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The Phenomenon of Pinterest Culture

Pinterest is fascinating because it has created a reputation for itself to the point that people who dislike it and/or don’t know it still talk about it digitally, a lot. Most other platforms are just that; they are channels in which users define their own experience, there is no common space on Facebook or Twitter, only the feed you have created for yourself. Pinterest has a “Popular” section that showcases a certain type of environment, value, content and attitude from a certain type of user. These are generalities of course, but they are based in truth and reinforced by the many conversations happening outside of the channel. Let’s break this down a bit.

First of all, even if you have not been to Pinterest.com or created an account, I bet you can easily throw out five buzzwords to describe it. Did “DIY” or “crafts” or “recipes” or “ideas” or “organization” or “tips” or “cute” or “smart” or “women” come to mind? You’re on track. While this is certainly a generalization, it is also true. If you go to the “Popular” section of Pinterest, it is dominated by this type of content, Martha Stewart gone wild, if you will. Pinterest content is a mix of good stuff and fluff, just like any social network. And just like any other network, you can carve out a niche for yourself and never see any of that “Popular” content. When I log in to Camp Ondessonk’s account, I see pins of rock climbers and camping recipes and national forests to visit. But the popular feed remains full of the content that suggests that the average visitor is, to generalize again, a fairly materialistic (not shallow, per se, but focused on material things) woman who has a decent amount of time on her hands and is consumed by homemaking (décor, recipes, cleaning and organizing), body image, and crafting. The content is almost all meant to be helpful, but the implications are interesting and have given Pinterest a very specific reputation, for better or worse.

For better, this helps the site feel like a community of like-minded people that can share similar content; it’s consistent. Also for better, this community that the platform attracts are full of household decision makers, bloggers with a following, and those with some amount of free time to browse, which helps Pinterest gain impressive statistics about time spent on-site (average 1 hour and 17 minutes), among other metrics to prove their concept and engage brands and marketers.

For worse, many people who are not interested in those specific areas are annoyed by the concentration of topics and think that Pinterest is not for them (see: most men), even though there is plenty of other, different content that they may love. Also for worse, there is a growing population of people who resent the mindset that frequent visitors to the site experience – that one constantly feels guilty, inadequate, and generally overwhelmed or panicked that one cannot do, make or have it all. Amid a growing national trend of both genders struggling to “have it all” or feel content or satisfied with yourself/your life (just Google it, there are too many articles to cite), society is beginning to recognize and discuss that the perfect can be the enemy of the good. And yet, Pinterest seems to be directly aimed at the idea of perfecting everything, from storing your Tupperware or wrapping paper to getting the best workout routine and meal plan. This blog post references some of the guilt issues (including more memes from someecards.com). This is not one blogger’s plight; these memes and ideas are everywhere, including Pinterest.

The content itself has created this reputation, but the memes and blogs that talk about Pinterest reinforce these attitudes. While there are a few of these types of items for Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest has dozens. WTF Pinterest; Pintester; Pinterest, You are Drunk; Pinterest Fail; Epic Pinterest Fail; Really Pinterest?; and Pinstrosity are just the most popular sites that poke fun at, ridicule, or parody Pinterest. But they are all still driving traffic to Pinterest, increasing conversation about the channel, and encouraging people to frequent it. This is amazing! The platform is getting so much free publicity purely because people are using it in a very specific way that both does and does not resonate with the public.

I have two theories about this website that I have formed from very scientific observation and study (read: browsing Pinterest over the last few months). One is that the site is chock full of solutions to problems that didn’t exist. Similar to websites that list “life hacks”, Pinterest offers very clever ideas, that position themselves as solutions, to parts of life that aren’t necessarily problematic. Because the ideas have merit (that is a smart way to store your cell phone charger), people are drawn to them. But because the problem wasn’t actually a major issue (plugging something into the ground vs at your desktop isn’t saving you that much time or energy), people aren’t motivated to actually implement the things they are seeing. This leaves some with a giant to-do list that they will never accomplish, making them feel a sense of failure compared to the seemingly thousands of people who are living the perfect life with clever time-savers, brilliantly decorated homes and perfectly healthy lifestyles. Certainly not all Pinterest users fall into this mindset, but the memes and blogs above prove its existence.

Second, I think that the medium itself has changed the way people interact with this type of content. Before Pinterest and blogs, this type of content existed mostly in magazines. Martha Stewart and her cohorts were celebrities with big budgets and perfectly executed ideas. And while they offered concrete tips, many people were able to browse them for inspiration without feeling guilty for not living up to the standards they were presenting because they were curated photo shoots. Now, while many healthy, sane people surely browse Pinterest with that same casual eye, delighting in color schemes, many people also see it as a sea of people just like them (or busier) who are doing stuff that they are not. Cue the guilt cycle.

Pinterest itself is just a platform; it is simply a way for people to share links, images and ideas in a visual, bulletin-board way. But because a very specific demographic has clung to it, this channel has created a polarizing reputation with positive and negative stereotypes about women, and a growing culture of people who accept and celebrate the idea that they will never feel satisfied with themselves, their homes, or maybe their lives. This is fascinating. Have you seen evidence of this culture? What do you think are the social implications of this kind of groupthink dominating a social channel?

ps – This author fully acknowledges the typo in the photo, but in an effort to stay true to sourcing the photo from user-generated content about Pinterest, it shall stand.

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