The social media phenomenon of 2012 to date has to be ‘online pinboard’ Pinterest. Its simple formula, which allows users to make ‘virtual pinboards’ of images that interest them and to browse others’ boards, has proved a winning formula. Having amassed over 10 million users Pinterest is moving towards its stated mission to ‘connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting’.
Pinterest’s success has thrown the subject of ‘interest networks’ into the spotlight, but the idea of ‘interest networks’ isn’t a new one…
The success of longstanding Web1.0 forums such as Money Saving Expert, Motley Fool and Trip Advisor is based upon the wealth of user generated information available on a particular topic (interest). Members can share links and information, discover links to information and collect links and information on a particular topic of interest within the forum.
Facebook on the other hand is a social network platform allowing us to share information with selected friends and family (our social graph). However, to have a deep conversation with our connections around a specific interest, most of us revert to direct messaging e.g. email and IM which is closed.
Even though brands have joined in on Facebook, the primary conversation is between brand and fan. For the brand it is more about being social with customers, rather than facilitating fan to fan interaction. Yes a community does exist within a brand page, but conversations are primarily based on responding to brand updates. As a result brand content released through Facebook, such as applications, are one size fits all. Content is primarily general interest (competitions, entertainment) rather than specific interest.
Twitter on the other hand allows many like minds to come together around hash tags and lists, but it is not easy to collate info on a single topic in one place. You can use tools such as TweetDeck and Hootsuite, or custom data visualisations but it is not a perfect solution. A brand can be more flexible in terms of content, but because of the limited number of characters allowed on Twitter it is difficult to use multiple hash tags in each post to produce a comprehensive interest list. Again, as a result, the majority of content produced by brands themselves is usually generic to ensure that a large audience will re-tweet to achieve trending.
It is against this backdrop that interest networks such as Pinterest and Foodspotting are becoming ever more popular. They combine the open API of Facebook (tapping into the social graph, allowing for frictionless sharing amongst personal social networks), with the open forum/message board behaviour of link sharing, allowing curators to comment, discover and collect information based on specific interests.
Facebook themselves are responding to this trend via interest lists. If one is interested in UK Politics you can group together feeds from political party brand pages and curate a stream of related content. Alternatively I can follow someone who has already curated this list.
However, interest lists are limited as you can only group people/brands based on your social graph, or allow you to filter friends into circles similar to Google+. They do not allow you to curate individual pieces of content surrounding a specific topic.
Moving forward we will see even more interest based networks springing up. The life blood running through them all will be Facebook/Twitter, so that users can achieve ‘look at me’, showing off to their social network, when they discover ‘this is me’ content via their interest graph.
Next week we’ll be looking at how brands can take advantage of interest graphs.