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New study reveals motivations behind Pinterest activity

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Georgia Tech release first study of the popular social networking site

April 23, 2013

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Georgia Tech have released the first-ever study of Pinterest that gives new insight into the activity on the popular social networking site. The study’s findings could have implications for both academia and product marketers.

The researchers used statistical data to help understand the motivation behind Pinterest activity, the roles gender plays among users, and the factors that distinguish Pinterest from other social networking sites.

The findings include the following trends:

  • Female users have more re-pins, regardless of geographical location.
  • Men typically have more followers on Pinterest than women.
  • Four verbs set Pinterest apart from Twitter: "use," "look," "want" and "need."

"We wanted to take a closer look at Pinterest because of its differences compared to other social media, including its focus on pictures and products and the large proportion of women users," said Loren Terveen, co-author of the study and a Department of Computer Science and Engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering. "These findings are an important early snapshot of Pinterest that help us begin to understand people’s activity on this site."

Pinterest, which reached 10 million users faster than any other social networking site, revolves around the metaphor of a pin board. Users "pin" photos they find on the web and organize them into topical collections. Pinterest users can follow one another and also re-pin, like and comment on other pins. After examining more than 200,000 pins, the researchers were able to compile the first statistical overview of the site.

Understanding the motivations behind activity on Pinterest is key, not only for researchers but also for businesses wishing to use the site for marketing purposes. A recent market survey showed that a higher proportion of Pinterest users click through to e-commerce sites—and when they go there, they spend significantly more money than people who come from sites like Facebook or Twitter. 

"There are several social networking sites that marketers and advertisers can take advantage of these days," said study co-author assistant professor Eric Gilbert in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing. "After conducting this research, if I had to choose where to put my money and marketing, Pinterest would probably be my first choice."

Researchers at Georgia Tech pointed out the significance of the four verbs used most commonly in Pinterest—"use," "look," "want" and "need."

"Those four verbs uniquely describe Pinterest and are particularly interesting," said Gilbert, who runs the Georgia Tech’s Comp.Social Lab. "Words encapsulate the intent of people, revealing the motivations behind their actions. You can use the word ‘this’ after all of these verbs, reflecting the ‘things’ at the core of Pinterest. Many press articles have focused on Pinterest’s commercial potential, and here we see verbs illustrating that consumption truly lies at the heart of the site."

In addition to Gilbert and Terveen, the research team includes Ph.D. student Saeideh Bakhshi from Georgia Tech and Ph.D. student Shuo Chang from the University of Minnesota.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is summarized in the paper "I Need to Try This!": A Statistical Overview of Pinterest. The paper will be presented next week at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, France.

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