The Panic Over Pinterest

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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?


  1. Great insights, Mitch. I read those stories and had a similar reaction. We are so reactionary in the way we look at these things. Sad thing is, we tell businesses that when you use social platforms, it’s a long-haul proposition; don’t expect overnight results. And then we turn around and react quickly ourselves to an increase or drop in numbers. We see a platform and user phrases like: “next big thing”, “game changer”, “Facebook killer”….and then when that doesn’t happen in a week or a month, we proclaim it dead.
    I think in our little corner of the social media and marketing world, there are a lot of bloggers who like to report on these things in a rush to be at the cutting edge of proclaiming something as relevant or irrelevant before everyone else. Just the other day I saw a post about the death of Facebook.
    Why must we react in this way?

  2. There is already a panic on the Facebook numbers. And there should be. When they had 400mil users the average time spent was 55mins per day. They now have 850mil ‘accounts’ and now it is only 19+ mins per day. And ComScore just released a report showing time spent on Social networks per person in the US was only 12 mins per day.
    So maybe the problem is we are trying to force/highlight social as bigger than it is in our life because a] the media needs this b] the VCs needs this c] there is a whole industry of social media talking heads pushing bullshit (including half the AdAge top 20 bloggers) d] people get snowed by the wrong metrics.
    D is important and what you are highlighting. If Pinterest can get 12 million people a week that is huge traffic for them. And marketers like fuzzy math. Facebook calls a a user active if they log in for 1 minute once per month. You and I would never call that active.
    So I think since we don’t control the media/message I prefer to focus on helping clients see through the BS and let everyone else rot. Just like I didn’t care people got fleeced in the dotcom or housing boom for being dumb or naive or pure idiots.

  3. Mitch –
    “How many other businesses do you know that get ten million visitors every month?” EXACTLY. It reminds me of what Tom Webster often says. When people react (or Tweet) about Edision’s stat on Twitter usage in the U.S., they often add “only” … as in “only” 10% of Americans ages 12+ are on Twitter. ONLY? 10% of 365MM is a pretty big number. I’d be okay with 10% of Americans using my services. Ha!
    Speaking of Tom Webster, his Social Slam talk also commented on these sensationalized headlines – “Pinterest growth curve levels off”. Not that headlines like these are new; however, nobody really reads anymore so they get passed along on social networks in 140 characters, then reshared, retweeted, etc. until all meaning is washed out.
    All that to say, I agree with you.
    Great seeing you in Knoxville and getting some time to chat one-on-one. Love the magic trick app as well as the toilet one. Already downloaded. Hope your helicopter flight back to Montreal was smooth.

  4. Hey Mitch,
    In light of the recent Instagram deal, this is an interesting conversation. I’m with you on this one. Pinterest has potential to offer value both to brands and to individuals.
    Of course, economic value is derived from providing brands a channel to connect to people. Currently, Pinterest is primarily a B2C play. If they continue to grow their user base, they will continue to offer B2C brands a channel to connect, engage and build trust.
    The learning curve for brands on Pinterest is minimal. That said, few brands are even there. It’s early days. So, I think we should reserve judgement and watch how they grow. In the end I think they will be an acquisition target. I don’t think they’ll fetch $1B. But, I’m probably wrong about that. I would never have guessed Instagram would get that.

  5. I think that the headline is only natural after all the media hype that occurred over the last few months, it was bound to taper off. Long haul is what the deciding metric is and should be. People who are not just passionate but who are committed are what any platform needs and wants.

  6. Mitch,
    A micro observation to complement your macro analysis:
    Likewise change in my recent experience tweeting photos.
    My actual image view counts on twitpic show consistent numbers year over year for whatever photo I tweet despite having ever gradually more twitter followers.
    Digging deeper, I came to understand that nowadays with much more embedding, storifying, retweeting, the photos are being img src’d directly and appear in people’s twitter clients timelines without altering the image view count on twitpic.
    Result being, more people are seeing and re-seeing my tweeted photos despite the actual ‘reported’ numbers going down or remaining steady.
    Ditto that for my Youtube uploads, very low numbers but numerous embeds elsewhere.
    For photos and videos, the eyeball counting is elsewhere.

