Pinterest Potential: User Collaboration

This post originally appeared on Altimeter Group Researcher Jaimy Szymanski’s blog. Follow her on Twitter here.

If you would have asked me, even a week ago, what I thought of Pinterest, I would’ve likely given this tongue-in-cheek answer:

“I’m not getting married anytime soon, so it’s not really for me.”

To some extent, I still think that, and I’m not alone. A recent stat released by Ignite Social Media confirms that 80 percent of Pinterest’s users are female. Does that mean they’re all wedding planners? No, of course not. But it’s still fun to joke about, considering I’ll likely marry my cat.

But, as I’ve further assessed the social network’s potential, I believe it goes beyond that of roses vs. gerberas, DJ vs. live band, veil vs. tiara. If this is where Pinterest currently stands – a visually oriented social network, aimed toward the stylings of Gen Y- to middle-aged women, where will it head? How can it grow? And, most importantly – how can it transition itself to be more widely accepted as a network of utility, rather than expression?

I believe Pinterest’s future lies in collaboration. Currently, users can “pin” items of interest to various-themed boards within their user profile. They can also “re-pin” someone else’s pinned content on their own board, further sharing it within the Pinterest community. But, users can not yet collaborate with each other on the same board. I think this is a huge element of missed potential for Pinterest – not only for its current user base, but in attracting a more B2B crowd that may use the site as a data collection system.

[Update: Multiple contributors are now allowed on the same board, but privacy settings do not exist that control who can view the board, limiting the success of its use in an internal capacity of an organization. Ideally, contributor and viewer settings (as well as over-arching private vs. public) would make for the most valuable tool in a B2B sense.]

This idea came to me during a conversation with an Altimeter Group colleague, Charlene Li. She explained that she uses Pinterest to keep track of infographics that she thinks could be useful to future research, or that she simply finds interesting. So, in effect, it is a new (or, supplementary) bookmarking system for her. That got me thinking — imagine how useful the site could be if multiple people could collaborate on the same board, using it as a ad-hoc bookmarking “database” of sorts, housing all images in a collaborative environment that could be accessed by specific individuals, based on privacy settings.

I picture it going down like this: I get assigned to work on a project with two co-workers. It’s a large research endeavor that will go on for a couple months. We’re all working on researching different facets of the topic, but all are interrelated. Rather than each of us store the information we read, the graphics we see, within our own heads or laptops, we “pin” items of relevance to a shared board on Pinterest. This not only mitigates duplication of work, but also gives a much more effective over-arching picture (pun completely intended) of where the research is headed, what common themes are emerging and what direction may be fruitful next.

Hopefully Pinterest will head this way in the future. Although it would require a more complex user interface and privacy controls, it definitely has the means to do so — especially with its built-in differentiation that it doesn’t rely on a timeline like Facebook and Tumblr do. In the end, it’d definitely be worth it … especially if the network wishes to grow its users beyond that of food spotters and brides-to-be*.

*Simba and I will be registered at Petco and Barneys.


  1. Mark Pannell says:

    Yeah, this functionality already exists and has for some time now.

    • Jaimy Szymanski says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mark. Yes, the option exists for multiple contributors – I see that now. (Hadn’t created a new board in awhile). However, it still seems lacking for collaboration in an internal B2B sense. If going with the same example use case I pose in the post, I wouldn’t want such a board public. I could see it being most useful if some users could be marked as “contributors” while others “viewers” while the board is still “private” to the public. Thanks for the catch though – I will update that para of the post that indicates it is not an option.

  2. “Does that mean they’re all wedding planners? No, of course not. But it’s still fun to joke about, considering I’ll likely marry my cat.”

    Hilarious. I think we’ll get along just fine. Good post, Jaimy.

  3. Alexander Lang says:

    First, I thought: “Well, after a couple of days in the research project, you’ll find the “new” pinterest a little lacking” – where’s the RSS feed / email alert that keeps me updated as new items arrive on the board by co-workers? where’s the opportunity to collaboratively edit a certain document? where’s some “blog” or “forum” capability where I can create longer discussion threads with my coworkers?”
    But then, I realized that this idea of “pinning” is very powerful for team that are thinking more “visually” (perhaps more visually than I do.-), and that is a need currently underserved by social business collaboration suites.

    So, I’m still not sure whether pinterest should join the ranks of IBM, Jive,…to build such a social business platform – but I see the need for these platforms to evolve to become less “text.centric”…thanks for bringing that up!

  4. Great post. I am using Pinterest every day and I like it. In combination with Facebook and Google+ – YouTube activity can be a very powerful social media tool for driving traffic and links in the natural way.

  5. Collaboration holds huge potential for brands on Pinterest, especially if brands hand content curation over to their followers. Our “Help Bourbon and Boots Find the Best of the South” board allows our followers to pin their ideas on the board. We simply add each new follower as a collaborator. They can remove themselves at any time. In one month, we have added 900 followers with almost 600 pins from 200+ collaborators. When we began, our pins greased the wheels, but now collaborators have given us dozens of great ideas with little push from us. Check it out: Would love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

  6. “But, users can not yet collaborate with each other on the same board.”

    Yes they can.