Pinterest Success in 2012

I have been seeing bloggers refer to “pinning” images on Pinterest for a year or more and just recently I finally got an account started. Pinterest required linking to my FB profile which was a dealbreaker, but I deleted the app and unlinked it afterwards. I was curious as to why Pinterest was different than other mood board sites (polyvore) I had seen that didn’t really impress me. At the same time I have been reading more about how Pinterest drives more traffic to retailer sites than Google Images, how women are the primary audience and why Pinterest traffic has taken off like a space rocket.

My take on the site as a web analyst, a woman and a user of the site may be different than the media’s perceptions. I concentrate on the behaviors and uses of the site and have listed my opinons on their growth/success here:

Some reasons I think Pinterest has been a growing site:

1. Images do say more than a 1000 words – They can make you feel hopeful, creative, inspired and motivated. Great images move people. That is why good photography is both art and marketing at the same time. (think Flickr/Instagram) What happens when you want to see that powerful/inspiring image again? Do you bookmark it? With your other 1,000 bookmarks? Blogging it has been better, but not everyone wants to blog and some people frown on hotlinking in your posts although that is what Pinterest uses. Flickr has been great with it’s searchable favorites image list, but not everyone likes Flickr like I do. Some people just want to link other people’s photos and not upload their own. Facebook is ok if you want to blast your friends with all the images you save/share about your home remodel project and make everything archived by the borg, but I really think image saving/sharing is out of context on your personal branding page. Capturing and sharing this image information has had a tricky history and Pinterest solved a problem we didn’t know we had.

2. People are busy and ideas are fleeting – Maybe this is the ADHD generation? I am a GenXer. I have way too much to do, a reasonable income and a very short attention span. I have a hard time keeping track of things that aren’t completely essential and ideas are on that list. In a personal example: With my process of moving around a lot in the last few years, my confidence in the house decorating department was a bit threatened from being a bit out of practice. I have made up for it with a huge file of images saved on my computer from design blogs. It was an old school solution to needing a place to look for ideas from images I already filtered and liked. Did it create solutions for my house? Yep, several rooms in the new house have been redone based on color pallettes from those photos. But in a day I may only see 1-3 photos I like from 50+ interior design blogs. In a year that is a lot to comb through and it isn’t share-able offline nor is it accessible from anywhere. So, Pinterest has recently proved more accessible and more shareable for keeping these images. Plus it is free for now. I could see them evolving into suggesting ad based photos by retailers based on your tags/likes/pins in the future.

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3. Trends/Decisions are easier to analyze when you have all the information from multiple sources in one place. I find it difficult to make buying decisions in this day and age because in most every category there are too many brands, products, colors, choices, prices and options to keep straight. (information overload) Making a pinning board for new shoes you are considering buying takes a lot less time than going to the 5 stores in your area and trying to decide that way or ordering online from Zappos and having to return them all. Plus you can save that pic of that shoe you love but don’t need right now for later. Side by side lists and comparisons make shopping a little easier, but in most cases these wishlists really work on selling to you and others. Someone recommends something, you loooove it, click-click-bought. That isn’t really a bad consumer strategy. I have found that if I ever pass on an item and want to look it up to buy later, it is impossible/gone  with how short the merch time is in stores (online and off) and how styles change so vastly that it may never be seen again. (yet the things you’re never very thrilled with seem to pop up again and again in many different stores). Items/Pictures that are popular on Pinterest may have more staying/selling power due to the large audience or they may be more trendy when people move on to the next micro trend. I am not sure yet because there is a lot of churn in products these days, some people consuming constantly, others stopping completely.

4. Like TED some ideas are worth sharing. I enjoy seeing what my friends have discovered and pinned. It tells me what they are into, what is new, what really good ideas/recipes they want to share and hopefully some of those ideas are good for me too. I have found some interesting clever solutions for household annoyances this way. True, this may just mirror the offline world where women would share tips on household stuff while chatting in the yard, but it makes sense for other subject matter/industries too as long as there aren’t proprietary info in the photos and there is a collective community sharing information. This could be a marketing strategy if you have real solutions your product offers and the story can be told in an image that looks real.

5. The biggest reason? Discovery is a process that a lot of us get a big burst of happy from. It doesn’t matter if it is online discovering photos, reading a magzine, watching a TV show, taking a vacation or creating something like artwork or crafts. Many of us have jobs that are pretty specialized and we do a short list of things for the company and don’t have a lot of variety or creativity in our daily lives. I have found that I need some form of creativity (writing, photography, art, dance, design) in order to be happy and I have a feeling that this may be the case for others too. Even the simulation of creativity by discovering and learning from photos of how to keep wrapping paper on the roll with a sliced toilet paper core haves us that Aha moment and makes us feel happier, smarter & more connected. All this in an easy to use format and without requiring much reading for the ADHD generations.

