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What the Pinterest boom says about digital

What the Pinterest boom says about digital Heather Sundell

The virtual world is no different than America's humble beginnings. The internet is a place where most people come to "make it." Developers, designers, and entrepreneurs are constantly throwing their hard work against a very public wall, just to see if it will stick. Sometimes it can hang out for a while and quietly slip away, archived forever as a prototype (cough, cough...Friendster...cough.) Occasionally a new idea can be revolutionary. Despite all the buzz and hype, is Pinterest one of those rare and radical innovations? Is it the next big thing?

Pinterest's fifteen minutes of fame really hit its stride with its new title as the third most popular social media platform. With 104 million visitors this past March, Pinterest found its new home sandwiched between Twitter's 182 million and LinkedIn's 86 million, according to Experian Hitwise calculations. No doubt this is an impressive achievement to be celebrated.

However, when anything gains such rapid and widely accepted popularity, skepticism and speculations begin to bubble. While the idealists of the world are happily pinning their lives away, the more pragmatics have begun to question the future of today's shining star. Will this new way of sharing content revolutionize how we search? Will this platform change the way users digest information? And will Pinterest last long enough to see its effects?
In general, the web is seeing a shift from textual to visual. Whitepapers are being replaced with trendy infographics (c'mon, who doesn't love a good infographic?), and videos continue to dominate viral marketing. It's no surprise that Pinterest is now the third most popular social platform, and a major driving force in site traffic. It's an easy and aesthetically pleasing way for consumers to digest content; it's sort of a no brainer.

Is this an idea that will stick around? Most assuredly. Pinterest had several early copycats (Pinspire, Gentlemint, and Fancy to name a few) riding its coattails, a telltale sign of long-lasting success. Pinterest has revolutionized the way we share content, creating an emphasis on imagery, not word count. This new way of content sharing makes it easier to consume more content in less time. It's truly efficiency at its finest: The American mantra.

Will Pinterest live to see this new way of content sharing evolve? It's definitely possible. As long as the platform allows users to run the show, and avoids angering site owners, I think it stands a good chance at sticking around for the long haul. Right now, Pinterest remains an extremely organic and user generated source of content aggregation, sharing, and links.

I think they have a long road of egg shells to walk, avoiding spam, ads, restrictions, and fees. I recently received a Pinterest notification that I was mentioned in a pin, only to find a spammy weight loss ad. Not cool. I'm not sure Pinterest purists will appreciate any sort of advertising, let alone spam. As it stands, it's a very laissez faire site: For the people, by the people. A shift in power might lose a chunk of following, but I doubt it would make a large enough dent to cause its demise.

The new addition of third party analytics is a clear indicator that this Pinterest is only on the rise. PinReach is similar to Klout, gauging influence by awarding your pins with an overall score with supporting graphs and charts to illustrate activity. Still in beta testing, Pinerly is attempting to aggregate some hard metrics with their "Pinerlytics." This easy to navigate platform, mimicking the familiar design of Pinterest, users can create trackable campaigns. With Pinerly, you can track click-through-rate, re-pins, and "likes" on any given day, and see progress over time. The data collected from Pinerly can drastically alter your Pinterest strategy, carving out a more permanent role in your overall online marketing strategy.

One this is certain, regardless of whether or not Pinterest sticks around, this new era of high traffic driving content means it's more important than ever to have a well-optimized site. I know what you're thinking, "It's cool; we got a guy for SEO. No sweat." In today's world, having a site optimized for search is sort of a given. I'm talking about optimizing for the other piece of the traffic puzzle: Social.

Social media platforms like Pinterest are becoming staple sources of traffic drivers, which means your site needs to also be optimized for a burgeoning species of search -- social search. Think beyond crawl ability, meta descriptions, and keyword stuffing. Does your landing page have plenty of calls to action? Are the aesthetics of your Pinterest boards reflected on your site, and vice versa? Is the same language and copy being used on both your site and social profiles? Pinterest can be very successful, but no on its own. You need to form a complementary partnership between your boards and site, so that each reinforces the other.

It's great if you can use Pinterest to drive a large volume of traffic to your site, but then what? If you're goal was to create brand awareness and buzz, then fantastic. However, most companies would prefer to see a little ROI on any marketing effort. Brands should be sure their sites are working in tandem with their Pinterest boards, with the ultimate goal being conversions.

So, is Pinterest rooting itself in social media history? I think it's definitely securing its place amongst the great platforms by boldly taking content sharing to new places. I'll be interested to see it joins Facebook as a living legend, or if it will merely be spot on the timeline.

Heather Sundell is marketing manager at The Search Agency.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Colorful safety pins" image via Shutterstock.

Heather has five years of experience in online and offline marketing. As the Marketing Manager for The Search Agency, she can frequently be found tweeting from @thesearchagency or writing articles for the company blog and other...

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Commenter: Kate Shaw

2012, June 26

Well done Heather. I think you make an interesting point about the influx of image based social marketing. Facebook acquired Instagram, Pinterest is a behemoth, but what next?
My prediction is that image based sites will be like the original social sites: rising to fame primarily on the premise of offering one *new* functionality. But novelty cannot be sustained in the long run. In order to retain users interest (and thus be valuable enough to us marketers to make a great investment of time) mage based sites need to do what second gen social sites did: move their functionality to one mere feature of an overall engaging site, and keep innovating. This is where Facebook beat Myspace, and where I imagine another site will overtake Pinterest. Pinterest is slow to develop (oh hai private boards that were supposed to appear 3 months ago), and offers little after the "pin".
I'm putting my bet on LoveIt.com (yea, a client of mine, but nonetheless...). Coming out of the gate with stronger org abilities and private collections, they've already beat Pinterest in that sense. Also, what happens after you pin an image? LoveIt has a great roadmap for the next very near future for that point as well. I love to see Pinterest and LoveIt compared side to side but users, as it's clear its the next step in pinning sites.
As a marketer, I want to know that where I'm putting my time will actually result in a return (as you mentioned). I know LoveIt has this user engagement in mind as they plan things, and I hope Pinterest gets onboard as well to keep their platform viable in the log run.