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Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

The point everyone’s missing about Pinterest

Everyone is talking about Pinterest. 

Seems like every blogger I read has written a post on the topic. My Evernote files are bursting with clips that include pundit opinions, technical overviews, marketing tips, how to’s, case studies, best practices, infographics, metrics, statistics, diagrams, roadmaps, seriously long lists of tactics to help you “make the most” of Pinterest, and even a few spoofs. The Pinterest eagle has landed and everyone wants to be the one to tell you how to use it to market your brand.


I know it’s driving massive traffic, but …

There’s no question that Pinterest is racking up some pretty impressive numbers in terms of users, views, clicks, and so forth. It’s also true that some big name brands are finding effective ways to use it, so clearly the site isn’t just a guilty pleasure for the millions of primarily female addicts around the globe. There’s some bite behind Pinterest’s bark in the form of real website visitors that are, presumably, being converted into paying customers on product-based sites.

As the owner of a service-based business, I don’t expect to generate leads from Pinterest. Even if I did post quotes or images that related to my marketing and writing skills, I find it highly unlikely that they would lead to an actual engagement. Branding overhauls, content strategies, and e-books are not exactly impulse buys. But that’s not to say that I don’t believe I’m getting any value out of the platform. (And, no, I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to have to give up pinning pictures of beautiful barn homes, cute animals, and word geek sayings.)


… I just want it to be fun.

Maybe it’s my inner cynic, but I am a little grossed out by the stampede to monetize and “marketize” this platform. I’m a marketer myself, so it might seem out of character for me to be turned off by the sudden influx of crassly promotional pins that have started cluttering my Pinterest feed. At least once a day, I find myself unfollowing specific boards just so I can purge the overtly commercial items from my otherwise all-fun-all-the-time feed. I don’t want Pinterest to become just one more place where people can broadcast their offers. I don’t want it to become integrated with the rest of the social management tools so that people can simultaneously push the same images and comments to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

I spend time on Pinterest to get away from my usual work routine – to see new things that I don’t see in my typical, work-driven web travels. I spend time on Pinterest to spark my imagination. I go there to collect images that make me smile, inspire me, or perhaps give me a new perspective on an old problem. And I go there to share myself and learn about other people, because …


… once upon a time, social platforms were actually about being social. 

And that’s the piece of the Pinterest puzzle that people are missing. Somehow, by reaching this critical mass of users and clicks and press coverage, the site has been transformed from a fun way to share ideas and dreams into a source of traffic. Most of what I’ve read about “how to use Pinterest” is about how to use it to drive traffic somewhere else – how to use Pinterest as the bait that lands fish on your own website.

Again, as a marketer, I get this. I really do. But, I’m discouraged to think that people are so willing to overlook the smaller, more intimate opportunities that a social network like Pinterest offers.


If a picture is worth a thousand words … 

… then Pinterest is worth one hell of lot of words. As a writer, there’s a part of me that sighs with resignation over the immense popularity of this visually-driven site. As I recently commented on Mark Schaefer’s clever post about the rise of Pinterest, “Perhaps the dolphins really are the more intelligent species and language is just a kind of evolutionary speed bump. Perhaps Pinterest will pave the way for communication sans words. We will simply point and use emoticons to decide whether the person we’re conversing with is friend or foe.”

But, the issue of our declining desire to engage with the written word aside, I do admit that – even for a writer – pictures offer a certain immediacy of understanding that is appealing. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their Pinterest boards. There are patterns, preferences, even – potentially – subconscious themes. I haven’t analyzed anyone else’s boards, but in looking at my own hoard of pins, I was surprised at how much of myself I had revealed through this visual format, this subtly passive (after all, I’m not creating this content, I’m simply passing it along) method of saying, “This is who I am.”


And that’s what it’s all about. 

I’ve said before that the secret to any social platform or social content success lies in its ability to help people express themselves. It’s never about the platform or the brand or the product or the service. It’s about the individual and giving her a way to say, “This is me.” For all intents and purposes, Pinterest is a digital locker door in a global high school. You took care to decorate your locker in a way that expressed your style and personality and beliefs. And each time you opened your locker, you revealed that visual reflection of your insides for all the world to see. And sometimes, someone would notice something you’d hung up there – a saying or a picture of a band or a piece of your own artwork – and stop to make a comment or ask you a question. In that instant – you were connected by your shared affinity with that image. You learned, with very few words, that you had something in common, shared some small piece of a belief or a vision. Contact was made – human contact.

Those are the types of connections I like making on Pinterest. It’s not that I’d be disappointed if I somehow managed to generate a lot of new traffic to my website, but I’d honestly be more pleased to make some intimate connections with individuals. After all, business is ultimately about relationships and, in my experience, having a few strong relationships is much more effective (and fulfilling) than chasing after a larger number of casual relationships.

What do you say? Should we be embracing the “marketization” of Pinterest, or taking the slower approach with a focus on one-on-one relationship building?

