Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

Pinterest is Pinning the Future

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I’ve been talking to many people in the industry over the past couple of weeks about the growing influence of the visual aspects of the web, and one thing that really fascinates me is Pinterest.

How, and why are people sharing their ideas in a visual way, and what are they sharing?

One interesting statistic about Pinterest: only about 15 percent of all posts/pins actually have useful explanatory text associated with the visual content, aside from the URL citing the source of the image. When you consider traditional search engines, these visual pins create a challenge. Since in so many cases there is no text, you have to wonder what results typical search engines will return. So, visual sites like Pinterest become search engines in and of themselves.

Learning how people and marketers are using Pinterest and other visual content sites is also fascinating. In the case of Pinterest, what are people pinning, and why? There are upwards of 30 billion pins on the site. That’s an enormous, complex set of visuals that’s difficult for marketers to comprehend, because Pinterest is completely categorized by its users – the people who are pinning and using their own language and their own words. Yes, there are some high level “categories” established, but…

What is it about Pinterest that’s so fascinating? It’s aspirational. It’s about the future. People pin places they hope to vacation, hope to visit, and ideas and concepts they hope, or in some cases, plan to try.

There is a nearly infinite variety of boards, some of which are about predictable things: “We’re getting married in six months,” “My vacation ideas,” recipes or “My favorite this or that.” But if you dig a bit deeper, it gets more interesting. Quite a few pinners creating wedding boards are not engaged, and many don’t even have a significant other yet. Still, they put wedding boards up because… they are pinning their future.

Pinterest draws you in with its style and variety. You’re tempted, you start looking at it, and before you realize it, an hour has gone by. The newest variant of Pinterest’s search engine is very compelling to play with. If you haven’t visited the site in a while, you need to. There are a lot of interesting advances in the ways you can search for areas of interest.

These advances fundamentally speak to a change in content that’s important to users. There has always been a lot of visual content – videos, cartoons, memes and arresting visuals. But now, there’s an enormous effort on the part of millions of people to put together visual cues that are of interest to them personally.

In his book, Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger talks about the fact that, in the physical retail world, there was a set taxonomy. In other words, the retailers set the stores up in a certain way. The online space has rapidly broken that concept down, because instead of me visiting a shirt aisle, the shirts come to me, and perhaps, today I only want to see blue check shirts, in XL. Expanding on that idea, today, a massive wealth of purely visual information is curated by many different people in many different ways. As humans, we perceive content like this as a useful, non-language-based way to understand what’s happening in our world.

I tend to try to bring conversations back to the practical. So, in terms of marketing, there are many very solid use cases for creating business value from the visual. The fashion world examines visual content sites to determine what’s popular by noting the degree to which a particular color is being pinned on people’s fashion boards. (I hear “pumpkin” was very hot this fall.)

Why multiple-use cases?  Because what people are pinning gives us a real glimpse into what people are seeking or aspiring to. Pinterest is working to develop even more interesting visual search tools to help marketers get a better sense of what consumers are expressing, what they are yearning for. Marketers will also discover answers to questions they didn’t even think to ask.

Facebook’s timeline is a good reflection of the past. Twitter and Instagram reflect the present (literally). But Pinterest lives in the future, because Pinterest is the future —  and an interesting way to think about it. It’s fascinating to consider the entire visual web as an environment where human beings express to the world at large what is of interest them. A wealth of marketing knowledge can be gleaned from this information – if we can make sense of what this very unstructured data is saying.

Pinterest and sites like it are just becoming “commercializable” as we all begin to recognize their scale. As with any other new marketing tool, the visual web offers an incredible advantage to those marketers who can harness it, as they integrate a way to use its data to forecast what’s going to be interesting in the marketplace.

The more Pinterest and visual sites develop, the more opportunities for innovation arise.  The visual web is just the next stage in the digital evolution of how human beings communicate their sense of what the world is and what it means. Of course, the ability to extract a means to discover what could be a marketable or popular idea from this massive range of pinned interests will be the true art form. Yes, it’s based on science, but only a human will be able to discern signal from noise in such a visual world. The tools developed will only be tools, because the hammer itself never builds anything, it’s the human holding it that does the work.

Categorised as: Marketing, Media, Sampling