Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 28, 2012 9:13 AM

The Panic Over Pinterest

By the time you read this, Pinterest may be doomed.

Did you detect the sarcasm in that statement? Two nights ago at Social Slam in Knoxville, Tennessee, I got asked if Pinterest is the hottest thing since... well, the last hottest thing (let's call it Instagram for argument's sake), then (not even twenty-four hours later), I'm on a flight home, reading USA Today when the top headline for the Money section is: "Pinterest growth curve levels off." So, that's it? We've already fallen out of love with Pinterest? According to the article in the newspaper: "...meteoric growth for the overnight app sensation slackened, according to two market-research firms. The image-bookmarking site and social network drew 18.7 million unique visitors in the U.S. in March, compared with 17.8 million in February and 11.7 million in January says comScore."

They're just not that into you?

The article continues: "'The numbers show slowing user growth, (the) negative impact of redesign and declining buzz level on Google Trends,' IDC analyst Karsten Weide says." Tell me if you have heard this story before... Pinterest is two years old and has an estimated value of about one billion dollars - yup, smells like another Instagram to me, too. In what was more shocking news (not that a billion dollar valuation is not shocking) is that last month, Pinterest surpassed LinkedIn to become the third most popular social network (trailing Facebook and Twitter) in the U.S. That was quick, wasn't it?

How I feel about Pinterest has nothing to do with how we measure success.

First off, 18, 17 or 11 million unique visitors is nothing to scoff at, but why is this the primary metric being used to define success? Doesn't it feel like we're using a very traditional metric to gauge success and opportunity. I'm less interested in how many unique visitors Pinterest has and much interested in Pinterest's ability to drive economic value. Perhaps Pinterest's unique visitors dropped from 18 million to 10 million, but - at the same time - those 10 million people referred more, shared more and drove actual conversion at a much higher rate. Attention people of the world: we no longer have to track eyeballs. We can actually dig in a little deep and see where the traffic to Pinterest came from, where it went and how valuable it all is.

Are we going to track pageviews next?

We're still acting like head count and pageviews is the metric for success. The only reason that should be a metric in the first place is if all Pinterest is looking to create in terms of revenues comes from serving up banner ads. That's not the value of what this channel is and the opportunity is much bigger than that. Pinterest is a site that helps introduce things to people. This is a very powerful channel because it's also curated by people. So, when someone follows me on Pinterest, they're not only expressing an interest in me (personally), they're expressing an interest in the things that I like. If you put this into the context of art, just imagine what Pinterest can do to add true economic value to an art dealer. The art dealer can create boards around specific artists or genres and constantly be posting new and interesting art for sale. The feedback from the followers gives this dealer a pulse on what is capturing the imagination of their clients (and who they share it with as well). If we're going to measure Pinterest success by simply looking at body count and pages, we're probably missing the most exciting part about what this (and other) new media channels can do to grow a real business.

What's the trick?

Let's not treat Pinterest like it's just an online newspaper or media property. Let's treat it (and, for the record, I'm not just talking about Pinterest here... it could be a myriad of other online spaces) like a business opportunity. If the only metrics that matter are the same ones that we use to measure audience of television shows or newspaper readers, once again, we're taking way too many steps back. Ten million people is also a lot of people. Don't kid yourself. How many other businesses do you know that get ten million visitors every month? It seems like every time we talk about the Internet, the numbers get so big that we lose perspective. Pinterest has an amazing opportunity (and challenge) ahead to see what kind of viable business it can turn itself into. If it dances down the path towards ad revenue driven by users, they may be selling their brand (and the online channel) way too short.

What's your take?

By Mitch Joel