The subtle charm of Pinterest

Since March 2010, Pinterest has been attracting millions of users, who use the site to share and explore their interests by ‘pinning’ all the things that they find interesting on their profiles in a way that both allows for visual self-expression and helps users to organise and display what they think is worth sharing. The website has no visible advertising such as pop-ups and banners and creates a safe environment for sharing information, which is probably the reason why Pinterest’s referral rate is reportedly higher than that of Google+, Reddit, YouTube, LinkedIn, and MySpace combined (as written by Meghan Casserly for Forbes). The posting of “pins” is easy and not as time-consuming as blogging. The visual and expressionistic way in which the users can share their information creates a sense of community with a subtle charm that the bigger social networks such as Facebook seem to lack. The main difference here is the sense of trust that Pinterest appears to inspire in its users, which has only been mildly shaken by the recent revelation that the site embeds tracking codes into the links that the users post to affiliate commercial websites to generate profit from the sales resulting from its referrals.

Whilst advertising on Facebook is a relatively simple task due to its openly commercial nature, Pinterest’s strength lies in its non-threatening character, where users can recommend items, but don’t feel the need to keep their guard up against aggressive advertising. It creates an atmosphere of openness and sharing that is almost intimate. From a business perspective, this very quality of the website is what makes it so unique. How then to collect and utilise this precious consumer data without compromising Pinterest’s charm and without antagonising its users?

One of the ways in which businesses can potentially profit from the website is to utilise the very quality that makes outright advertising on it an unviable option. Pinterest allows people to explore their interests and to comment on each other’s findings. This gives a wealth of opportunity for companies to ask customers some questions about the direction in which they should take their services or products. For instance, as Pinterest is an intrinsically visual medium, it could help collect valuable customer feedback on product design. This of course requires the kind of openness that a lot of businesses may still shirk from, but the potential benefits could be significant. Sharing information and publicly asking users about what they want on a public forum such as Pinterest can help to build trust and improve products as well as brand awareness. Also, since user profiles reflect their general interests, and not just their opinion on a particular brand, it might be a brilliant opportunity for a company to see what appeals to the public about its competitors and to get an honest assessment of how to improve its product or service.

Pinterest, if used carefully, can potentially become a fantastic marketing tool that can help to develop products and services collaboratively with the other users. The crucial point, however, is to utilise this network whilst respecting its unique intimate character, without attempting to aggressively market or advertise a busines