While the popular website Pinterest was invented as a social networking tool, it’s not necessarily used for that purpose. When we think of social networking, we think of sites like Facebook and Instagram, which are used for sharing photos with friends and direct interaction with others. Although Pinterest does offer some features traditionally associated with social media, it serves an entirely different purpose: to find inspiration and privately engage with one’s specific interests.
Pinterest is better for resharing existing content rather than creating new content. One of its features allows for original content to be uploaded, but most people who use the app overlook it in favor of engaging with what already exists on their feed. The whole idea of Pinterest — at least what it’s known for — is to create “boards,” i.e. individual collections of images and external links all relating to a particular theme. What makes this so cool is that there is no limit to how many boards a user can create, allowing users to have a separate board for each of their interests.
Another major difference between Pinterest and other platforms is that users cannot necessarily see who views the content they share. Sometimes, Pinterest will send a notification if someone shares something you put on your boards, but they won’t always notify when a board or an account gains a new follower. This may take away from the whole social aspect of Pinterest, but the whole point of the app is that it’s not focused on follower count.
Pinterest is so good for this because the more you search, the more frequently individualized content will show up in your feed. Some people would ask the question: “Is this the same thing as personalized, slightly invasive advertising?” The short answer is no. Pinterest takes note of what you search for and curates your homepage feed to show content that would appeal to you. Some advertisements will pop up, as with every free app, but they tend not to be personalized in a creepy way.
The algorithm can be viewed as an “optimized” app experience. Pinterest will take note of the content you add to your boards and make a separate feed for each topic. That makes randomly scrolling for new content much easier, because all you need to do is click on the name of the favored topic in the bar at the top of the page. Then your entire feed will be updated to only show images and web links related to that topic until you choose to switch.
I’ve searched Pinterest enough times for dessert recipes that I have a whole feed just for that. The app also gave me separate feeds just for DIY home decor and eye makeup tutorials. Although this is a very useful feature, users shouldn’t expect to be presented with it right away. People need to use Pinterest for a while in order for the algorithm to figure out exactly what they are looking for.
This particular feature isn’t limited to just the creative side of Pinterest, since fewer people use it for that exact purpose. Instead, they create boards specifically about things that are important to them. This makes Pinterest more of a private space than a social network. For example, if someone made a board dedicated to fictional characters they view as heroes, they wouldn’t expect to gain any followers on that particular board. The way most people view it, getting noticed on Pinterest is just an added bonus. If said person searches various characters enough, their home feed will include a tab dedicated to each movie/book/television show they come from, and it will make finding content for their board a lot easier.
When looking at what Pinterest actually gets used for, it often gets excluded when people list what social media platforms they are on. That’s not a bad thing, as Pinterest does everything any other social media app can do — but without the social interactions.