Another week, another social network explodes onto the scene. Barely 2 years old and picture collecting social network Pinterest is growing rapidly and making headlines.
Despite being a simple concept - you essentially pin or bookmark pictures onto one or more boards - it is strangely satisfying. I'm by no means an avid user but there is something slightly voyeuristic about browsing image after image to see what takes your fancy. Whether its architecture, fashion, food, travel or technology, there is something for everyone.
I also think it taps into some basic needs in this current financial climate. While there is less money to go round and less desire to be seen flaunting it, people still like beautiful things. Pinterest taps into this, letting you like it, collect it and show it. Friends can still marvel at your good taste and ability to find something unique - just without the need to actually buy it. You're also able to "own" a collection of things that form part of your wish-list, even if most of those wishes have no chance of coming true.
What's makes Pinterest really appealing though is how it engages the active lurker.
Within social marketing we're aware of the 90-9-1 principle which states that typically 1% of people actually create new content, 9% of people curate this content (adding value/re-posting) and 90% simply read/consume it. A recent blog post however from enterprise social network provider Yammer commented on how this 90% might not be quite so passive. Discussing a research study from MIT Sloan, the blog pointed out how upto 50% of these lurkers may actually be active. This may not be directly within the community in terms of posting, but instead are active in terms of how they use and pass on the information.
Within Pinterest though, they seem to use a number of techniques to lower the hurdle for engaging these lurkers directly within the community.
Firstly they have an invite only acquisition process which is something I wrote about in a previous blog. This is becoming increasingly common for these start-ups and social networks as not only does it help them control acquisition (and the associated traffic), but it also helps build up demand and create social currency. As existing members can invite friends, this invite only mechanism helps bestow value on the membership and members are then more likely to recommend it to friends and/or brag about being part of it.
The second interesting feature within Pinterest that looks to create more engagement is how they use "endowed progress". Giving people value up front in the form of a welcome bonus is nothing new within loyalty programmes, however Pinterest takes a different angle on this endowed progress. Rather than a points currency, their currency is measured in friends and so on joining, they automatically link you to people you might want to follow. You're obviously free to unlink from them at any time, but this "instant network" based on your stated interests ensures you see content immediately and don't start with an empty profile. It's a simple idea that really helps you to feel engaged and a part of something straight away - it also helps to power with the final feature, re-sharing.
Pinterest makes the process of collecting very easy, lowering the hurdle to taking part.
You don't have to be the 10% of curators/creators who go out seeking new content to pin from across the web. Instead you can simply browse what others are posting and just pin whatever takes your fancy. This is something that is really interesting and not dissimilar to the Facebook "Like" activity. The difference however with Pinterest re-sharing is the curation part of it - your likes are essentially built up into a collection which you maintain and continue to share with friends. Amazon does something similar with it's Listmania service - but you'd be hard-pressed to find it given it's buried at the bottom of the page.
Pinterest have shown however how to bring this functionality front and centre and really engage members around it. They are obviously doing something right given they are the fastest growing social media site in history and have already got a presence on almost 10% of the top 300 online retailers.
With an increased desire to both share and consume information, the opportunity here for brands is how to engage this 90% of lurkers in an active way - and Pinterest certainly provides some interesting ideas.