NORTHWESTERN BUSINESS REVIEW Thursday - Oct 02, 2014

Is Pinterest the Next Social Media Phenomenon?


Nic Adler is not your typical Pinterest user.

As owner of The Roxy Theatre, a popular and historic nightclub in Los Angeles, Adler is more in tune with heady rockstars, popular DJs and up and coming indie acts than the cake recipes and fashion accessories “pinned” on the online scrapbook. He is also a rare male user on a website dominated by women. Over 68% of Pinterest users are female, according to the Internet research firm, comScore.

“My friends make fun of me for it,” said Adler, a self-described “social vegan” who is integrated on more than ten social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “I probably spend the most time on Twitter but Pinterest is number two.”

Adler is not alone in his embrace for Pinterest.

Pinterest is quickly gaining a reputation as the hottest Internet start-up today. The concept behind the online scrapbook is simple: users “pin” various images found on the web into different categories such as “Books I’ve Read” or “Places I Want to Go.” But is also engaging. The website recently hit 10 million unique visitors faster than any other independent website in history. And Pinterest also drives more traffic referrals than YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn, according to a Shareaholic study. Even Facebook’s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly owns a profile on the visual board.

“The biggest thing about Pinterest is that it is personal,” said Adler, who predicts Pinterest’s numbers will continue to grow substantially. “I use it in two ways, to be part of the community, where I can check out, say, everyone’s favorite tattoos and also as collaborative business tool to share visual ideas like figuring out logos.”

But is Pinterest for real? Behind the hype and the numbers, questions surround the website’s long-term viability as a popular social media tool. Owen Youngman, the Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy at Northwestern’s Medill School, said that while many social media websites without clear business models have emerged over time, not all of them have lasted.

“The staying power will be determined on whether it becomes useful, develops a business model and makes it easy for me to find and be alerted to things that I really care about,” Youngman said. “The intersection between what my friends care about and what my friends care about that I care about is not yet clear to me on Pinterest.”

Thus far, Pinterest appears to have what Facebook had in its early stages: a very “cool” product with a rapidly growing base of engaged users. But while Facebook eventually developed a steady revenue stream primarily through advertising, a central business model is less than clear for Pinterest. Jeremy Levine, a venture capitalist for Bessemer Ventures, one of the main investors in Pinterest during its Series A financing, told Fast Company that “no specific ideas or projects” are in the works to monetize the website right now.

“If you focus too early on how to make money off of something like this, then you start to build features designed to cater to the paying constituents, like businesses, brands, advertisers, at the expense of building more and more great stuff for consumers,” Levine told Fast Company. “So until you feel super-confident that you’ve got a really durable relationship with your consumers, it just makes no sense to focus on the monetization.”

Pinterest may not be focused on monetization but it does have some ideas for revenue generation. Most notably, because Pinterest sends a large amount of internet traffic to retail sites, the website is an ideal platform for affiliate marketing. Using outside software, if Pinterest gets credit for a retail referral, it generates a small amount of revenue. Multiply by that by the millions of users on the website and that adds up to quite a bit of pocket change. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal went as far as to say that Pinterest is “playing dumb about making money” in a recent post.

Still, there is plenty to like about Pinterest. Youngman said that the online scrapbook works because “pictures are so effective about conveying information.” And uses for the website go in all directions. The Wall Street Journal recently created an exclusive Pinterest page to document New York Fashion Week. PBS NewsHour is using the social media platform to “have students think in-depth about what keeps them in school.” And Northwestern University Career Services uses the website to create visual boards such as “Companies Where NU Students Intern.”

“The question is can Pinterest write algorithms that make it more efficient for users to find things that they really care about,” Youngman said. “Otherwise it may just be a visual delicious that could fall apart.”

Photo Credit: Amplify Interactive

About Matthew Wong

Matthew Wong is former NBR Editor-in-Chief. He joined NBR when it was a once-a-year print magazine.

2 comments
  1. Pingback: Pinterest: Hitting the Sweet Spot | dahlcache |

  2. gwendolyn

    March 6, 2012 at 1:37 am

    my answer for this review title is “yes, it is.”
    can you imagine how unique Pinterest is compare to another social-media?
    I love how it helps me organized my favorite stuff and helps me socialized in a different way.

    And Pinterest makes me love http://pinfaves.com/ too.
    http://pinfaves.com/ is a great site where you can submit your favorite pins and vote up for the greatest pins and vote down the worst pins.

    Maybe one day you should review about http://pinfaves.com/ :)

    Reply

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