What to make of a social network with mostly photos and few words?
Women gravitated to Pinterest’s visual appeal early on; now the social network is making a concentrated effort to reach out to small businesses to start using the service as it seeks to expand its audience base.
Pinterest has yet to accept advertising — it’s expected to start experimenting with monetization next year — but it’s open for business for folks looking to market to consumers.
Pinterest, which reached 46 million visitors in July, according to ComScore, is a website and app that lets users “pin” photos and Web links of things they’re interested in. You can browse categories to see what folks think of, say, wedding dresses, sunflowers and chicken pot pie, and businesses can post photos and links to try and grow their sales.
Pinterest recently introduced a tool called “Rich Pins,” which lets retailers provide extra information about what’s being pinned. For instance, if online retailer Etsy displays an image, Pinterest also includes the price, size and color, says Evan Sharp, a Pinterest co-founder. “That helps us make it easier to discover.”
Some businesses have had a hard time understanding Pinterest, he admits. “Pinterest takes a moment to ‘get it.’ If you don’t take that moment, there’s a little bit of a learning curve.”
But those who do get it, love it. Courtney Jentzen, who makes custom wedding invitations, regularly “pins” her work on Pinterest, and gets lots of feedback — and inquiries.
“For me to post a tweet would be showcasing a thought, but since I’m visually based, Pinterest is such a bigger deal,” she says. “A pin can create a ripple effect. I post it, it shows up on someone else’s page, and it goes from there. You can reach so many more people than you’d find on a blog, or even on Twitter or Facebook.”
It’s All About the Clicks
Making Pinterest cooler than any other social network — at least for Jentzen — is the click-through. Click the photo once, see the picture; click it again, and it takes you straight to the company website. “No one else does that,” she says.
Patty Triplett West, who runs the Good Karmal company in Bozeman, Mont., says she pins on Pinterest because “I have to be there. People go on Facebook to connect, but with Pinterest they are there to be inspired.” She offers her caramels as custom gifts for weddings and anniversaries, and each is wrapped with an inspirational quote. “Folks often pin them when they’re planning.”
Consumers can’t spend enough time with it. Kelsey Junger loves “everything” about Pinterest. “I’m a teacher, so all the school ideas, fashion and that stuff.” How many hours a day does she spend on Pinterest? “Too many … about two hours.”
Sharp describes Pinterest as a place “to help people discover what they love, and inspire them to do those things in their real life.”
WORD OF MOUTH
Pinterest launched in 2010, and struggled for a year until women began to discover it and began spreading the word. Some $338 million has been raised by the firm from a variety of venture firms including Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners. Forbes says Pinterest is valued at $2.5 billion.
Growth has been ultra-fast. Some 140 folks work at Pinterest; a year ago, the company had just 15 employees. The firm was founded by Ben Silbermann, Sharp and Paul Sciarra, who has since left the company.
Jeremy Levine, a partner with Bessemer Venture Partners, says that after successful investments in companies that rely heavily on user-generated content (review-site Yelp and networking site LinkedIn) he was intrigued with Pinterest’s concept of sharing ideas via photos.
“Users were using it not once or twice a day, but multiple times,” he says. “It was rare to see that kind of passionate response.”
Challenges for the company include establishing a business model, making Pinterest relevant outside the United States, and broadening the appeal here. Potentially, Pinterest could be “tremendous. If it all works, it could be a fabulously valuable business that could be worth many billions of dollars.”