–>  If you’d like more about Pinterest, check out the FOCUS Q&A Panel  moderated by Ann Yastremskiof Marketing Profs and featuring Amanda Maksymiwof OpenView LabsJessica Meher of HubSpot, Olivier Blanchard of BrandBuilder Marketing, and little, old me. It was fun. I used the term “Pinterest Pimp.” 😉


Image  Credit: Ben Watts


Blog like a honey badger


30 min of solid Pinterest insights in FOCUS Q&A


  1. Bravo! This is a wonderful perspective and I agree. My favorite blogger recently posted about her fears about Pinterest and the ramifications of not crediting original sources, etc. Here is the link….

    I have an online art gallery…I sell ART and IMAGES…so you would think Pinterest is where I should hang my hat for most of my work day, but I’m resisting. I will resist until I know that each and every artist I represent is okay with their work out there in the open…and possibly stolen, etc…As an art representative I have to be so careful where and how I promote the images trusted to me to sell. Watermarking just isn’t cutting it for me.

    So, Pinterest is a complete hobby for me. I have a profile that highlights my business, but I will only pin an image if the owner of the image from my website has done it first. Half are willing, half not. Thank you for this wonderful post. As alway, FOOD FOR THOUGHT!

    • Jamie Lee

      Glad you’re enjoying Pinterest in a way that works for you, Christine. It’s certainly a growing network and will evolve as more people jump in. Enjoying your images!

  2. I love this. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t yet noticed the push of marketization on Pinterest, but that’s likely because I’m often oblivious and vague, especially when there are so many distractions at hand making me go, “Ooooh! Shiny!”

    I do agree with you that it’s the personal connections on Pinterest that draws me back. I love seeing what friends and family have pinned, and often think, “Yes, that looks just like them!” I also get a zing from seeing people from different circles sharing ideas (like you pinning things that Aunt Wendy posted, or Winter pinning things from your boards.) I think that while work is good-even wonderful, sometimes, there are some places that should be held apart–kept “pure”. I’d hate to see Pinterest all mucked up and commercialized. :(

    • Jamie Lee

      Hey, sweetie!
      I’m a victim of the “Ooooh! Shiny!” syndrome as well. I feel like my attention span drops about 20% when I’m on the site … I can’t scan the page fast enough. 😉

      I also love seeing the “path” of different images – where they came from, who repinned from whom, and so on. Pinterest is its own, little cosmos with all these pinner planets spinning around the content sun. Kind of cool, really.

      And – yay for keeping some spaces purely social. :)
      TKS for coming by!

  3. jim

    I have really, really, really, been trying my best to avoid pinterest, it just didn’t seem to be something I would want to spend any time on. What I do know is it is genius in terms of driving traffic to it which will in turn generate a lot of $$ for them, which seems to fuel most ideas these days and always has, but now that I’ve read your article on it I feel compelled to go see what all the hoopla is all about if this catches on like FB I think I will need to go to Korea and get myself cloned with the pet people ha-ha

    • Jamie Lee

      Pinterest almost does warrant a clone – it might take up that much of your time, if you’re not careful! 😉

      Love to hear your thoughts if/when you decide to take the plunge.


  4. hi Jamie
    Being a Visual Artist, I am all for more images and less words..

  5. I can understand that there is a rush to establish a footing here; however, I do worry about the absolute commodification of every aspect of our lives. I kept a daily diary for 17 years. Not once did I come across an ad in my diaries or notes. It was literally a room of my own.

    Pinterest is going to attract marketers. I get that. It’s about finding a new market, a new skill. yes, I might play with it to learn and understand its potential for clients. But I don’t want another online blend of personal and commercial. I would rather resist and keep the flotsam and jetsam of my life to myself for a while longer.

    • Jamie Lee

      No ads in your diary, Jon? (Too funny.)

      You bring up a great point about the frequent blending of personal and commercial. It’s something I struggle with a lot as a solo entrepreneur/business owner. Just where does someone like me draw the line on sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc? I tend to lean towards a more holistic model (as in, “This is me – all of me – and I’m not going to segment myself out based on the audience.”), but I know some people find that mix of work and pleasure a distraction and/or a credibility liability.

      I guess we each have to sort that out for ourselves.
      For now – I’m just glad to know people still keep diaries. It’s good to have some unpublished thoughts.

      TKS for visiting – see you ’round the web!

  6. Jamie, don’t give up hope! You, too, can benefit from all that primed, targeted traffic. Just create a “commercial.” Flickr image. Slogan. BAM.

    Yeah… it’s pretty icky, I know. But since that’s the way Pinterest is going to make its money, too, those scantily-clad ads are probably starting to pile up. So much for “free time.” You’ll be in there psychoanalyzing every post. Speaking of which…

    I can’t help but think: isn’t most of what’s being pinned going to get us– subconsciously or somehow–anyway? We see a girl doing yoga in branded yogawear… We see the pop-culture references–and counter-culture references–in quotes, poses, and tags. We see the recipes that link back to a blog that happens to show a particularly intriguing Google AdSense. I don’t want to go so far down this path that every possible pin is an indirect ad, but… in my mind, it’s within reach.

