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What is “Influence” on Pinterest, Anyway?

Imagine it’s 2010. You’ve just been invited by a friend to a new website where you can gather and organize everything you love from around the Internet. Using an image to represent each object, you’re able to create visually stunning digital cork boards to house your collection.

You might start by picking out some recipes you’ve been meaning to try and add them to a board you call “Quick Meals.” After that, you go straight for fashion and begin categorizing seasons, colors, and occasions. Before you know it, your eye for design has created a beautiful arrangement of designs and styling advice.

And then someone notices.

You must have been featured on the site’s “Who to follow” list or a publication because all of a sudden, you notice your follower count skyrocketing—we’re talking in the millions.

Early Influencers

This is the situation some early Pinterest adopters found themselves in when the one of fastest growing social networks ever moved out of open beta; they could literally watch their following grow every time they hit “Refresh.” An influencer told me that she left for a weekend getaway, and came back to hundreds of thousands of new followers.

But unlike heavyweights on Twitter or Facebook, these highly influential Pinterest users aren’t followed for their celebrity status—they’re followed for their taste.

Influence on Pinterest is so different from any other social media because it’s almost always tied to some kind of curation. Whether that’s in fashion, home décor, DIY, or the much-talked-about wedding category, people are following because they like what this person collects or creates and wants to keep tabs on their taste. Most often, this also means that they like what this person pins enough to add the content to their own boards for future reference.

Influence Today

Since we founded loop88 in 2012, our goal has always been to better understand “influence,” especially in how influence is unique within visual platforms like Pinterest. As we’ve been building our community of Pinterest influencers, we’ve learned a lot about who these curators are and why they’re worth following.

Pinterest’s users are passionate and caring, while open and honest about themselves and their experiences. Many are also bloggers. As we continued to learn the intricacies of a user base focused on all of the aspirational aspects of life, we honed our own understanding and beliefs about how people use the platform and how influence is earned. In short, we learned that context is the key to influence.

Context is King

The biggest mistake we see brands making on Pinterest is sending the message that they’re only on Pinterest to sell their product. I’m not sure whether it’s the visual aspect that prompts brands to forget that it’s still a social network, but many brands’ Pinterest presences are all about them, and this is just plain not how Pinterest works.

Pinterest has worked incredibly hard to cultivate a culture that values authenticity and this extends to brands.

Here’s a great example of context in action:

West Elm is known for their beautiful boards and their tendency to not just pin about themselves all of the time. Sure, they’re pretty calculated with the other sites they pin from (Apartment Therapy and Design Sponge being the big ones), but they’re masters of context. Instead of only pinning product shots, they embrace the aspirational element of Pinterest and pin context to surround their more obviously (but still Pinterest-y) branded pins.

We like to describe the importance of context as a lens people view your brand through. If your only presence on Pinterest is product shots that look like ads, you’re not participating in the Pinterest community, you’re just advertising. People can tell the difference.

Influencers Build in that Context

Collaborating with an influencer on Pinterest brings a whole lot more than amplification to a brand. An influencer has their own personal brand with their own klout and is able to bring you into the community. It’s like knowing the coolest person at a party and they’re introducing you to all of their friends. Your job is to make sure that you make a good first impression.

The Influence Shift and What’s Next

Remember how we talked about the influencers who saw their numbers rise overnight? Well, that kind of influencer is already changing and becoming even more curated. Without that flood of new users, followers need to be earned and maintained. It’s no longer about how many followers a person has, but rather how their followers engage with their content. This new influence requires a more watchful eye, more data, more tracking, and being more selective about which curator you want to collaborate with.

One of the things that we do at loop88, is identify and quantify “influence” as modern, trackable and data-ready, recognizing how likely an influencer is to act on any given content and how likely that interaction is to become viral. We pair this data with understanding the Pinterest community and how brands can prompt engagement, produce compelling content, and, finally, amplify their message.

Guest blogger Dave Weinberg is the CEO of loop88, the leading marketing platform for Pinterest. Looking at influence through the lens of social, audience and contextual data loop88 helps brands connect with targeted influencers that can reach over 90% of Pinterest’s user base. Dave lives in Washington, D.C. and was recently quoted in Forbes!