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Journey into Pinterest

Conference Room Names at Pinterest

Air Plant. How much more Hipster can a conference room name get? Such was one of the names I found while visiting the headquarters of Pinterest in San Francisco last month. A Content Strategy Meetup drew me in (Pinterest's Tiffani Jones Brown presented), but my agenda wasn't really concerned with the presentation. Tiffani leads a team of writers at Pinterest. What I really wanted was the chance to journey "inside." And by "inside," I mean into the headquarters of a company valued at $2.5billion. That's hefty for a platform of tools that allows users to aggregate their own and 3rd party content.

Pinterest Headquarters Sign:  Hey Girl, Focus.
Recyled Startup Life?
I was a Dot Commer. I call it the Dot Chasm now. I arrived in California as the Dot Com Era was beginning (15+ years ago). My first job out of school was with a technology company. Deep in the heart of rural Massachusetts, the pull of Silicon Valley was working on me. I took a vacation, fell in love with San Francisco and moved west 6 months later (actually, all I really wanted were good career opportunities).

Inside Pinterest, I found a playful, efficient approach to concepts and language. There were many portmanteaus all around. The wireless was called "the Pinternet," employees were referred to as "pinpolyees," (and I think I should've capitalized that "p"). Tiffani referred to the company's co-founders as:  Bevan (Ben + Evan). As the lead for Pinterest's team of writers, she shared insights into how her team's work in the evolving the Pinterest brand experience for its users.

As an online community person, what resonated was how protective the company seems of its users and their experience. It's silly, I realize, to actually state that the company needs to stand behind its own community, but I've worked in online community for a bit. The Pink Elephant lingers:  will Pinterest really be able to maintain the sanctity of its user experience post IPO? And what about model? Online community or not, many of us know the challenges they'll face--that's why I find their values remarkable. But they're still a small company on an extremely well subsidized...journey. I don't mean to imply that I'm bitter, but we all know that the business world's definitions of success are laced with a lot of compromise. It's common for the customer to get caught in the cross hairs.

Putting the User First
On a cork board of team accomplishments in the kitchen area adjacent to the dining area that hosted over 100 attendees, I found this one small, intriguing piece of evidence about the company's perception of itself in the world outside. The kicker sentence from above, "Most importantly:  we helped a few hundred of the biggest brands in the world understand how important it is to put pinners first..."

That sentence got my brain whirling. When Pinterest first launched, I thought the model of sharing content without permission went too far and left creators vulnerable. So I resolved to participate only by uploading my own content, rigorously labelled. I acted like a big company doing traditional, old school marketing acts. I've let that stance slip a little over time. My boards exist to bring delight;  Pinterest offers much that is delightful to choose from. I am probably a rarer type of the composite profile of a typical Pinner.

Who's First?
Pinterest has shifted over time to attract business content users with features like Rich pins,
Actionable pins (more in-depth writeup here vs. Pinterest's site), and web site verification. As the era of paid ad traditional behavior changes and interruption marketing dies (my child doesn't know what a commercial is) Pinterest is helping traditional marketers shift to life as content marketers. Communicating primarily in images forces everyone to rethink their approach (even B2B).
In her presentation, Tiffani cited lifestyle bloggers and the DIY community influence as the early adopters who helped define the Pinterest values. I've read accounts from die hard Pinterest fans who profess that they go to Pinterest first (even before a visit to a corporate web site) to gather ideas, craft their visions, create and learn. Here are three Pinterest collections from companies thinking like content marketers:
  • Boden UK. They've zeroed in on the "how" of human experience by naming a majority of their boards with "How we x." It's smart because ultimately what's inside our clothing is the whole human experience: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual.
  • Oreck:  Adjacency content lords! This recommendation for some good pinning strategy came to my attention in a Hubspot article by Laura Sorenson. Adjacency content marketing is my own term for when you appeal your target audience's broader business and consumer interests by offering appealing related content that focuses either on them as people, or on related business interests (or problems) not directly related to what you sell.
  • Whole Foods. They know we eat to live and live to eat. They've turned to their employees as curators to craft their boards. They have boards in their collection that have nothing to do with food- really cool.
Pinterest Headquarters:  Ready, Steady, Go Neon Sign

Apples to Bushels:  The Effects of the Crowd
Thanks to changes in technology and business (social media, mobile computing, cloud computing), we're all in the creator's seat capable of leveraging the power of communities for advocacy or to spread our creative ideas through Kickstarter, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Causes, and the like. Yes, I don't feel as strongly about Facebook here. It may be possible to be too big (different topic). We'll be watching to see how putting pinners first changes as the business matures.

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