The word is out — Pin­ter­est ap­peals to ‘picture this’ users

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY TIM DE­VANEY

A picture may be worth a thou­sand words, but Pin­ter­est is try­ing to find ways to make it worth thou­sands (or mil­lions) of bucks.

The ris­ing so­cial net­work, which is grow­ing faster than any other site in the his­tory of the In­ter­net, serves as a “vir­tual pin­board” for pho­tos and videos, set­ting Pin­ter­est apart from other pop­u­lar so­cial net­works such as Face­book and Twit­ter that fo­cus more on words.

“Pho­tos are ev­ery­thing on Pin­ter­est,” said Francesca Cham­bers, so­cial me­dia man­ager at Red Alert Pol­i­tics. “It’s just a bunch of pic­tures and peo­ple are pin, pin, pin­ning pic­tures. It 100 per­cent re­volves around that.”

Pin­ter­est’s novel ap­proach to so­cial me­dia has users buzzing about shar­ing pho­tos and videos with their friends. In Fe­bru­ary, it be­gan gen­er­at­ing more re­fer­ral traf­fic than Twit­ter, ac­cord­ing

to a study from Sharea­holic. It al­ready had sur­passed other pop­u­lar so­cial net­works such as Google+, Youtube and Linkedin.

The suc­cess is not lost on Pin­ter­est, to the point where it’s em­brac­ing a dif­fer­ent busi­ness model.

Most so­cial net­works wait years be­fore they even think about mak­ing money. Face­book and Twit­ter, for ex­am­ple, fo­cused on in­creas­ing the num­ber of users long be­fore they be­gan sell­ing ad­ver­tis­ing, which is of­ten seen as “pol­lut­ing” a site.

Pin­ter­est is not shy about want­ing to turn an early profit, and even risked the ire of its users by sell­ing spon­sored links.

“I think it’s hap­pen­ing more quickly with Pin­ter­est than it did with Face­book and Twit­ter, be­cause at this point, we’re all used to the idea of so­cial me­dia,” said Steph Parker, com­mu­nity man­ager for so­cial me­dia at Neiman, a mar­ket­ing firm.

“Pin­ter­est is new, fresh and ex­cit­ing to peo­ple who want a new way to be so­cial. Twit­ter, Google+, Youtube and Linkedin are all pretty com­plex so­cial ecosys­tems, and they’ve all been around for a long time rel­a­tive to Pin­ter­est,” she said.

Pin­ter­est de­clined re­quests for com­ment on its mar­ket­ing strat­egy, but so­cial me­dia an­a­lysts say the eter­nal prob­lem of sell­ing ads with­out an­ger­ing users could prove tricky.

“It is prob­a­bly a bad idea for Pin­ter­est to try to profit so early,” said Colby Al­mond, head of the Pin­ter­est mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion at 97thfloor.com and au­thor of “Pin­ter­est­ing Se­crets.” “It’s a turnoff. If you’re a new so­cial net­work, you want to be com­pletely ded­i­cated to es­tab­lish­ing the user model first, the rev­enue sec­ond.”

Pin­ter­est crossed that line re­cently by work­ing with Skim­links to turn a profit, Mr. Al­mond said. Pin­ter­est caused an up­roar when it was dis­cov­ered that it was mod­i­fy­ing user “pins” that linked to e-com­merce sites with af­fil­i­ate track­ing codes. If a pur­chase was made from the site, Pin­ter­est got paid.

The back­lash has since led Pin­ter­est to dis­con­tinue the prac­tice. The prob­lem wasn’t so much that Pin­ter­est was mak­ing money from this sneaky process, Mr. Al­mond said, but that it kept it a se­cret.

“If they go about mak­ing money the wrong way,” Mr. Al­mond said, “there is a neg­a­tive im­pact.”

