Pinterest: Finding the Content You Want

Pinterest Logo

Pinterest’s logo, courtesy of Pinterest

Currently I have been thinking a lot about Pinterest. You can find my first two posts on Pinterest here and here.

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a request asking if somebody could help her figure out how to use Pinterest. It turns out, perhaps of course, that she didn’t really need help figuring out Pinterest. In fact, she sounds like she’s got it mostly figured out already. You have boards, you pin stuff to them, all is lovely and pink and probably topped with a bow. However, she isn’t just looking to pin things. She wants Pinterest to help her actually do things by helping her find new ideas for specific projects. And none of her friends, me included, could really give her any suggestions for that. It turns out, Pinterest is terrible for this, and the more specific you need things, the worse it is. This got me thinking a bit about what Pinterest is, who uses it, and how I use it to actually find content that interests me.

First, there is a conceptual problem with the way that most of us think about Pinterest. Even though we think of Pinterest as being all about pins, isn’t only about pins, and Pinterest isn’t designed to help you find specific pins. Instead, to quote the way that Pinterest describes itself,

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.

People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and share their favorite recipes. [emphasis added]

What that means is that Pinterest isn’t really about the individual pins. Instead, it’s about the collection of those pins onto specific boards. It’s like the old phrase, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” The pinboards are the forests, and the pins are the trees. If somebody goes onto Pinterest expecting to find lots of pins, the way that casual users do, you will not be disappointed. But if that person wants the aggregate of the pins to help them toward a goal, without a lot of sifting and searching, Pinterest isn’t going to be much help. Because Pinterest isn’t designed to give its users specific pins, it is designed to help them organize their own pins onto pinboards. But then, how does a serious user, somebody who wants to achieve some goal, harness Pinterest?

The Two Main Types of Pinterest Users

The first step is to get your own boards in line, and to understand how they work with Pinterest and with the world outside of Pinterest. One thing that my friend’s question made me realize is that I am not like the majority of Pinterest users, the casual pinners. Casual pinners go onto Pinterest to see what new has popped up there, to be entertained by the latest pretty thing or cool idea, and to repin, repin, and repin. They are not looking for anything in particular, they don’t bring anything to Pinterest, and they probably rarely take anything outside of it. These casual pinners are actually pretty typical of the internet, they are content consumers but not creators, and they actually are the ones powering Pinterest’s huge growth over the last year.

The casual pinners, paradoxically, tend to be the pinners with the most pins (sometimes in the tens of thousands) and pinboards, because they can easily and effortlessly repin hundreds of pins if they want to. But the casual pinner also tends to be very generic, because what the casual pinner is getting out of pinning is the momentary joy of discovering a pin.

The opposite of the casual pinner are the people like my friend (and like me) who want to use Pinterst to get things done. These pinners are a lot more likely to be the other type of internet user, the content creator (although with Pinterest perhaps a better name would be content adder). These people tend to be ground zero for pins, they find things on the internet that they like, and then they add them to their boards.

Content adders tend to be more purposeful with their boards. They are using the boards to keep track of ideas, recipes, or images that are particularly meaningful to them and their goals. The content adders are the people who keep Pinterst going by bringing in fresh ideas, and then combining them with what is already available on the site. Ironically, even though they are some of the most important members of the Pinterst community because they bring in the fresh material, but they are often lost in the jumble of casual pinteresters. As I noted before, Pinterest doesn’t have a mechanism in place to reward or promote its content adders or to help members of the community easily find those people.

Making Pinterest do the Work

Users who understand the two types of people on Pinterest and the way they pin have a much better time making the site work for them (there’s a third type of pinner, the type who wants to use the site for their business, and I may talk about them later). These users have a good grasp on what type of pinner they are and what goals they have for the site. There is no shame in being a casual pinner. For the pinners who just want to have fun and see lots of cool things, Pinterest may already be delivering a pretty good experience. But, for pinners who want to use it for specific purposes, finding appealing content is an important and somewhat opaque process. This is where the pinboards come in. A pinner should have a strong sense of what each pinboard is for. What goal is the board trying to accomplish? Is it for a super-specific task or project? Is it a place to keep interesting ideas related to a specific theme? Is it just a casual board in with some boards that are more purpose-driven?

The next step is to get Pinterest to start delivering pins that are interesting. Right now, a new Pinterest user is only exposed to friends that they already know through another social network. Some of these friends may be interested in the same things as the new pinner, but others are just not. A new pinner can also try to find pins that are particularly interesting to them. Currently, there are two main options for this built into the site. The first is the public pin feeds that aggregate all of the pins on the site, especially those broken down into category like women’s apparel or food and drink. The other option is to search, a function that works only sort of well. Both of these options require constant work from the pinner and can be imprecise and repetitive. Hopefully Pinterest is going to upgrade its programming and design soon, to make this experience better.

Another method for getting more interesting and more relevant pins, which I prefer, is to start actively searching out and following individual pinners who provide interesting pins. This takes a bit of patience at first, but it can start paying off by providing more tailored content. One strategy a user can try is to find Pinterest accounts from people they already know they like. For example, a favorite artist, a blogger who runs a blog of interest, a local store that makes great clothes or jewelry. These people are probably sharing high-value pins.

The other strategy I use is to find individual pinners who provide great pins. They can be content adders or just casual pinners, what matters is that they are finding lots of material that I haven’t seen but that I like. To do this, I start by finding a pin that I particularly like, and I follow that pin to its original pinner. Then I take a look around their boards. If I find several boards in common with mine and at least a few pins that I think would be worth repinning, I follow that pinner. I also try to see if this person repins a lot, or if they are actually a content adder. Following a content adder can be especially fruitful. If I don’t have much in common with this pinner beyond the first pin, I just move on. Sometimes, only one or two boards look interesting to me and I follow just those boards. I have found that this strategy has helped deliver a lot of  interesting pins to me that I would have never seen otherwise.

I’ve found that this understanding of Pinterest and these strategies have made it a much more useful service for me. Instead of asking it to perform tasks that it isn’t (hopefully yet?) designed to do, I use it as a tool to help me work on my own projects. I add new pins to it whenever I can, I follow pinners that I know from outside of the Pinterest world, and I search out other pinners who are interested in the same types of content as me.

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