Pinterest could be new tool for businesses

University study finds the fast-growing site could prove useful for advertisers.

by Marion Renault


If Twitter is about what’s happening now, and Facebook is about connecting with family and friends, then Pinterest is about stuff, a new University of Minnesota study suggests.

The website, which functions as a cyber “pin board” where users can “pin” and organize online photos, was the focus of a study by computer science professor Loren Terveen and Georgia Institute of Technology’s Eric Gilbert.

The two, along with a pair of graduate students, began gathering information on the social media site last summer and presented their paper last week in Paris.

This was one of the first academic studies of Pinterest, said graduate student researcher Shuo Chang, and the findings revealed that the site — which reached 10 million users faster than any other social networking site — has characteristics and a user base that could be valuable to advertisers.

“We thought it would be interesting because it was very fast-growing,” Terveen said. “It was interestingly different from other sites in that there was this focus on objects … and [was] heavily dominated by female users.”

After examining more than 200,000 pins, the researchers discovered the language of Pinterest differs from social media counterparts like Twitter.

While other social media users tend to use words like “now,” “today” and “LOL,” Pinterest uses words that focus on things, like “use,” “look,” “want” and “need.”

“Twitter seemed to be about socializing, conversation and here’s what I’m doing now,” Terveen said. “Pinterest was much more about things that I want to do or things that I want to try.”

Despite being a social media site, Chang said Pinterest users are more focused on posting new content than interacting.

“There is not much social activity on the site,” he said. “People are more interested in re-pinning a picture that they like.”

Those findings, Terveen said, suggest Pinterest is evolving into a “culture of almost new domesticity,” which could be useful if tapped into by marketers.

“If people are curating collections of things,” he said, “that’s a great opportunity to sell those things to them.”

Through images and text, the users create a cumulative profile of interests — a gold mine for advertisers and marketers.

“Deciding the purchase behavior and taste of each user is going to be valuable information,” Chang said. “That’s why retailers are interested.”

Journalism assistant professor Shayla Thiel-Stern said the visual element of Pinterest will be both advantageous for advertisers and a hurdle.

“[Advertisers on Facebook] try and market based on words,” she said. “Pinterest is really visual —so this is sort of new terrain for a lot of companies.”

Terveen and his team have already begun a second round of research on the site, which will focus on the different categories on Pinterest. He said he hopes to begin analyzing this second set of data in the next couple of weeks.