  7. Mitch,
    You’ve shared exactly what I’ve been telling those quick to shrug off the community at Pinterest. We’re only gawping at big social networks years after their creation , and at a time where networking offerings are abundant. You’re spot on with the “sale” driving element of Pinterest, with Amazon sharing some recent figures on the purchasing tendencies of referrals from Pinterest.
    Good reading, as usual.

  8. let me answer your question ” but why is this the primary metric being used to define success?” by paraphrasing George Carlin..
    “The Average person is pretty dumb
    but what is really scary is half the population is even dumber then that!”

  9. The only group of people that have the ultimate metric of success is venture capital investors. Yes, millions of users / visitors are nice; however I’m sure that the ability to have a ROI (in terms of cash in investors’ pockets) is the only metric that matters when millions of dollars are at stake.

  10. I’ve used pinterest to optimize my site and the result was amazing my site was jumped from #234 to #9 in few weeks time.
    The trick is we must got our website pinned and repinned by many people this is the hardest part. Most of pinterest users won’t doing repin when they aren’t like what we pinned.
    I do simple thing to outsource it on fiverr and got my site pinned by more than 70 people, I don’t know how can he did it just search by typing pinterest on fiverr and you will find it.
    As I know currently pinterest is best for SEO for these reason:
    1. Once our website pinned it has 3 backlinks counts
    2. Google interest in social media signal so it will not tagged as links farm
    3. Currently pinterest links are dofollow even the image
    4. Even not support anchor text (except the url link), it’s still perfect for placing our keywords in description. Google will READ it!!
    5. Obama The President and Mark Zuckerberg now pinning on Pinterest lol.

  11. Another nice post, Mitch. And keep fighting the good fight. The only thing I would add is: don’t dismiss a new channel because you’re not into it. A lot of your customers might be using it in droves.

  12. A great post Mitch. You’re right, metrics aren’t the only way to gauge success. It’s a little surprising to me that anyone would consider Pinterest less successful because growth is slowing down. Of course it is. That’s what happens.
    10 Million visitors is nothing to scoff at. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t see the enormous growth potential there.

  13. I agree with your points.. its really a great tips for all.. we should keep our blog as readable.. for that we should post the good post and useful informative post. so people will get interest and they wil start to visit our blog daily.This is the best way we can increase our score.
    Draw Something Cheats

  14. Smart post, Mitch. Though, I would expect no less from you!
    I think DJ said it best – people get caught up in the headlines and don’t take the time to actually read the articles or, as Tom said at Social Slam, understand the numbers and metrics behind them. People tend to be so reactionary. First it was “you MUST be on Pinterest” and now its “Stop! The growth is leveling off.” At the end of the day, each business must evaluate what makes sense for them. For some, Pinterest is a good investment of time. For others, it’s not.
    It was great to hear you speak at Social Slam! I just hate that we didn’t get a chance to meet.

  15. We should remember that Instagram was only $1B because one guy with very deep pockets decided he wanted it on a whim (without even the consultative filter of a Board or advisory group discussion, by all reports). So I’m not sure that’s really a fair predictor of anything! I too remain firmly in the ‘let’s wait and see’ category. (I personally will be interested to see how quickly they can develop private or selectively-shared boards, as they’ve already lost some user trust with auto subscriptions through Facebook). Mitch is right on target in calling out the reactionary hyperbole (“It’s The Next Best Thing! Wait! Now It Might Not Be!”) language in the media. The intersection of time, quality of UX (increasing or decreasing – too much garbage), and “X Factor” of when the ‘next shiny object’ comes along for consumers will all come into play. We all know by now that consumer attention is a wholly fungible, fickle, and difficult-to-monetize resource.

  16. Activity metrics are more indicative of value, but harder to come by. I don’t think it’s because they’re more difficult to track–they are, but only slightly. I think it’s because it doesn’t tell the story the companies want it to, so they disclose the bigger number.
    Great post, as always.

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