Why Pinterest Is All About Showcasing our Best Selves

Images for mood board found at Anthropologie.com.

Since it was founded in 2010, Pinterest users have saved more than 50 billion Pins to more than 1 billion boards. The Pinterest platform serves more than 1.5 trillion recommendations annually, among its 70 million active users.

Traditionally, the platform has skewed female but men are the largest growing user group. One-third of millennials are on Pinterest and 80% of platform usage is via a mobile device.

There are many other compelling Pinterest stats to dive into—but this post is not a detailed review of those, or a line-by-line comparison of social platforms.

Instead, it’s a reminder: it’s important to dive deep inside Pinterest to gather insights and build the best digital and social strategies around the Pinterest user. And those best social and digital strategies will always start with human behavior at their core.

Understanding the Pinterest user means focusing on the self

Diving into these behaviors on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter means examining influence and how to activate amongst groups and bonds between people, using theories put forward by thinkers on influence including Robert Cialdini.

Yet looking at Pinterest is a very different study. Users’ key motivation is saving something they like that they may want to reference later, or that they may want to show others they like.

Pinterest is not a place users go to broadcast or share with a large group. Yes, pinning something does share with followers, but this is a very different activity from a Facebook status update, Tweet or Instagram post, all of which are explicit broadcasts.

Understanding Pinterest is about understanding the self and our personal motivations.

Aligning Pinterest use to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably the best-known contemporary framework on human needs – Dr Abraham Maslow first shared it in his book Motivation and Personality in 1954.

This hierarchical pyramid is a theory of psychological health that is based on the belief that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her best self, to reach an upper level of what he called "self-actualization".

To achieve this top level, the individual starts at the bottom of the pyramid with food and shelter, before moving up through emotional needs to mental and intellectual needs—such as esteem, cognitive and aesthetic—then on to the final stage, which is where we achieve this “self-actualization." This is where we focus on ourselves and self-image—demonstrating self-confidence or accomplishing set goals.

If we think about the primary use cases of Pinterest we can see how they map directly to the Maslow’s Hierarchy and show that Pinterest users are at the top of it.

At the cognitive level, Pinterest users are intellectually stimulating themselves through discovery and exploration on the platform.

From an aesthetic perspective, which is a human need for harmony, order and beauty, Pinterest users are creating boards and sharing them with others to show their own likes, aesthetic and vision.

Once a person has reached the self-actualization state, they focus on themselves and try to build their own image. This is a very personal point; for example, one individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, the desire may be expressed athletically.

Now tie that self-actualized state to this post from Quora user Lauren Brubaker, who talks about the heightened sense of accomplishment when a woman does something first seen on Pinterest:

“Pinterest boards represent women's best selves, which is likely related to the positive emotions I have after being on the site. On Pinterest, women are all fashionable, give beautiful homemade gifts, are four-star chefs, and in incredible shape. Whatever the interest or hobby, Pinterest allows us "pin" whatever we are "interested" in, without having to actually do what the pin is about. Sometimes just seeing the image is enough. When a woman actually does something she saw on Pinterest, there is an increased sense of accomplishment. It's pretty great.”

How can we weave this into digital strategy?

Let’s think about this when building a strategy on Pinterest, based what users are telling us. A Pin is the strongest signal of intent from a user about who they are, or who they are aspiring to become – in other words, getting to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

From looking for new recipes to try, to getting ready for a new baby, to achieving a new healthier lifestyle and focus, Pinners are raising their hands and letting the world know what they care about and getting inspired by people who have similar goals, interests, and needs.

As a platform Pinterest is very future-oriented. It is the only platform with an audience looking forward. It’s not about sharing the past or reading about the present.

There are many moments that brands and organizations can engage with users on Pinterest; the key to success is understanding where each user is on their journey and engaging accordingly over time.

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Gemma is the Executive Director of Strategic Markets at Spredfast where she leads Spredfast's North American team of Market Directors - social business practitioners and key partners to Spredfast's clients and prospects. She is also a WOMMA board member, runner, and owner of a Boston Terrier named Stella.