Could Pinterest Follow Yelp Down the Local Path?

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My editors sent me a Mashable article with an infographic showing how Pinterest is becoming a powerhouse in driving buyers to retail sites and stores. I was intrigued. I had followed the rise of Pinterest with, well, interest. It’s a logical extension of Tumblr and StumbleUpon and falls into the Flipboardization and Facebookification of the Internet. The presentation layer is a mashup of stream-driven and tile-driven and it’s visually enticing. Think of it as a catalog of category-driven things represented in attractive images compiled by people on the Internet you may or may not know. So the question is — can Pinterest change the hyperlocal game?

I am fairly certain that a class of local pinters will begin to emerge who have followers and who specialize in a city or part of a city. Because pinterest is an extension of blogging and tweeting.

I think the answer to that question is 100% yes. First, a bit about Pinterest. It is a two-year-old social bookmarking site that encourages users to accumulate and share collections of things they find interesting or appealing on the Internet. Users create “pinboards” for categories. You can either follow a user or a category. A simple “Pin It” bookmarklet tool and iPhone app makes it very easy, à la Evernote, to save and tag items either found online or snapped offline with a smart phone camera. The service appears to be most appealing to women, who account for nearly two-thirds of Pinterest user traffic, according to Experian Hitwise. Pinterest traffic is exploding, showing a 4x hop during the last five months of 2011 to 7.5 million uniqes in December, according to Compete. The influence is beginning to show as Pinterest has become a major referral source for several leading apparel retailers, according to internal data from Monetate.

Right now, for local consideration, Pinterest is a mess. It’s very visually driven but falls down on geo-location around specific tasks. For example, you can’t search it for restaurants in Palo Alto. You can’t even really search it for food in Palo Alto. I know — Pinterest is NOT about search. It’s about discovery and curation. But for local merchants and advertisers to ever really tap into that dynamic, you have to be able to find them. That’s not possible in the current iteration of Pinterest. It might be if users began to organize their pin boards differently or start using tags that could make it easier to follow those sorts of things.

And it also could start to emerge if, like Yelp, a group of super users focused on specific local things emerged. And those users would need to be focused on experiences that are transactional as much as visual with pins that make it easy for viewers to move from a pin to a physical establishment. Again, that’s not happening right now. So while Pinterest may be driving referrals to retailers with big Web presences, that’s partly, I believe, a numbers game because, frankly, far more people are seeing those sites and are likely to “pin” those items to their boards. So many local merchants still don’t even have proper Websites that the bar for them is much higher.

I am fairly certain, however, that a class of local pinters will begin to emerge who have followers and who specialize either in a city or a part of a city and, most likely, down to a specific specialty. And this will happen because pinterest is an extension of blogging and tweeting, really. Lots of pins actually drive through to a blog post, in fact, so it’s already seen as a traffic augmentation vehicle. I also see Pinterest getting integrated into social media dashboard tools that will make it easy for local merchants running Facebook pages to add a Pinterest stream to their arsenal. Again, Pinterest is a different tool — far more about curation and discovery. But, say, your favorite restaurant added a Pinterest presence that was constantly updated with pictures of specials of the day or of new menu items — that could fly and could be interesting, more interesting than Facebook pages or image collections because Pinterest is less of a mashup medium and more of a pure visual layer. At any rate, this is a rough assessment of a shooting star Website. I’ll certainly be tracking it going forward and following some Pinterest users I have already noted as having similar pinterests to mine.