http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJzD4vF5dFA (Oentoro, 2012)
Photo sharing goes back nearly twenty years. “The first web browser, Mosaic, let people post images” and “people started storing and sharing their photos on sites like Photobucket and Flickr” (Holtz, 2012, p. 8). However, image-based communication reached a whole new level in March of 2010 when Ben Silbermann launched the site, Pinterest. With the launch of the iPhone app a year later, Pinterest brought in a more than expected number of downloads. Within this same year, Pinterest launched the iPad app and Pinterest Mobile for non-iPhone users. By 2012, Pinterest was deemed the fastest site in history to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark.
The possibilities with Pinterest are endless. This image-based social network enables you to create visual pinboards, follow other people’s pages or individual boards, share and collaborate with others, use pins for marketing, and much more. You can click on any image you want to know more about and go straight to the website for that specific recipe, clothing store, DIY project, or anything else you have been wanting to try. You can see how many other people liked an image, show it your own love, re-pin it to one of your boards, read the comments others have left and leave your own. “Not only are people engaged more with images, they also are taking photos they never would have taken before, just to share with others” (Holtz, 2012, p. 9). “It’s a social activity” (Holtz, 2012, p. 9). However, Pinterest does not just consist of friends sharing recipes and fashion tips. Organizations are recognizing the promotional value of Pinterest business accounts to connect with consumers. For example, several news organizations including The Wall Street Journal have been creating boards that highlight their daily front page with pins linking back to the websites of the newspapers (Mozdzer, 2012). They also invite their readers to contribute their own content to the boards.
Some of Pinterest’s key features that are beneficial for interpersonal relationships include the collaboration feature, the report/block feature, and the Pin It button. Let’s say you and your friends have a joint obsession with dessert recipes. With the Pinterest collaboration feature, you can edit a board to allow those friends to pin on the board as well. If you want to get your friend’s attention on a pin you found, you can tag your friend in the post or comment by using @Friend’s Name. You can also add a hashtag to make your image easier to find and more likely to be re-pinned. Because Pinterest obviously fosters interpersonal relationships online, they want to keep their community as positive and respectful as possible. Therefore, Pinterest created a feature that would enable users to report others for negative or offensive activity or block other users. Another key feature is the Pin It button. The Pin It button makes it easy to pin any image you find from a website that you want to add to one of your boards. All you have to do is drag the Pin It button to your Bookmarks Bar to install the bookmarklet for Pinterest. You can also add the Pin It button to appear on any company or individual website. Your company can gain a great amount of publicity as your customers pin their favorite things straight from your website.
Other key features that foster interpersonal relationships on Pinterest include weekly emails, smart phone notifications, and the Pinterest for Facebook Timeline function. Pinterest also sends weekly emails with suggestions of pins or boards that may interest you personally. You will not be bombarded with emails from Pinterest, which most people really appreciate. However, if you want to know when your friends leave comments, re-pin your pins, or begin new boards, Pinterest provides optional smart phone notifications. Pinterest also gives you the option to share your pin on your Facebook Timeline. Your images and links will not only appear on Pinterest, a site with 70 million users, they will appear on Facebook, a site with over one billion users. This is another remarkable way that companies and organizations can capitalize on free advertising.
“There are a number of clear reasons as to why brands should be using Pinterest: brand awareness, brand equity and ultimately customer retention” (Mead, 2013). “Yet the defining factor that should sway retail brands into using Pinterest is its e-commerce and sales potential” (Mead, 2013). Yieldbot, a marketing company that matches real-time intent with advertisers, released a study looking at monthly page views across leading publisher websites and found that Pinterest dominated referral traffic, representing 85.2% compared to just 8.3% for Facebook (Cooper, 2013). Consumers are now browsing products online on Pinterest and then returning to bricks-and-mortar stores to make purchases. This process is called “reverse showrooming” and a study proves it exists with “41% of its surveyed users admitting to partaking in this activity” (Mead, 2013). User-generated reviews have also played a major part as well. “Bustling communities on the site are contributing their thoughts on product pins in comments and these reviews are factoring into purchasing decisions” (Mead, 2013). As social media expert Steve Rubel predicted, “Businesses that bank on photographic storytelling will win” (Rubel, 2012).
In the fast-paced, work-driven society we live in today, Pinterest is an escape from reality that allows users to vicariously live the life they would like to lead using visual images. The users then share these ideas and images creating a connection with thousands of people all over the world. These common interests connect individuals and in the process create weak ties among people as well as strengthen strong ties. As technology becomes more prominent and even necessary in the life of the average person, there are becoming more online outlets for creativity as well as functionality. While sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become increasingly popular, they focus on the personal yet private aspect of people’s lives by following and maintaining relationships with those you already have connections with. Pinterest is unique in the sense that while it does have private boards, most boards are of a public nature. They foster a place for trends, ideas, crafts, event planning, and fashions to thrive. This offers users the capability of browsing by specific themes or interests then sharing their findings with thousands. By sharing these common interests publically it allows connections to be built whether those be between users who re-pin the same picture and proceed to comment on it, or businesses that are building a connection with their consumers. This creates a network of weak ties that Granovetter discussed in his social networking theory “The Strength of Weak Ties.”
