I learned a long time ago that digital entrepreneurs don’t succeed by developing tools I understand immediately. So I wasn’t worried last summer when I first created a Pinterest account but couldn’t figure out why I would use it.
If it was going to become an important social tool, I’d learn by watching how smarter people used it. And I am.
I knew something was happening with Pinterest late last year when people in my social networks (and some people I’d never heard of) started following my pinboards (which at the time meant they were following nothing). I started seeing some Pinterest chatter on social media and in blogs.
Adam Burnham, senior vice president for local digital sales at Digital First Media, asked me early this year what I knew about Pinterest. I told him I didn’t know much but had noticed the growing use of it and chatter about it. A Google search found some articles that gave me some quick background.
If you haven’t been prompted yet to figure out Pinterest, here’s a quick explanation: It’s kind of a social media scrapbook of online images. When a photo or other image on the Internet catches your eye, you “pin” the image, saving it (with a link and whatever text you add) to a “pinboard” of related images.
An interesting factor in Pinterest use I noticed in reading about it was that women were using it more than men by about a 4-to-1 margin. I queried and checked out some colleagues about their Pinterest use and saw a similar gender gap. The most active users were female colleagues: Buffy Andrews, Mandy Jenkins, Cheryl Sadler, Lisa Jonaitis, Maryanne MacLeod, Helen Bennett and Jen Westpfahl. (Ivan Lajara was the outlier, a guy who’s using Pinterest actively and well. Daniel Finney, a friend at the Des Moines Register, is another outlier.)
I also see the gender gap in extent of use by people who are on Pinterest. When a woman I know follows me on Pinterest, I look and usually see multiple pinboards, with collected images telling me something about her interests. When a man follows me and I click on his account, I often see an empty account (like mine was for too long), indicating he’s heard he ought to check Pinterest out but hasn’t figured out yet what it’s good for or why he would use it.
Perhaps reflecting this gender gap, common topics for pinboards include food, fashion, entertainment and weddings. I’m expecting this gender gap will close faster than the one troubling Mitt Romney. While many women are never going to find a reason to vote for Romney, lots of men had baseball card collections when they were boys (or still do), and I see great potential for Pinterest to catch on with men. I have two pinboards of New York Yankees: Yankees who should be in the Hall of Fame and Yankees I’ve seen play in person (both works in progress). Men are visual creatures and collectors, too (I’m sure some men are already pinning sexy photos of supermodels, though I have refrained from compiling such a pinboard for demonstration purposes). When it becomes standard for guys to compile pinboards of their fantasy sports teams, favorite beers and golf courses they have played, remember that you read it here first.
Buffy and her York Daily Record colleagues won first place in my Valentine’s engagement contest with an engagement project that used Pinterest, and Lisa’s second-place effort with Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun colleagues also used Pinterest.
On a March visit with a niece who’s engaged, she showed us her wedding dress on her smartphone, and it was from her Pinterest account. (Other nieces and a daughter-in-law also are active on Pinterest, but I know of no sons or nephews using it.)
I decided I’d better start pinning some images myself and figure out how Digital First newsrooms and journalists should be using Pinterest. For a March workshop on job-hunting in digital journalism, I created a pinboard of my career, suggesting that students seeking jobs could use Pinterest not only to showcase their work, but to demonstrate their mastery of a social tool that prospective editors (still more likely to be male) had probably heard of but not used yet.
I had some fun compiling a pinboard of my homes. Where I couldn’t find a photo of my own to upload to Flickr and pin, I’ve used Google Street View and the satellite view of Google Maps to find old homes, if I could recall the address (I’m an Air Force brat and itinerant journalist who’s lived a lot of places). That pinboard isn’t finished yet, but I think the point is that most pinboards are always going to be works in progress.
I’ve pinned a few of my favorite places, but that board needs some more work, as does the Pinboard of old family photos (OK, for the last time, they are all works in progress; I think that’s the point). For fun, I created a pinboard of photos of me with large screens.
Buffy’s pinboard of old typewriters (I guess that’s redundant, but I left “old” in because it just looked right) inspired me to drop by the American Press Institute and shoot the collection of old typewriters there and pin them (I’m hoping that collection ends up at the Newseum, now that API has been swallowed up by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation).
Pinterest is in my second tier of social tools right now. I use Twitter and Facebook the most and post photos to Flickr, Facebook and Twitpic (my don’t-alter-photos ethic has kept me from embracing Instagram and its filters, but if it’s worth $1 billion to Facebook, I’d better start). Pinterest has a secure place somewhere with Foursquare, LinkedIn, TripIt and SlideShare among my lesser-but-frequently-used tools. (Yes, that’s a lot of social tools, and we didn’t even get into my third tier. I think it’s a measure of Pinterest’s appeal that it is gathering so many fans and commanding so much of their time when many of us are facing social-tool overload.)
I’m not loving Pinterest the way some of my female colleagues are, but I’ve used it enough now that I sort of like it and certainly understand the appeal.
This is the first in a four-part series on Pinterest that will continue next week. The second post will discuss how Pinterest can be useful for journalists. The third will be a quick primer for journalists who have never or seldom used Pinterest. The fourth will provide links to other helpful pieces about Pinterest as well as to some examples of journalists using Pinterest. I will be posting them soon.