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FEATURE14 February 2012

Pinterest – get stuck in

Pinterest, the social media obsession of the moment, could be a rich source of consumer insight – and a handy research tool too, says Bronwen Morgan.

Farewell Facebook, goodbye Twitter. Pinterest – the “online pinboard” – launched almost two years ago but has only recently registered on the web user’s radar. Unique visitors to the site increased by over 400% between September and December 2011, and total visits have now exceeded 17 million.

But don’t expect to find dental appointment reminders and supermarket coupons there. Pinterest is more like an online scrapbook where members can share ideas, interests and inspiration with friends and strangers alike by ‘pinning’ images, as well as other links, to virtual boards. Images and boards with similar themes are grouped together, and members are able to follow each other, as on Twitter.

A brief foray on to the site suggests that pretty much any theme goes. From straightforward boards such as ‘wedding ideas’, ‘home inspirations’ and ‘places to go’, to the more unusual ‘how to use pegs’ and ‘the weird beard blog’, there seems to be something for everyone. But is there anything in it for market researchers?

In theory, yes. When asked in an interview in 2011 about his inspiration for starting Pinterest, founder Ben Silbermann said: “I’ve always thought that the things you collect – whether it’s the furniture in your home or the music on your iPod – says a lot about who you are.” If this is true then Pinterest should be a rich source of insight for researchers.

Pinterest draws immediate parallels with projective techniques such as the visual collage task, in which respondents are asked to assemble images, words and colours to represent how a concept or brand makes them feel

At first glance the process draws immediate parallels with projective techniques such as the visual collage task, in which respondents are asked to assemble images, words and colours to represent how a concept or brand makes them feel. Through observing this process researchers are able to access more subconscious, emotional reactions which may not emerge in a verbal exchange. For respondents of a certain age who revel in the sticky-fingered nostalgia of scrapbooking, this can feel like an entirely natural way of uncovering and presenting their thoughts and feelings.

But for those respondents who feel more at home in the quick-paced, information-rich digital environment, Pinterest could represent a more intuitive way of assembling emotional portraits. Not only are there infinite images just a mouse click away, but respondents are not limited to using just pictures – Pinterest lets you link to websites and blogs too.

With this in mind, a number of specific uses for market research are immediately evident. One simple application would be to pre-task respondents to create themed virtual pinboards before focus groups, thus priming them for discussion and simultaneously providing a talking point for other group attendees. There are currently barriers to this: while it’s free to join Pinterest, registration is still invitation only, meaning that unless you know someone who’s already a member your name is put on a waiting list until an unspecified later date when you’ll be invited to join. Members are also obliged to link their account to a Facebook or Twitter account, so there could be a number of obstacles to respondents agreeing to use it on a one-off basis for research purposes. These issues are likely to be only short-term, however, as the registration process will surely evolve and simplify, as has been the case with other similar applications, like Twitter, before it.

Alternatively, you could just encourage existing Pinterest users to contribute to a communal project. This could involve, for example, setting up a type of brand scrapbook, and encouraging others to populate the board with items they associate with that brand. This would have to be handled carefully as Pinterest states in its terms and condition that it is not to be used as a platform for self-promotion but rather as an online space for members to share their lifestyle, tastes and interests. It would also be limited by the demographics of its users ( 80% are women, and 55% of these are aged between 25 and 44 ). But done in the right way, for the right brand, it could be a rich source of insight.

Even without directly encouraging content creation, there is clear value in engaging with Pinterest as a source of secondary data. Half an hour navigating around the site can give a picture of current trends, how they’re interconnected, and to a certain extent, who’s driving them. With the added benefit of a search function, interested parties can search for brands, products and themes and, in doing so, gain a picture of who’s talking about them, how they’re talking about them and what else they’re interested in.

Perhaps the most compelling insight of all, though, is what the arrival of Pinterest can tell us about how the social media trend itself is evolving and how the research industry should react. According to a recent blog by Elad Gil, a tech entrepreneur, three parallel trends have emerged in web sharing over the last ten or so years. The first is that online sharing has required less and less effort over time (in relation to the ease of content creation). Secondly social sites have become more visual over time. And third, people-centred recommendations are being augmented by topic-centred networks. Pinterest appears to represent the culmination of all three trends.

Given how much more valuable it is to communicate in a way that mirrors everyday interaction, researchers need to ensure that they evolve alongside social media and make their methods of communication as relevant as possible. But this shouldn’t be limited to communication with respondents; analysis and presentation techniques also need to evolve to fit our need for intuitive, visual, straightforward communication. This could mean producing pinboard analysis, brand scrapbooks, even Pinterest presentations. However you choose to interpret it, one thing is clear: the future’s visual.


8 years ago

For now as a curatorial tool I still prefer Tumblr - allows posting of a wider range of content types, allows group Tumblrs, private tumblrs, can be signed up to simply via email rather than FB/Twitter authorisation. Bigger global user base too (though Pinterest has already nudged ahead in the US) Pinterest's sheer ease of use would give it the edge if those issues were ironed out, though. Where it really has an edge now over anything else out there is secondary data, as you say: its search tool works (unlike some social sites!) and the results it gives - because they're selected and shared - are a lot richer and more inspiring than other image-based search tools.

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7 years ago

I must be too thick for Pinterest. For a week now I've been trying to pin stuff and then find the stuff I've pinned. I've been trying NOT to have it all linked up to FB and Twitter but seem to be following people I didn't think I'd chosen to follow and some are following me. My point being that these things are all very well and good but if I can't figure them out (and I'm not THAT thick), I don't rate the chances of asking anyone else to. It's gonna have to get better fast or I'm dropping out and they can stick their invitation (which also slightly creeped me out btw!)

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7 years ago

I can absolutely see the value in something like this as a primary research tool - just less so in this organic WWW form. It needs to be abstracted and simplified somewhat to be more straightforward and confidential for research purposes. If any tech provider out there has an easier to use, private version of this (e.g. an online 'white space' with private log in for an individual or group of individuals to place lots of images/links/words, etc) find me on Linked in, i'd love to have a go!

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7 years ago

I'd recommend over Pinterest for primary research. It's very similar to Pinterest but does not require an invite, also allows users to 'snip' video from YouTube, etc and has a private option for 'collections'. Evernote is also a good option for this type of user lead/co-creation research but is a little less user friendly for participants.

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7 years ago

Thanks for the recommendation Chris, have signed up to have a look!

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