Pinterest, Visual Culture, and How to Make Good Use of Our “Likes”

By: Jenny Xie

Lately, the influx of visual content in social media is harder and harder to ignore. Discernible in everything from the latest apps to digital publications, “visually-engaging” is increasingly the priority. The profusion of visual stimulants going viral in the many channels of social media raises the question: is there a saturation point for all this? Will pictures one day cease to mean 1000 words, but rather become one-glance representations of “the-things-we-like”? 

It’s obvious that for developers and large-scale media producers, visual engagement means more attention from the public and greater potential to go viral. But just what is the purpose of compelling visuals for us - the everyday consumers and contributors of social media?

First, consider this excerpt from the recent The Atlantic article “What That Puppy Photo on Pinterest Says About the Future of the Internet”:

If images, indeed, become easier to produce than words, reversing the economics that have defined our archived communication since long before Gutenberg came along — what then? How will that change the web, and us along with it? The invention of writing, Marshall McLuhan argued — and, even more so, writing’s codification into print — structured our minds and our habits of thought, conditioning us, word by ink-stained word, to think logically and linearly. Text, Walter Ong believed, affords to its collective readers a means of theoretical thinking: Preliterate people, he observed, tend not to process the world in terms of categories and other abstractions. Text helped make us what we are. It helped make us who we are.

Pinterest, the new social network built entirely on sharing pictures, relies in its convenience and visual clarity - which come at the expense of text. Without an emphasis on textual commentary, our nuanced perceptions of an image are compressed into one simple question: Do I “like” what’s in this picture?

That question is perhaps why so many people consider Pinterest the best way to shop without spending a dime. Upon seeing any quality visual on the web, we now have to decide: Do I want it or not? While this instinct makes Pinterest seem like a marketer’s paradise, how will it affect our values and priorities as a culture? How can we respond to images on the Internet as more than just representations of things we like or want to have?

One answer is curation.

Each social network tends to have an intrinsic function that enables users to add one’s own interpretations to the monstrous flow of content circulated. For Pinterest, it’s the ability to organize boards into something more than collections of aesthetically-pleasing objects. Just like how it’s customary to add commentary to retweets in Twitter, one should take every chance to pin with a “storyboard” in mind.

The recent Facebook Marketing Conference hailed storytelling as the way to move forward. So how can we curate Pinterest boards into stories rather than product catalogs, and foster ideas rather than material wants? Consider these examples of Pinterest boards curated with a deliberate voice and story.

5 Thoughtful Storyboards on Pinterest 

After all, the big breakthrough of social media is in giving each of us a voice - so why not pay more attention to fine-tuning the ideas that are presented through all the pictures we pin?  Just as how Twitter users took ownership of the platform to command tremendous impact (think 2011 Egyptian Revolution), thoughtful pinners may very well transform the functions and scope of Pinterest as well.

How do we bring storytelling to Pinterest and add value to visual content on the Internet? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

2 years ago
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