    But I’m sorry, I can’t visit Pinterest because I’m afraid I may not return…

    • Jamie Lee

      I see where you’re going, Shakirah. On some level, every image on Pinterest could potentially be promoting something. I guess the distinction I’ve made without even meaning to is between images that are expressing a personal opinion or aspiration (e.g., the yoga pose or the inspirational saying or the beautiful piece of artwork pinned by someone other than the artist) and pins that are trying to incite the viewer to take some kind of action (e.g., check out my product/service/offer or look how smart I am and THEN check out my product/service/offer). It’s a fine line with a great deal of gray area on either side. For instance, I see marketers (like me) pinning loads of infographics about social media and content marketing, etc. On the one hand – they are just marketing geeks like me and have a built-in interest in this kind of thing and want to share it. On the other hand, it brings in what feels to me like an overtly commercial message because the person sharing isn’t just observing marketing, they are part of the transactional ecosystem.

      I’m with you. I don’t want to think about it TOO hard.
      Oh – and I kind of wish I never visited Pinterest myself. I’ve already spent WAY too many hours there … hours I’ll never get back. 😉

  7. Pinterest is turning out to be a wonderful potential tool for those in my field. I am an “archivist.” When I say that word, I often get blank stares. When I try to explain what I do, people start to understand…but I have been exploring Pinterest over the past month and found that it is a great way to explain ideas that may at first not seem interesting or may at first be confusing when explained through words. I have created a board called “What is an archivist?” As a former public librarian, I also have an interest in the future of libraries. Libraries are struggling to define themselves as society evolves. I created a board called “Save libraries” that explains what libraries do and what they can do in the future. I also have begun experimenting with a visual resume that links to places I’ve worked and things in which I specialize…A picture is indeed worth a thousand words and as I continue with my Pinterest experiments I hope to discover new ways to express important concepts – to help people understand the importance of cultural heritage and what it is. And one more thing…by actively looking for images that tell about my field, I have discovered that many museums, libraries and archives have very boring pages. We need to put more images online to get people to come to our web sites, explore them and then come over to explore the institutions themselves. To me, that is the real value of Pinterest – encouraging social engagement and real sharing beyond the site and even beyond the Internet itself.

    • Jamie Lee

      All excellent observations and experiments, Melissa. I love the sense of play behind your “work” on Pinterest and think the way you’re bringing together images and ideas and groups of people is phenomenal. I love the idea of using Pinterest as a way to educate people visually.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your take on this new frontier. I hope more people follow your lead!

  8. Thank you for sharing this with me today Jamie! I may be late to this post and in joining Pinterest, but, I’ve been reluctant to participate with each new popular platform.

    I’m always less concerned about the endless stream of marketers who look to capitalize on the traffic potential of any site – Personally, my lag comes from an internal struggle.

    Create? or Curate?

    In my view, collecting art is different than making art, reading a book or blog is different than writing one. So, the question is…will creatives ever stop supplying content for those who gain notoriety simply for being the disseminators of it – as Pinterest is designed to do?

    I hope with the next iteration of our online lives and whatever might end up being the next new shiny thing – we can better balance this social symbiosis so that the benefit truly does work both ways.

    Until then, thanks for joining me on Pinterest…and Twitter…and Facebook…and… :)

    • Jamie Lee

      Thanks for coming by, Chandra, and for raising such a great question.

      This is something I struggle with DAILY.
      As a blogger/marketer, I’m always reading a ton of blog posts and sharing them with my Twitter followers. I love to read the content (I’m a geek that way), and I love to share it, BUT … I sometimes wonder if my time wouldn’t be better spent CREATING more content of my OWN.

      I’m also very turned off by the way some people try to take over every new platform with a tidal wave of promotional content.

      And, finally, you pose an interesting question about the need for balance between what creators gain from their creations and what curators gain from it. My biggest issue with Pinterest is the fact that many pins seem to lose their associated URLs – meaning the connection to the original artist or author is lost. I’ve taken to including source info (a URL or Twitter handle) with pins where I can. I hate to think that something I post could not be properly attributed.

      I think there will always be three camps – creators, curators, and consumers. But, I do hope that all these technological advances will ultimately reward and empower the creators at LEAST as much as everyone else.

      See you round the interwebs!

  9. You explained the dilemma far better than I did Jamie!

    I consume so much info online, I’m an avid reader, and I like to share, too. But in so doing, I leave myself less and less time to create.

    It’s the basis of my love/hate relationship with all things social media, not just Pinterest.

    So, maybe my real issue is not with how these sites are designed or who they reward, but rather my gripe is with the Babylonians who only gave us 24 hours in a day!!


    • Jamie Lee

      I love that, Chandra.

      I can see a T-shirt with one of your fabulous designs: “Blame it on the Babylonians.”

      It could catch on!

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