Pinterest is a perfect depiction of Granovetter’s social network theory stating there is strength in weak ties. According to Granovetter a tie is a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy, and the services one receives back which characterize the tie. He argues that some ties can act as a bridge that spans parts of a social network and connecting otherwise disconnected social groups. He also argues strongly that no strong tie is a bridge. The argument is that if someone is strongly tied to someone else, those around their tie will also be tied to them and ties will be redundant. Overall he says that weak ties end up being more beneficial than strong ties. We agree with Granovetter in saying that weak ties are most important. Weak ties allow us more exposure to information than strong ties do and are very important for fostering connections and networking.
At first glance, it seems that the relationships formed on Pinterest are shallow and do not create ties when in reality Pinterst has formed the ideal situation for creating and maintaining weak ties as well as strengthen strong ties. It allows for close friends to share in aspiring to accomplish a craft, plan a trip, or coordinate a surprise birthday party in an easy and accessible way. Through this communication with close friends, Pinterest helps strengthen already strong ties. It not only provides exposure to new information and ideas but it provides a place for people to maintain a connection with their existing friends and share common interests.
Pinterest is a marketers dream. Online retailers and businesses in areas such as fashion, soft-goods, travel, food, home decor, home furnishings, e-commerce etc. benefit very directly from the weak ties cultivated on Pinterest. They are using these weak ties to reach their target audience by the thousands. It is dramatically increasing online sales and is becoming a must for business to have in order to get exposure for their products. For example, travel sites will post contests stating “Pin Your Way to Paradise” where the person who pins the most impressive picture of a vacation destination will win a trip there. This is just one example of how companies are using the benefits of weak ties formed on Pinterest to further their business’s success. While there is a strong push toward using Pinterest as marketing strategy, there is no marketing done for the site itself. Our suggestion would be for Pinterest to advertise to businesses and even to those who use the site for their own personal interests in order to showcase what they have to offer.
Pinterest has done a phenomenal job at the main point of their site, “ to assemble collages of pictures, places, and things and sharing our tastes with this community of curators” (pinterest.com). Yet, they lack a lot of verbal communication. Changing these communication difficulties with Pinterest could make a difference in the verbal communication on this site.
Pinterest can improve communication through its’ site by adding chat rooms. This would allow pinners to ask questions about images and learn from others. For example, looking on Pinterest you see a beautiful wreath you would like to make but unfortunately, not everyone is gifted with a crafty hand. Having a chat room would allow users to converse with others who have made similar wreaths or have the skills to teach others how to make the wreath. This addition would also allow for a richer medium of communication through Pinterest. It would offer a faster response time for users with questions and allow for easy access to other users that have the same questions or answers to those questions.
To pull in more creative minds onto the site, Pinterest needs to have commercials advertising the site. There are still a lot of people who do not know about Pinterest. This would teach the public about the benefits of the site and drive more users to the site and therefore creating a more diverse atmosphere for communication. Many Pinterest users do not know about the new “Pin it” button. This is a button that you download onto your web browser that allows a Pinterest user to pin things that they like off of any website. This means more new pins coming to the site. Currently, “Pinterest pins are 80% re-pins.” This means that only 20% of the pins on the site are new. The “pin it” button allows the site to grow and flourish, creating different communication along the site.
Along with diversity on the site, they need to have more pins targeted towards men. This would bring many new users to the site as well as many different aspects of communication. Considering, “Pinterest users are 80% women”, in order to attract men to the site a few changes would have to be made. We suggest adding more comical forms of communication onto the site since men enjoy humor and crude forms of communication. This would boost the appeal of Pinterest for men, increasing the amount of users on the site. This will also give Pinterest an advantage to sites such as Chive. Chive is a competitor of Pinterest that focuses towards male communication. Adding men to the site would give Pinterest an upper hand because it would then appeal to both males and females. This suggestion is one that would definitely help expand the site in terms of gender usage but the question then becomes would the addition of men to the site turn away women?
In addition to Chive, Pinterest also has a weaker competitor targeted towards women named Wanelo. This site is similar to Pinterest in that it is a place to share visual images based on categories that interest you. However, Waleno always has links to their images, allowing their users to purchase or learn more about the image. This is a distinct disadvantage that has been expressed by many Pinterest users. If Pinterest would require all images that businesses post to have a link to their website or related information, this would drastically increase the appeal of the site. There are currently about “500,000 businesses accounts” on Pinterest but not all have links to a website for purchase or additional information. This is a complaint of Pinterest users that Wanelo has acknowledged and solved, sending some Pinterest users to Wanelo.
The best explanation for the sudden and intense popularity of image-based communication came from photographer Trey Ratcliff. “The lives most of us lead don’t lend themselves to much visual discovery; we’re bound to offices, homes and cars” (Holtz, 2012, p. 9). When we scroll through pins on Pinterest, we recapture some of the phenomenal pictures of life that we miss out on. Because it reveals a person’s preferences, hobbies, and interests as well as serves as an icebreaker when first getting to know someone online or face-to-face. Pinterest is a unique site that has a lot to offer and if some subtle changes are made we are positive that the popularity of the site will continue to grow.
-Kathryn Brand, Paige Glosser, Kayla Agan
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Holtz, S. (2012). Picture perfect. Communication World, 29(6), 8-10.
Mead, C. (2013, September 9). Why Pinterest is an integral social media channel for retail
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Oentoro, A. (2012, May 9). What is Pinterest? An animated video. Retrieved from
Rubel, S. (2012, July 24). The Revolution Won’t Be Televised; It Will Be Instagrammed.
Smith, C. (2013, September 4). By the Numbers: 23 Amazing Pinterest Stats. Retrieved from