5 Things to Know About Pinterest

As I was finishing the first edition of the New-Media Survival Guide last January, I was just starting to hear about Pinterest, the now-hot new social media platform. At the time, there weren’t quite enough examples of how journalists were using it to justify adding a section to the social media chapter. Moreover, the spin at the time was that it was a scrapbooking site for women interested in consumer products. Three months later, that’s all changed.

An example of a Pinterest Board: The New-Media Survival KitAlthough it’s never safe to predict how social media platforms will evolve, I’m pretty certain that Pinterest will find a secure spot on the second tier of such websites, along with Tumblr and Google+, among others. For that reason, any journalist trying to stay relevant in the social media will need to understand at least the basics of Pinterest.

For a start, I recommend reading through the articles listed below. (I will be updating them as time goes by.) But in a nutshell, here are five key points to make about Pinterest today.

1. Growth. This is perhaps the most salient point: Pinterest is growing incredibly fast. As writer Jessi Hempel notes in Fortune, since its beginnings in March 2010, its subscriber base has grown by 40% to 50% each month, and it hit its current 17 million unique visitors a month more quickly than Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. And as a driver of traffic to websites, it already outdoes Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined, and is just a hair below Twitter. Put simply, Pinterest is becoming too big to ignore.

2. Purpose-built for curation. Though it has understandably been described as a scrapbooking site, it’s better thought of as curation tool and social bookmarking site, or as Rex Hammock puts it even more fundamentally, a link blog. But it is distinguished from platforms with similar goals,such as Tumblr or Delicious, in the two ways covered in points 3 and 4.

3. Visual orientation. As the scrapbooking metaphor suggests, Pinterest is highly visual in its orientation. If your blog post doesn’t have a decent visual, you’re not likely to get pinned by a Pinterest user. Geoff Livingston puts it this way: “Regardless of Pinterest’s long-term success, it’s clear the visualization revolution is upon us. Every online marketing team needs to look at how to make content more visual.” In addition, as Sarah Kessler points out, Pinterest’s design is visual as well, breaking dramatically from the design approach of platforms like Tumblr or the typical blog. If you want to organize your collection of links with tags, or arrange them hierarchically, forget it. You have pictures on a board, and that’s it.

4. Minimal text. In keeping with its emphasis on the visual, Pinterest minimizes the amount of text you can devote to any pinned item. Its 500 characters is several times more than what Twitter allows, but half of what you can add on Delicious. If you’re the chatty sort, you’ll prefer Tumblr, but most curators, I think, want to pin it, quickly label it, and be done.

5. Focus on interests, not ego. Unlike Facebook, Pinterest is based not on the social graph, but what David Rogers calls the “interest graph.” As Courtney Lowery Cowgill says, Pinterest’s main organizing principle is based on what you like, not whom you know: “It’s personal, certainly, but for your sake, not really for anyone else’s. Most of the people on Pinterest I’ve chatted with have told me that they use it for themselves, and no one else.” That’s important for journalists as a discovery tool and for publishers as a referral source. It’s all about links and the ideas and images they point to.

Pinterest is not for everybody, and its value to journalists will probably depend on their interests and the fields they cover. But what it aims to do, it does very well indeed. It is clearly not the next Facebook, but it seems likely to become a social media fixture for the foreseeable future.

Articles on Pinterest

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