6. Another reason it may be growing is that Pinterest is very accessible on iPads which can go anywhere in the home when you have time to look at it. (the app is just fair, I prefer the full site in the browser on an iPad) It is a guilty pleasure just like celeb blogs on some level. I think mobile/tablet use is making the site more addictive although probably not the main reason for it’s success. Now that retailers (Etsy) has added pin it button to their listings pages I hope more retailers do this to help promote their products. One thing is clear though, it will take 500+ views and likes before you find someone ready to buy, and you will probably have to have some familiarity/trust built with them first. Most people do a lot of window shopping/dreaming on the site, a lot more than buying. But that is part of marketing, getting the word out in the first place, or as some say, creating the need. A large enough audience may just be able to significantly impact sales too.

7. The more I think about it there are more reasons that this site works well and attracts people so quickly. An element of new sites that often works well is keeping the interface simple and the navigation self explanitory. (especially with people who don’t have a lot of time or patience) In this case the content/images take center stage and the navigation/functionality is uber simple and almost in the background. If/when they would like to expand on it they can build more complexity over time and teach the audience along the path to more features just as/or before they get bored with the current ones. Facebook has done this pretty well and has been able to innovate its way ahead of many other sites.

Any other reasons you think Pinterest is growing so quickly?

TIME Magazine Article – The Social Contract in America

I was reading my parent’s TIME Magazine this week (that I usually swipe to read on the train) and they had polled Americans on the state of the economy and their take on how they plan to personally “get by” in the coming years. You can read the survey results and the article about this concept of a social contract online at TIME.com.

I had never heard of this concept of a “social contract” that business and government have with America. I work in a recruitment related field so if it existed, I thought I would know about it. As a human being I was aware of it as a colloquial dream we have perpetuated by the stories told by our parents and grandparents.

My family history doesn’t go back that far here in America. My great grandparents arrived from Poland and the Ukraine pre-WW1 and went to work in the gritty factories of Chicago because it was a better living and opportunity than they had back in Europe. (poor peasant potato farmers I usually say) and the economic opportunity has kept us here in Chicago ever since.

My grandparents generation went on to slightly boring but consistent blue collar jobs with pensions and my parent’s generation went on to white collar jobs after getting college educations. Some of them got a pension and health insurance and others did not. My generation doesn’t even get a shot at a pension. Companies have found that they can hire good people without it and they tell us that a 401K is really the same thing. (for reference I am 33)

So, we have these 401Ks that seem to never make money fast enough to accrue enough funds to equal what a pension would. They plummet in value every 10 years or so in recessions, and someone changes the funds available without asking or telling us. Most of us have health insurance through our jobs. We pay handsomely for it, between $100 and $300 per month per person.  And then when something happens that requires medical care, the insurance only covers 1/2 the costs. It is totally possible to go bankrupt with health insurance coverage these days because most coverage is crap compared to what my family had back in the 1980’s.

TIME says that there is an “implied” social contract in America where you give a company (or number of companies) your time and energy and they give you “a basic level of economic security provided you work hard and took responsibility for your family”. (direct quote from TIME July 28, 2008 p 42) And I think things have changed. This contract implied or not doesn’t really exist anymore. I see businesses every day making decisions to give workers less and people have to get more creative trying to survive.

I think the social contract is more like this now.

1. A company promises to pay you as little as they can for your time. This sounds pessimistic but I have seen the proof on paper that you are paid what they can get you for with your experience rather than what you are worth or how much “the job” pays. You have to wait years to work your way up the ladder to make a good wage and then marketers and your neighbors taunt you daily to buy everything in sight to keep up with the Joneses. 56% of the people who made over 100K a year said even they can’t expect to afford health care, college or a secure retirement anymore.  And 100K a year is a lot of clams. (I don’t make anywhere near that. ) I do realize that these businesses have to keep costs low in order to compete with India and China, but somehow I’d rather see the cuts come from other areas that don’t erode the culture in America and impede our ability to raise families. 

2. Marketers will prey on you from every direction. A lot more people could make it through hard times if they had savings but the national savings rate is negative now. All the “stuff” and services you “must” have seems to replace the financial security your grandparents achieved. Just say no didn’t work for reducing drug use in the 80’s and I think that the disposable consumer culture will probably continue here too.

3. Health Issues will cost you. Most young people don’t need much care because you haven’t gotten to the age where things start falling apart yet and we don’t have any concept of how much it costs to survive a serious health issue like cancer or bypass surgery. Both my parents had heart surgery in the late 1990’s and they were 50 & 60K each. We paid about 10K each of those costs and the insurance paid the rest. I just heard someone at my dad’s workplace had bypass surgery last month and it cost $100K. I know they have really poor health insurance there, and I can guess that the guy might have had to pay 50K out of pocket. Even dental issues are expensive. I need have needed a crown for about 5 years and because there is no pain or damage being done since the root canal and filling, I am holding off on the $1,000.00 price tag since dental insurance is only going to pay 1/2 and I would rather save the $ for a real emergency like fixing the 7 year old car I have or paying for the radiator heat to be fixed in my condo.

