otherwise worthwhile.  These visuals can be images you find as you’re surfing the web or pictures (or drawings) you’ve created and upload to the site.  Logistically pinning is accomplished through a drag-and-drop button in your browser and the founders indicate there’s a mobile app in development (personal note – can we speed that up guys – please?!).

Once you add an image to your pinboard you can add commentary, those who follow you can leave a comment, ‘like’ the pin, or even repin the image to one of their pinboards. And let me tell you – the first time a pic you’ve taken gets repinned it’s like your first comment on your first blog post, or your first RT.  The image can also be clicked which leads to the original site where the image originated.  This is a particularly important feature (more on that below).

Pinterest is what would happen if Delicious and Flickr mated and spawned a new platform.  Delicious (and the other bookmarking sites) primarily focus on the curation of the textual content of others and Flickr is (of course) based on showcasing your own images.  Here you’re showcasing the visual items you find inspirational that are created by others.  Pins are Tweetable, Facebook Like-able, and embeddable (though this one seems to be buggy on WordPress).

Pinterest has intrigued me more in a week than Empire Avenue and GetGlue combined in the last few months.

Some particularly interesting uses that are “built into” the site:

  • Fashion – pins lead back to the blog/e-commerce site they originated from. Raw webpage titles don’t provide the depth needed to re-find a link.
  • Food, restaurants and recipes – do you remember food by it’s title or how it looked on the plate?  There’s a reason cookbooks have huge full color pictures.
  • Books – it’s probably still bad practice to judge a book by it’s cover, but we still identify them that way.
  • Favorite places – A picture’s worth a thousand words to remind you of the trip you took where you forgot your camera (but can now get a street level picture of that little place you had lunch 15 years ago).

How about practical PR uses?  Done:

  • Photo contests (likes=votes, particularly useful since following a board isn’t required and the rules re contents are more lax than FB’s),
  • “Concept” product image hosting and sharing,
  • Rebranding exercises (are you listening Gap?),
  • New product showcasing,
  • “Viral” product launches,
  • Infographic or other statistical curation,
  • Portfolio review
  • Photographic essays
  • Printable coupons
  • Commentary on something visual (journalists/reviewers on a fashion designer’s new line, architects on student designs, etc.)
  • There’s even a professional service (b2b/white collar) angle – Insurance companies showcasing how to prevent damage during holiday season, hurricane season, etc.; Banks showcasing new features within their branches (ATM software/interface, coin counting machines).

Oddly enough, and completely by accident, I have found Pinterest to be many times more social than the other new upstarts.  With even just a small number of followers and people that you follow you easily discover others with shared interests and can begin following them (or individual pinboards on certain topics/themes).  So, yes, a service in invite-only Beta already beats ‘launched’ services on the actual social side of things.

The service definitely still needs improvement.  Specific things I’d like to see fixed / changed include:

  • Private boards – I may not want to share everything with everyone (particularly for work, or if I’m using it as a gift-idea platform)
  • Less crash/downtime – I know, growing pains happen but it is noticeable at the moment 🙁
  • Subboards – It would be great if there were multiple tiers for easy filing. Rather than having 5 different photography boards (e.g. nature pics, portraits, animal pics, architecture pictures, and city pictures), a single photography board with sublevels would be convenient.
  • Embedding – feature is a bit buggy (at least in wordpress).  I do like that the size of the image is customizable, but a few more options (like word wrap, right or left alignment, etc.) would be good.
  • Multiple pins/page – Enable us to pin multiple images per pop-up so we’re not repeating 5 or so clicks per image if there’s a few on a page we like.
  • Better policies and notifications – this is the big one that nearly made me turn away from the service.  Currently the policies are very lax because they’re all but non-existent, which is normally a good thing, but in this case there are still enforcers in place.  Worthwhile disclaimer – I only discovered this issue because I had a pin removed – it was an artistic image, but one that for some workplaces would be NSFW.
    • As it stands now the rules prohibit “images that you think other people will find offensive.” Guys – if you go by what “other people” will find offensive it’s an very greasy slippery slope. Just ask Facebook (ZDNet: Facebook removes photo of two men kissing). Or wait until the conservative right gets a glimpse of this pinboard of mine (this is suitable for work).  I’m pretty sure someone will be offended.The second part of the problem is that there’s no notification that a pin has been removed.  Pinterest sends you notices throughout the day of pins that have been liked, repinned, and any new followers you’ve got.  However, there’s no notice if your pin is removed.   Given that a pin could be removed for a variety of reasons (copyright issues, offensiveness, or perhaps it just disappears because of tech problems) the lack of notification is a pretty big oversight – if I bookmark something in Delicious, I expect it to stay there.  A simple combination delay/notice could be implemented (“This pin has been removed from public viewing and will be deleted in 24 hours because ____.  Please save the information locally as it will not be accessible after ___ date.”)

Overall it’s a fantastic service and definitely one that any visual thinker should poke around in, but certainly has a few areas that need tweaking. For some additional thoughts on the service be sure to check out Gini Dietrich’s post on Empire Avenue and Pinterest.