Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pinterest; how making customers wait has attracted 10m monthly users

Well, another social media site is taking the world by storm. This time it's Pinterest and it's generating business press because of phenomenal growth in site visitation.  As reported in Tech Crunch, 10 million unique users in the US are using it monthly and it has grown faster than any standalone site in history.  But that's not why I am writing this post.

What is Pinterest? Imagine a pin board that you have in your office or home where you stick little bits and pieces of information.  Well, that's Pinterest in an online space.  You create a pin board and share it with others to view, add and comment.  Capturing the imagination of users seems to be Pinterest's application of visuals to communicate; whereas Facebook and Google+ rely on text based updates and sharing, Pinterest is like swapping football cards or holiday pictures.  But that's not why I am writing this post.

I'm writing this post because Pinterest has one of the most interesting sign-up processes I have seen.  Get this; you request to be invited to sign-up. A name and email is all that's needed and your request is quickly acknowledged by an automated, friendly email as follows;

Thanks for joining the Pinterest waiting list. We'll be sure to send you an invite soon.
In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter. You can also explore a few pins.
We're excited to get you pinning soon!
- Ben and the Pinterest Team

And then you wait. And wait.  In these days of instantaneous everything, I had to wait for my invitation for almost four days.  What? Can a business really keep their potential clients waiting just to sign-up for days?!  What are they doing?

Behavioural principles
Others will write about the seamless user experience on Pinterest, so instead I want to focus on a couple of the behavioural principles being used by the site.

Pinterest are creating a sense of inclusion and exclusion by making people "request an invitation". Memories of night club queues anyone?  They are inferring through the sign up process that not everyone will be accepted (although of course they cannot really veto given the limited information requested) and that invitations are not given out to just anyone, darling.  Silly as it seems this can work because once you are accepted, you can't help but feel special, grateful and a tiny bit relieved.  Remind you of how Facebook was established through an elite school network? Contrast this with today's Facebook that anyone over a certain age can join - there's nothing special about that.

But how can you create exclusivity with over 10 million users?  Again, think of the night club.  It felt painfully exclusive when you were trying to get in, and you wanted to get in because that's where the people were. Once you were lucky enough to be granted entry, the vast number of people there didn't upset your sense of exclusivity and in fact it probably heightened it because you were amongst other "winners" who had been accepted.  That's the Pinterest process - a nasty door bitch only heightens the joy once inside.

Delayed gratification
Pinterest make you wait for your access, and that takes guts.  Can you imagine your business telling a customer to come back in four days to see whether you would work with them?  We are all easily distracted and bombarded with new websites everyday so why do Pinterest risk losing us?

One theory I have is that they are using contrast to heighten the enjoyment of the user experience. It reminds me a bit of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural philosophy where tight, dark, poky entrance halls were designed to create a sense of claustrophobia in the visitor, alleviated only when then came to the expansive, open plan living areas.  Lloyd Wright used contrast to heighten enjoyment of the space, and in Pinterest dragging out the sign-up process, they heighten enjoyment of the fast, immediate and seamless on-site experience.

The contrast is even more striking from the time you set up your pinboard. Within minutes of me launching my page I received half a dozen emails telling me that features of my pinboard had been 'repinned' or liked by strangers. (Cynically and professionally, I hope this is part of Pinterest's strategy to give positive reinforcement to new users. If not, it should be and it works very well to bolster my confidence that I have been accepted by the community.) 

Delaying gratification can also heighten the pleasure of being accepted. "All good things come to those who wait" is proving to be true in this case, and quite a novelty in the age of immediacy.

But I must admit after I had been accepted to request to sign up to Pinterest I actually forgot about doing so. It was only my professional curiosity that resurrected my interest in the site, so they almost lost me.  And in my personal view, it's not worth making your customers wait for days to use your service and I am loathe to recommend it as a site design technique.

Lessons for you
Getting people on board as members to your online service is one of the most vital things you can do.  Whilst the strategy Pinterest are using may not be right for your style of business, make sure you look at how every site you visit structures their sign up process. How much information do they ask for? Do you know what happens at every step? Do you know how many steps there are? Do you have to confirm your subscription? Is it fast or slow, simple or cumbersome? Is it consistent with their brand promise or just a clunky functional process?  Whatever you do when designing your sign-up process, don't take it for granted and make sure behavioural outcomes rather than technical concerns lead your thinking. Happy pinning.

PS If you like my blog, I'd love you to consider supporting my fundraising trek of the Larapinta trail. Every bit helps so to find out more, visit https://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/BriforICV  Thank you!


  1. Bri, thanks for this very tight analysis on Pinterest's strategy. What we really need Pinterest to do of course is a randomised control trial, where groups are given instant versus delayed access. Now that would be science on a grand scale.


  2. Thanks Chris. A friend delighted in telling me she was accepted after only hours! Maybe the are already testing?...