Food, drink, art drive Pinterest users

U research showed that both men and women pin on these topics.

Kristoffer Tigue

Two University of Minnesota researchers are examining one of the newest and fastest-growing markets in social media: Pinterest.

It’s the third largest English-language social network, growing 4,000 percent in 2011 alone. And Loren Terveen and Shuo Chang want to know what’s driving that growth.

They first delved into the cyber “pin board” last year, revealing the site’s value to advertisers.

Now, they’ve examined users’ activity patterns, discovering that although men and women differ in their pinning habits, the overall subject matter trends toward the arts, food and drink.

“There’re a few categories on Pinterest that seem stereotypically male, like cars and motorcycles, or science … and technology,” said computer science professor and study co-author Terveen. But the research showed that men pinned more arts content, particularly design.

Technology and sports accounted for less than 1 percent of all pins analyzed, while food and drink, DIY and crafts, home decor and women’s fashion made up more than 45 percent of the content.

The study sampled 46,365 Pinterest users; females made up more than 93 percent of those whose genders were identified.

Nationwide numbers look similar. A report by Nielsen showed that males made up only 28 percent of Pinterest’s total U.S. traffic in 2012.

Terveen said he believes one reason for these statistics is that Pinterest is “presented as a women’s site.”

“Men who are going to use Pinterest are men who are not afraid of going and using a site that they’ve heard is for women,” he said.

The first time Tom Guyn used Pinterest, it was specifically to look at the costumes he’d later wear for his community college’s rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“I’m very much into the arts,” said Guyn, now a University sophomore. “That was the only reason I was going on there in the first place.”

About 10 percent of all pins from men were “Design,” compared to only 3 percent of women’s pins.

Men also posted more than women when it came to film, music and books. Home decor was one of the most popular topics for both genders, and food and drink topped the list for both.

Neuroscience sophomore Kathryn Luk said she uses the site to find crafting ideas and cooking recipes, which she said makes her “sound like such a girl.”

Freshman Whitney Shapiro, who is studying nonprofit management, said she’s not surprised that men on the site are interested in arts, because those topics can easily be found and accessed.

“I think that the categories that they use are kind of broad,” she said. “When I’m trying to look for something to do, other than if I’m looking at do-it-yourselves and crafts, everything else I’m kind of dumbfounded as to what I should be looking for and what I should click on.”

Terveen said Pinterest’s culture is cyclical. The majority of users are interested in things like art and cooking, and the site shows users what’s most popular. In order for the site’s culture to change, he said, more people interested in things like cars and technology would need to join and make those topics popular.

The difference between social networks and social curation sites — like Pinterest — is user motivation, lead author Chang said. On social curation sites, users post lots of pictures and fewer comments, which he said shows that they care more about content than the social aspect of the site.

Chang said now that they have a better understanding of popular topics, the next step is to learn how pinners successfully garner large followings.

“What is the way to success? Is there a pattern?” he said. “It’s not just about the [content]. If you do certain things, it’s more likely you get more followers.”