Why “Pinterest is the next Facebook” is just a silly thing to say

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In the UK this morning many commuters would have read a piece in The Metro about whether Pinterest is the next Facebook. This is not the first article or blog post about this, and I fear that it will not be the last. The short answer to this is ‘no’. And the longer answer is ‘no, because they are fundamentally different, non-competitive things’. But the fact that the question is asked and written about is a reminder that there is still a misconception that ‘social media’ is a single type of thing rather than a set of different, often complementary tools.

Pinterest is certainly the latest social platform that people are talking about. There’s a range of great statistics on DesignTAXI and there has been a lot of coverage about how they monetise your content. The concept is very simple - a social tool that lets you gather and share images, and sort them into collections. It offers something that really wasn’t that easy to do before online - although like many social tools it mirrors an existing offline behaviour (putting things on pinboards or in scrapbooks).

There is very little in this description that is like Facebook at all. In fact it offers a tool that is not really part of Facebook’s repertoire - in fact can you imagine creating these collections in such a simple easy way on Facebook? That’s partly why Pinterest is getting such early success (and why I expect it to continue growing). Not because it is competing with Facebook (or becoming ‘the next Facebook’). But because it offers something new and different to what was previously available in Facebook or across any other social tools.

The fact that people compare the two highlights that many consider social media tools to essentially be doing the same thing (they’re where people ‘do social media’). So if a new one comes along it must threaten the existence of the previous tools. This is a fundamentally flawed understanding.

  1. Different tools do different things and we use them in different ways - Facebook is a collection of tools (a photo sharing tool, an event planning tool, a status updating tool…to name but a few). When a new tool comes along it probably adds to the mix of things we can do rather than competing directly. We all know that there are some things Twitter, or Facebook, or YouTube (or any tool) just isn’t suited for and so a gap that could be filled.
  2. Our total mass of ‘doing social media’ has not peaked - If a new tool comes along it does not have to take a share of our ‘social media time’. We have not yet reached saturation, and indeed we may never as new tools will help us do other things differently or more efficiently. For any new tools to be a ‘Facebook killer’ suggests that it is going to compete for our time or attention that would previously have been dedicated to Facebook. As new tools come along that offer new things for us to do, or solve new problems, we will find time for them.
  3. Our use of social tools is still maturing - Facebook is a collection of social tools, some people use all of them and others just a few. As we get used to sharing, interacting and engaging in different ways (and as the tools available catch up with how we behave anyway) we will change how we use the tools we have already signed-up for and the new ones. Maybe we’ll chat less on Facebook if we use Twitter for that, or maybe we’ll share photos more on Pinterest than we did on Facebook. Many of these decisions will be very personal and how we use these tools will be individual to each of us, the decisions we make and the people we connect with.

Pinterest, like many new social tools, is different to ones that have come before, and offers new ways of doing things. This is why it is successful and why it will continue to be so. It is not necessarily a threat to existing platforms and tools as it adds to the range of things that people can and will do online rather than competing with them. It will grow in a different way to Facebook and that is a good thing - it will have different growth strategies, the community will shape and change it to fit how they use the tool, and the monetisation model will drive different behaviours.

In fact if Pinterest were to become a Facebook it would probably be less successful as it would be trying to be something that it just isn’t at all like. Of course, there is probably one way that Pinterest probably would and should want to be like Facebook - a successful business that can command a huge value at IPO. That’s sadly not the comparison most of these pieces are making but is no doubt one that the people behind Pinterest would be happy with.

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Should your brand be on Pinterest?

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Pinterest value for brandsOver the past few months, activity on the social network Pinterest has exploded.

Pinterest is focused on the lifestyles of its members and encourages them to create different virtual pinboards onto which they can ‘pin’ things they like.

From September to December 2011, unique visitors to pinterest.com increased by a staggering 429% and over 3.3.million people have signed up to the website so far. In fact, it’s recently been announced that Pinterest has more than 11 million monthly visitors, making it the fastest website to surpass the 10 million mark.

The value of Pinterest to brands?

The demographics of Pinterest are particularly interesting for brands - an impressive 80% of users are women, and 55% of these are aged between 25 to 44.

So what does this suggest? Well, if you’re a brand targeting this demographic, you might want to start thinking about whether you should be on Pinterest.

Interestingly, Pinterest states in its terms and conditions that it is not a platform for self-promotion, but an online space for members to share their lifestyle, tastes and interests.

This means that (as with any social media platform) if you’re considering creating a Pinterest account for your brand, it’s worth putting a lot of thought into it beforehand, as part of an overall social media strategy. Whilst it might be okay to have a board dedicated to your current collection, the idea is that you will curate a wider selection of images and videos which tell the story behind your brand. You shouldn’t just be pushing product, but showing the lifestyle which is associated with that product.

How brands can use Pinterest

So for example, if you are a stationery company, you could have boards dedicated to doodles, great calligraphy or fun origami as well as those showcasing your best products. These do not have to come from you, but are just a curated collection of images which are already out there on the web.

The fact that Pinterest doesn’t have to be so focused on your brand may be intimidating for some – especially if you don’t have a concrete idea about who your target demographic is or what you’re trying to communicate to your customers. However, it also provides a lot of scope for some really fun social media marketing. Indeed, Pinterest even allows you to have other people contributing to your boards, which means that members can create user-generated fan content for your account if you wish.

With the freedom to use fresh content which isn’t necessarily generated from your design team, you can really investigate the different personalities of your brand. That could be anything from a pinboard dedicated to your employees favourite things, to one exploring where your products are made. Let your imagination go wild and dig deep into which niches your brand could become a Pinterest expert on.

Finally, don’t forget what your brand Pinterest account is ultimately there for. Whether you’re wanting to encourage online sales of your product or just looking to experiment, make sure you drive users back to your website and track the results. After all, if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.

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