Pinterest Professional: A Sidecar App for Professional Visual Junkies

This is a short exercise in designing an app that redirects what-someone-already-does into what-they-would-like-to-be-doing. Let’s begin by imagining an idealized user, who is actually based on someone I talked to for half an hour before beginning the project. Here is a common scenario:

Responsibility loses out to fun. It would be good to check my LinkedIn, but it would be more fun to check Pinterest. Real talk, I found this Charlie the Tuna pin while working on this project, and it’s amazing.

I’m guessing the radio is not water proof in any way.

How can we combine the reward structure of Pinterest with the value (and gratifying sense of doing something responsible) of LinkedIn?

Oh, wait, that spells Pin again.

My first reaction was to combine the two rather directly, mixing feeds together and pushing posts out to both networks at once.

Storyboard for original solution.

This idea seemed really great to me and I moved forward prototyping all the main screens of the app, which I was calling “SpillPin” because it spills the Pinterest elixir to your LinkedIn network.

Social media aggregators have nasty sign-up requirements, sending the user on a long wander through external authentication screens. I liked combining articles and images in one feed, and found this extra fun in a combined search. I suspect that most social searches are either exploratory or have the intended result in the first 5 hits. So mixing in some pins seems like fair play.

These screens are all pretty stock issue, but the idea of editing images before repinning them feels reasonable to me even though it’s quite foreign to the usual Pinterest interface.

Here I’m just putting LinkedIn and Pinterest feeds side by side.

I talked the idea over with another designer, who uses both services quite a bit. There is no way, she said, she would post almost anything from her Pinterest to her LinkedIn. Other Pinterest users I talked with agreed: the things they put on Pinterest were of personal interest, but not part of their professional persona.

In Educational Gaming, this is often called “putting chocolate on broccoli.” You want to make the unpleasant thing go down better, so you make a peculiar amalgamation that is awful.

Mathblaster: promise an actual video game, but slow it down with stupid arithmetic questions. Promise some actual math homework, but make it harder to do.

I regrouped, trashed the “post to LinkedIn” component (which is good because even HootSuite has found LinkedIn’s API for image upload doesn’t work), and focused on how to redirect the strengths of the original plan.

Still a good idea.

Coming from academia, I see making tiny comments on other people’s work as the essence of professional work. We are all trying to figure things out and make them better; respectful criticism is the basis of rigor, which is the key to improving the techniques you’re responsible for sharing with the world.

Ok, but SpillPin was unrealistic because people probably don’t want to share Charlie the Tuna pictures or spice cake recipes with their LinkedIn subscribers.

I called the redesign Pinterest Professional. Grab the user’s Pinterest credentials and LinkedIn credentials, use their LinkedIn contacts to find their professional contacts on Pinterest, mix up the feed and search results to emphasize who is pinning and on what boards, and allow image editing plus comments.

The app prototype was pretty simple and has almost everything in common with Pinterest. The real difference is (1) that you can edit photos and comment on them, thus creating a kind of retweet for Pins and (2) LinkedIn contacts determine the feed, rather than Pinterest’s usual filter of what’s popular (mainstream) plus what’s recommended for you (collaborative filtering).

This detail screen comes up when you click on a pin.

The detail page lets you see an image full size, read who made it and what board they put it on, see what image it is based on (if there is one), and read any comment made by the person who shared it with you.

Here, it’s important to design for reputation security. My first thought was to link derivative posts up and down their hierarchy and allow comments to appear on originals. But someone else I talked to pointed out that, when it comes to Twitter, you don’t want idiots’ comments showing up alongside your own tweet. Instead, we should design the system so anyone can modify other peoples’ pins, but the new image will only be shared with the repinner’s contact, with no direct links to it from the image it was based on.

This is a nice version of a repin: it shows the derivative version front-and-center, but also shows the original. This is how footnotes work.

A similar concern about professionalism arose with the image editing tools.

Image editing screen for Pinterest Professional

We should treat users as professionals, giving them analytics on the image with standard tuning tools, such as levels and saturation sliders, resizing, cropping, and image rotation. A designer I spoke with thought a paintbrush would be critical for adding comments and pointing out details. Being more of a word person, I was very keen on a way to add text, either as an appended comment or on top of the image. Finally, a “selective edit” tool seemed like a helpful tool to make a visual comment on a specific part of a picture.


Thinking about this app in the wider ecosystem, what is its role? What is its promise?

Reviewing comparable apps, I found many social aggregators for social media marketers, but very few that were consumer-facing. Even worse, the ones I found that were supposed to be for consumers with push and pull seem to all have changed their business model within a couple of years to become pull only. I’m guessing the work to maintain API integration for push across networks is hard (i.e. expensive), and that the low-hanging fruit is all in mixing across pull sources. One company even pivoted from a consumer-facing all-in-one social media aggregator with push and pull to large-scale social media displays for stadiums and hotels!

Pinterest Professional really only uses one social network in any depth, so that should make it more viable. However, it is so similar to Pinterst, I’ve ended up with the feeling that Pinterest might create this app on their own.

More broadly, it seems to me that I modified the Pinterest for a specialized user. It turns out LinkedIn has done this for recruiters. As social networks become the network through which life occurs, the range of user types will have to expand beyond a single monolithic category, such as “Pinner” or “Friend.” Making a new app is not too hard for a mature company and allows a different class of users a different kind of access to the same backend.

In the case of Pinterest, the value of a special app for people who are visual junkies full-time could be found in B2B advertising. A marketer I talked to while working on this project pointed out that it’s very hard for companies to justify ad spending on social networks that have the wrong demographics. Pinterest can offer female consumer attention, but this leaves firms like GE promoting its small catalog of consumer items and doing nothing for its huge aviation, power, and health divisions.

Assuming the market opportunity is there, the next steps on this exploratory project would be to watch people using Pinterest, to see if the edit/repin idea is viable and to test the import of LinkedIn contacts (can you grab enough information there and hope to get a decent number of them on Pinterest?).

Hopefully, some day, it will be ok to post frozen spider webs on LinkedIn, and we won’t all have to drown in top 10 lists valorizing entrepreneurship over everything else life has to offer.