It’s humorous to watch businesses puzzling over Pinterest. A new study posted by RJ Metrics this week and reported on in Ragan’s PR Daily is a good example of the confusion swirling around the fastest growing social media site.

Pinterest is a micro-blogging site with an unusual twist. Whereas Twitter relies on 140 characters, you could say that Pinterest allows you 1000 words in the same amount of space–a photo (proving its worth once again!). really pioneered this but now Pinterest has simplified the process even more. Sure, there is space for a short written explanation under the photo, but the imagery takes over the post, as opposed to being secondary. In Twitter, you still have to use the visually unappealing link (even the new short links, clever as they are, just don’t attract the eye the way an image does).

Online scrapbooking?

This is a winning formula, especially given that the younger generations are becoming more and more visually motivated. Pinterest seems to take inspiration from the scrapbooking movement, which, although primarily a female obsession, does have its roots in a more universal desire for personal expression through photos.

According the article in Ragan:

“more than 60 percent of pinboards on the site deal with those four topics or what it terms “inspiration/education.” Pinterest has more pinboards dealing with the home than anything else, though food is the fastest-growing topic, with posts about edible delights getting the most repins. The study also found that people like to pin about products. “Products I love” is the third-most-popular title for boards on the site, and posts about products get more likes than any other category.”

Pre-sets explain results

Still, the article asks the question: “What if your company has products that don’t fall into the categories of home, arts/crafts, fashion or food? Should automakers or software companies simply ignore Pinterest?”

Pinterest deserves credit for the way it targeted an audience (women) and launched itself in a way that would appeal to this audience. Most of the categories that are most popular right now on the phot0-blogging site are default or suggested categories, which the article fails to clarify. Currently, the majority of my own pins don’t fit into the pre-set categories and I’ve just been putting them into the “Other” category. For example, there is not even a category on the site for politics, shocking!

Also, Pinterest automatically starts you off with boards called, “Products I Love” which goes a long way to explaining while this is one of the most popular boards. I’m sure they did this to increase their appeal to businesses. Over time, I’m sure new boards will emerge and Pinterest will have to create more categories in order to remain in touch with its audience.

Of course, people will flock to the pre-set categories. But it won’t take long before the users are determining the content of the site more and more. This is what happens in social media and we’ve seen it before. There is already a growing backlash against some of the content as more users get on board and make their voices heard.

Free advertising, but for how long?

Right now this constitutes free advertising, but I’m sure Pinterest has a business plan to monetize the site’s popularity. It will likely never be as pure and appealing as it is now once the paid aspect starts to creep in, so users, enjoy the site while you can (these are some of the delights of being an early adopter, by the way!).

One marketing officer in the Ragan article suggests that companies without a visual product are “much better investing your time in other social media services.” This is pure folly. I’d suggest that if you are marketing a product without visual appeal, you are doomed. And do your research on Pinterest to see which images are going “viral.” As Shel Holtz says in the article:

“The mistake I think too many companies are making is providing images they use to sell product, not images individuals would want to share as a means of expressing themselves.”

Both sexes like visual stimulation

Visual appeal is not gender-specific. It’s a human thing. Think about the number of men drooling over automobiles, motorcycles and even power tools. Tell me that men won’t soon be on Pinterest sharing these images (if they aren’t already). Not to mention the appeal of the stunning photography, the accessibility of viewing classic and emerging art, and the easy interface with videos and music. And, of course, the photos of the beautiful people are there. If you like that kind of stuff, you’ll enjoy the site immensely.

There are issues emerging around copyright that will need to be addressed. It will be interesting to follow how that unfolds in the coming months. As usual, the Internet is challenging all the norms of ownership and sharing, as it should be. But the bottom line is this:

Ignore Pinterest and you’re missing out on a whole lot of opportunity.

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