As Pin­ter­est looks for less-con­tro­ver­sial ways to turn a profit, many ex­pect the site to turn to ad­ver­tis­ing. It won’t be easy to place ads on the site with­out dis­rupt­ing its ap­pear­ance, Mr. Al­mond said, but users will get over it.

“Face­book went years with­out mon­e­tiz­ing, and as soon as they did, there was an up­roar about ads, but within a few months no­body re­ally cared,” he said. “It takes awhile for the users to un­der­stand that the net­works need money to sur­vive.”

Oth­ers have sug­gested plac­ing “spon­sored pins,” or ads, in user streams. Ms. Cham­bers even sug­gested that Pin­ter­est find a way sell prod­ucts on its web­site.

in­ter­est presents a unique op­por­tu­nity for mar­keters to reach women, who make up the vast ma­jor­ity of “Pin­ners” with one es­ti­mate, from the Web met­rics site Ap­p­data, rang­ing as high as 97 per­cent. In­ter­net track­ing firm coms­core puts the per­cent­age of women at closer to 68 per­cent of Pin­ter­est’s 11 mil­lion unique monthly users, but added that women drive 85 per­cent of the site’s traf­fic.

So mar­keters must re­con­sider their tra­di­tional so­cial me­dia strate­gies to en­gage users with vi­su­als on the site, Ms. Parker said, cit­ing the old Hol­ly­wood maxim: “Show, don’t tell.”

“Com­pa­nies should be try­ing to fig­ure out how they can make their prod­ucts more visu­ally ap­peal­ing,” Ms. Cham­bers said. “It’s go­ing to be a lot eas­ier to be suc­cess­ful on Pin­ter­est if you’re a busi­ness that has bet­ter pic­tures.”

On the other hand, post­ing pic­tures just for the sake of post­ing pic­tures can lead to a bor­ing pin­board. “If you don’t have in­ter­est­ing pho­tos on Pin­ter­est, you’re dead on ar­rival,” Ms. Cham­bers said of busi­ness pro­files. “You’re not go­ing to get any traf­fic.”

To this end, Pin­ter­est CEO and co-founder Ben Sil­ber­mann an­nounced at the South by South­west In­ter­net fair in Austin, Texas, this week, that pro­file pages on the vir­tual pin­board site will soon get a re­design. He also an­nounced a new ipad app.

The rise of Pin­ter­est also re­flects a broader so­cial net­work­ing trend to­ward pic­tures and away from text, leav­ing more-es­tab­lished ri­vals try­ing to catch up on the vis­ual front.

“It’s not just Pin­ter­est,” Ms. Cham­bers said. “Face­book is mov­ing in that di­rec­tion with Time­line. Tum­blr is also mov­ing in that di­rec­tion. Those are three so­cial me­dia plat­forms that are widely used that are mak­ing images and graph­ics a big part of their strate­gies.”

Molly Wade, di­rec­tor of in­sti­tu­tional ad­vance­ment at Al­ban, said the in­sti­tute has been based at the same ad­dress for years, long be­fore the do­na­tions. She said the in­sti­tute has never do­nated to Mr. Gray or Mr. Thomas. She also said the in­sti­tute has no con­nec­tion to Al­ban Strate­gies.

Doxie Mccoy, spokes­woman for Mr. Gray, on Wed­nes­day said the mayor’s cam­paign had been run with the “ut­most in­tegrity” and de­clined to com­ment on any spe­cific con­tri­bu­tions.

Both Al­ban and Westover also gave max­i­mum do­na­tions to Mr. Thomas on Nov. 5, 2010, the same day he re­ceived a do­na­tion from Rapid­trans.

Rapid­trans also do­nated, among oth­ers, to Coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown, a Demo­crat,

It’s the hottest thing on the Web, but the new “scrap­book­ing” so­cial net­work Pin­ter­est.com is the lat­est e-sen­sa­tion fac­ing a chal­lenge of turn­ing pop­u­lar­ity into prof­its, ca­chet into cash.

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