4. Retirement is going to be difficult. Very difficult. Some people wonder if social security will be around in 2040 when I turn 65. I personally, think it will be. It may not be nearly enough though. Most of us will have some 401K savings but as the Frontline Retirement special found, most people make crucial mistakes with managing their 401K and end up loosing a lot of money and getting little out at the end. (and then have to go back to work) Some tips include, never take a lump sum benefit, due to the tax penalty, never just let it ride and not watch the performance and watch for trading and management fees eating up your money. It also helps not to own a McMansion when you retire and live within your means before retirement. Saving money (like 10% of after tax income) on the side and investing it in some low risk but higher than inflation yields is also a smart way to prepare. And well let’s hope medicare still exists in 2040 also, and that doctors and hospitals still accept it as payment.

5. Creativity & Leverage are the new working hard. Money makes more money, it’s all who you know and being clever with side jobs or side businesses usually helps. Yes, saving a large percentage of your income by living simple and investing it can help you have the “power of compounding interest” as they say. Keeping in touch with people and maintaining your network helps with job opportunities and side opportunities to make some income. Starting weekend jobs or part time businesses online or otherwise helps too. I find people living simply and leveraging clever ways to work in more than one place are the ones that will have what they need later on. Getting into an industry that is doing well in the economy also helps but that may take pro-active skill re-training. Paying off your mortgage early and not moving also helps. You loose thousands of dollars on the services and fees associated with that transaction every time you move, and  we all know you pay 3x the value of your loan in interest if you really pay your mortgage over 30 years. After that you are seriously in the hole.

The only contract I think we really have now is that everything will change by the time the 30 somethings reach retirement age. The only thing we have to rely on is ourselves. In general business is struggling because the US has passed it’s peak and we will be in a pack of “also rans” soon. Companies in the US will not see the skyrocketing growth that they saw post-war in the last 60 years with China, India and Eastern Europe emerging as super-economic powers. This coupled with dwindling natural, energy and food resources will make the next 50 years a post US dominant era that will be much harder and more global.

I actually believe if the US was more competitive with skills and education we would do well in a world economy but I haven’t yet seen the expertise or drive to innovate. All I see every day is the drive to reduce expenses and cut resources in business and make short term gains with little or no thought about long term survival. I feel like the country is being run by the lowest common denominator MBAs right now and the next 10 years for us commoners are going to be difficult as a result, as we all lack the jobs/growth that they sucked/poached out in the short term and ran off with the profits.

So, enough about all that negativity.

How do you plan on coping with the changing game living and working in the US in the next 50 years?

Facebook Apps and Social Networking

internet graphI am not a huge fan of Facebook, I am more a MySpace person because well, I am getting older and it seems more primitive and understandable to me. But today through one of those many many email newsletters i get I saw there was a graphing social networks conference coming up. I immediately thought, how many people are into social graphs that there can actually be a conference? Isn’t that the play of uber programmer geeks and UI specialists? It’s a very exclusive club that I can’t join because my UI experience is low and my programming experience is non-existent. But yet I am still curious, like many people are, about emerging internet things. We all wonder when visual search and semantic search will finally really happen. It’s like the holy grail of convergence, that like true convergence, may not actually happen.

But what I found out about this conference is it’s not about drawing webs of how many people you know on the internet and linking them by different colors in Venn diagrams about their shared tastes. It is about things like facebook apps and social network applications off of the networks too. It has all the technorati A lister dignitaries attending, which means like the old blogging conferences I used to attend (Syndicate anyone?) it probably is too cutting edge and these technologies won’t go mainstream or won’t make money or both. They will have a lot of very intelligent discussion but alas its more about convincing eachother of their superior sales pitch or their product’s whiz bang goodness, and not really going much farther than that.

Plus I just saw some disappointing results from Facebook on a personal note with some work that I have been doing. MySpace performs way better in the way we needed them to. But it’s always neat to get distracted from work and go play around with some neat new cool sites and think about their data and what they have to say about trends in the internet world. So here are some cool sites that are sponsoring the conference. I’d skip the conference and maybe not work with these companies just yet, but I would keep an eye on it all for a little while and see where it goes. It could be huge you know… (Hype!)

http://www.popfly.com/ I got an invite but because I don’t have developer API keys, I can’t do anything with it.

Topix.com I’m not a fan, but recently some of their local commenting pages have given me hope to local search and communities. Maybe it was a good buy?

http://www.sometrics.com/demo/ Coolio! But I have no idea what this is good for except popular facebook apps and what some limited demographics are for the users… (I say coolio when I mean cool, it’s left over from about 10 years ago, sorry)

http://www.socialmedia.com/ A smaller less popular version of a sometrics.

The others like Plaxo aren’t my faves, but hey they might be useful for you…Check them out and see what you think…I’m not hyping anything.

Social Networking Sites

I have blogged about social networking sites that I use to keep up with friends, social networks that I have seen clients successfully advertise on and now I see that social networks are taking over the world. Well not litterally but sort of. Here is a map of where they are most popular by country. Yes everyone has heard of Facebook and MySpace but what about bebo and livejournal? Where are they the most popular? Who would have known that Livejournal (a Typepad company) is huge in Russia. The map is courtesy of the valley wag site. Click through to the site to see more data and information.

social networking country map world