As of January 2012, it's the third largest social network in the United States. ComScore reported it to be the fastest site ever to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark, it was named the best new start up of 2011 by TechCrunch, and it also won best social media app and people's voice award for best functioning visual design in the 2012 Webby Awards — and yet, half the population just doesn't "get it". Namely, the male half. And while female users slightly edge out male users on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, according to a DigitalFlash infographic and other sources, a whopping 82 percent of this site's users are female.
What is this social network I'm speaking of — Pinterest of course. The secret to the success of this fairly new social media platform is not as mysterious as it may seem to the uninitiated (who would perhaps rather stick to perusing YouTube anyway). Pinterest is a virtual pinboard designed to allow sharing of inspiring photos, links to blogs, recipes, and more tutorials on how to make your own just-about-anything than a person can count, or, let's be honest, actually do. Pinterest has tapped into the creative person's innate desire to create pinboard-style collections of all things motivating, whether messily tacked to a cork board, tucked away in plastic binders, or stacked in labeled shoe boxes for later scrutiny. By taking these things out of the physical world and allowing them to be shared and, yes, paraded for the whole world to see and applaud, what once may have been primarily solitary pursuit has blossomed into its own community of passionate magpies.
Why are these embracers of the most popular community of do-it-yourself culture mostly female? In an article on Mashable entitled "How Pinterest's Female Audience is Changing Social Marketing", Curt Finch, Chief Executive Officer of Journyx, asks,
"Is it the inherent nature of Pinterest that speaks to women? Many examinations have been made as to why this is the case. Some have proposed that women are simply more socially inclined than men, the posited difference being that men generally view social media as a tool — a means to gain information or access entertainment — while women more often use it to interact with others and build a community online."
A recent email entitled "I'm Excited to Announce Secret Boards" to subscribers from Pinterest co-creator Ben Silbermann describes the appeal of the site quite well:
"Over the last year, there have been so many ways, big and small, that the Pinterest community has made my life better. I'm happy to say that I'm not alone. We've heard from teachers who use Pinterest to plan lessons, chefs who share recipes, and museums that pin their archives. We've also heard from millions of people who've been inspired to pick up an old hobby or try something new. It's honestly more than we ever expected when we started Pinterest. We're humbled to be part of such a positive, warm and creative community."
The key word in both extracts is a community. Though it may appear that Pinterest is popular with women because of all the cliché "female" interests shared on the site, the opposite is, in fact, true. The community of users itself has driven the choice of popular boards though a format they find enjoyable, accessible, and, most importantly, easy to share. And just as women prefer to shop together in the corporeal world, as for most women, it's less errand and more experience, they are more content to find something interesting in the vast online and know they've shared the experience of appreciating it with others. Pinterest offers a way to experience and share so many things without the necessity of buying, storing, or even clipping their images out of magazines. According to an article in The Atlantic titled "Can Pinterest and Svpply Help You *Reduce* Your Consumption?" exploring how Pinterest may affect our urge to buy,
"Now that our economy has declined, we have less money available for unnecessary purchases and more people are realizing they need to consume less for economic and environmental reasons. I think it makes sense that we are seeing a rise in social-media services that allow us to enjoy hunting and gathering behavior without financial costs."
But far from being a merely passive pursuit, the site continues to inspire people to pop those laptops shut and try that new recipe, grab the camera and stage inventive family photos, get behind the sewing machine and make a baby shower gift instead of buying one, or even simply to try that laundry detergent concoction that claims to save your clothes from stains so you don't have to throw them away. Each one of these examples plays into our strategies to thrive in our current economy. Psychologically, it's also a safe way to explore possibilities and dreams, without paying for the cost or commitment. People who haven't yet gotten engaged start wedding boards. People not yet pregnant start baby boards.
Even though it's not feasible for most people to actually use more than a small percentage of what they pin, the point is that the site is inspiring people to attempt things they would not have otherwise tried, or even begun to know how to try. Some comical evidence of this willingness—possibly driven by naïve optimism—to try anything and everything that has been pinned has surfaced on the popular "pinstrosity" blog, where a pin·stros·i·ty is defined as, "a pin of great and often frightening size, force, or complexity." The blogger describes the site as "not just a site to just laugh and make fun of projects gone wrong but also to help troubleshoot and learn from the Pinterest Fails we all have." In this way, one crafter's isolated mishap becomes not only a widespread, good-natured joke shared among people with similar interests but a way for others to troubleshoot similar attempts, thus bringing people together in more ways than one.
Lastly, though men are more apt to be frustrated by a site that involves multiple clicks and endless options for a seemingly single function—saving and organizing images—many female users, who may be by nature more inclined to appreciate the process, are attracted to the sleek, alluring design of the site with its focus on eye candy. An article on Psychology Today's blog points out,
"By nature, images are much easier for our brains to process than text. Thus, a site, which characterizes and organizes content through pictures, is inherently easier to understand and use than text-based service. EvenTwitter's 140 characters require more brain cycles than the quick-browsing of visual information on Pinterest. Consuming information through images is easier, which means users consume more of it than ever before."
In this way, Pinterest imposes a much-desired mental efficiency on our interests. The article continues to characterize Pinterest's "obvious secret" as "its ability to serve our innate desire to capture and collect, while making consuming, creating and sharing easier than ever before." And as we consume, create, and share, the Pinterest community bolsters one another's confidence and offers limitless inspiration, all through simply connecting to others. And for all those who still don't understand this "community", there is now "Pinterest for Dummies" on Amazon.