How Pinterest has avoided the PR disasters of its peers | Industry

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is certainly a more understated Silicon Valley unicorn, with a product that is much more wholesome than other places we tend to spend our time online, like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or even Instagram, helping the company avoid the sort of negative headlines that have dogged those companies this year.

“I think one of the reasons we have been lucky to not be involved in some of those conversations is that people are using for very different reasons, very different purposes,” Evan Sharp, cofounder and chief product officer at Pinterest told Techworld this week as part of a session during Salesforce's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Pinterest employees in the San Francisco office
Pinterest employees in the San Francisco office

“It's not that we are perfect but because of that we have to value our brand and the environment we create really highly, we have to make sure that it feels safe and free from judgement or extreme controversy for the product to function, and secondly it's something we care a lot about and invest resources in to try and do our best to monitor and remediate.”

On Pinterest a community ‘pins' sharable images – cat pictures, home furnishing ‘inspo', vegan recipes – to pinboards. These pins are then linked out to products, making Pinterest the best-disguised ecommerce site on the internet.

It's an approach that is quietly working, with the company valued at $12 billion and a rumoured IPO on the horizon. It counts 250 million monthly active users, pinning 175 billion items on 3 billion virtual pinboards.

Pinterest has been able to create an aesthetic bubble for its users, a welcome refuge for hundreds of millions of people from the constant barrage of bad news and worse opinions (to steal the New Yorker's Mark O'Connell's turn of phrase this week) of Twitter and fake news on Facebook.

Sharp doesn't consider Pinterest to be a social network though, and so likes to set it apart from those other platforms.

“Facebook is kind of about your past and maybe what's happening now,” he said. “On Twitter, Instagram and definitely Snapchat it's what's happening right now. Pinterest pretty uniquely is not about any of that, it's about what could be, it's about the future.”

He even likes to distinguish how Pinterest is a different “emotional experience” to browsing Instagram. “Instagram is a lot about social connection, it's about what my friends and family are doing,” he said, “what I'm doing and sharing that. Pinterest is not a social network, it's not a place where people come to share what they are doing with their life, it is a visual discovery engine.”

Slow and steady wins the race

The company's slower approach to growth may have caused frustration for investors and employees but has helped the company to avoid the kind of issues that are dogging Twitter and Facebook as they have built massive networks that they are now struggling to control and police.

In her profile of the company for the New York Times earlier this month, Erin Griffith spoke to CEO and cofounder Ben Silbermann about the company's different approach to its peers, specifically Facebook and its early penchant for moving fast and breaking things, possibly democracy for one.

“There's a natural rate at which you can scale a company that's healthy,” Silbermann told the NYT.

Sharp mirrored this in his response to reporters during Dreamforce, saying: “There's just different ways to build a company. Some companies are very competitive focused some are very technology focused, we try to be customer and user focused.”

By moving slow and not breaking things, whether intentionally or not, Pinterest has been able to quietly go about building and scaling its platform, ensuring that the content there isn't harmful and that it's a pleasant place to spend time. That should count for something.

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