Pinterest vs Facebook: how different algorithms encourage different publisher behavior

pinterest vs facebook 2015

Before I dive into algorithms and content marketing and bla bla, first let's talk about the big picture: 53% of Offbeat Bride's social media traffic comes from Facebook, and 44% comes from Pinterest.

Then, let's review the social media strategy for each channel:

At any moment during the day, I can look at Offbeat Bride's real-time stats and know exactly which posts have been recently shared to Facebook. A post goes up on Facebook — BAM, we get a traffic spike on that post.

Meanwhile, at any moment during the day, I can look at Offbeat Bride's real-time stats and see that about half the referral traffic to the site is coming from Pinterest — but the traffic is rarely from our pins, and the traffic is spread across hundreds of posts.

What does this mean? It means that while both Facebook and Pinterest traffic are hugely important to me, I interact with the two networks very differently.

As a publisher, Facebook has me trained like a dog: we post all day, every day on our Facebook page because we see an immediate, real-time traffic boost when our posts go out. When I engage with Facebook as a publisher, I am rewarded with traffic from the site.

As a publisher, I have very little control over the traffic Pinterest sends, even though I also post there all day every day. Pins from Offbeat Bride's account usually generate single digit repins and hearts, despite 55k followers. Pinterest traffic comes in a nonstop steady trickle — but most of that traffic is not from the fresh pins that I post… but rather from my pins from six months ago or even a year ago that just keep performing. In fact, some of the pins that drive the most traffic to my site aren't from the Offbeat Bride account at all — they're from random pinners from a year ago.

This means that where-as Facebook's algorithms have created a "feed the beast" Pavlovian response in me (must keep posting, must keep posting…) there are some days when I wonder why I post to Pinterest at all.

At this point, Pinterest is almost more about market research than it is content marketing. Going to Pinterest's Offbeat Bride source page remains a great way for me to see what content on the site is resonating with pinners in real-time… but as a publisher, Pinterest's algorithms don't seem to reward me pinning.

I don't know if this is intentional or not. I do know Facebook is very cunning in their strategy to get publishers completely dependent on clicks from the site, and are getting the point where they reward publishers for using their Facebook page as a content management systems. ("Why upload media to my own website to then share on Facebook, when I can just upload it directly to my Facebook page and have way better engagement?") Whatever Facebook is doing, it's working — I spent a LOT of time thinking about Facebook and interacting with it.

It's interesting that Pinterest's algorithms seem to almost actively discourage content marketing via self-pinning. As a publisher, I keep on pinning out of a sense of duty. I get a lot of traffic from Pinterest, so pinning almost feels like a way of saying "Thanks, Pinterest," because my pins don't seem to have much other value. Pinterest doesn't seem to want me thinking about it… I wonder why?

  1. As always, I love these posts. A few things- first, thanks so much for being on pinterest. Obviously you need a return on your time investment, but I hate facebook, and love pinterest. I love seeing OBE stuff in my pinterest feed, especially old content since it reminds me of fun posts to re-read (and I'm still a dedicated RSS person for the new stuff).

    One thing I was thinking though, is that people may use pinterest and facebook differently. That is, my main purpose for pinterest is to keep track of things I want to see again (something virtually impossible on facebook). So even if I click through to OBB from a pinterest link to read the article, I'm extremely unlikely to repin it because I'm not currently planning a wedding (or whatever).

    I'm not sure what relevance that has to you as a publisher, can (do) you track click throughs from a given pin in contrast to just how many repins or hearts it gets? Also, is the more searchable, archival nature of pinterest (rather than the constantly disappearing-never-find-it-again-ness of facebook feeds) perhaps why old pins continue to be beneficial?

    • Oh people absolutely use the networks for very different purposes, and I pin super different kinds of content on Pinterest than I do on Facebook. It's much less "here is a post, click this post" and more "here is a visual nugget of inspiration, click or re-pin if it feels relevant to you." That's part of why measuring engagement on Pinterest is about measuring both traffic from Pinterest AND repins on Pinterest, both of which I watch pretty closely.

      And I absolutely love that old pins continue to perform — it's awesome! It's just weird to see old pins before 10x better than new pins. This begs the question: why bother with new pins, when the algorithm doesn't reward them? If all the traffic comes from existing pins, what's my ROI for creating new ones? Most social networks want to encourage member activity… so why doesn't Pinterest encourage this particular kind? I have to think there's a strategy behind it — they're smart folks!

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      • This actually made me think of something I hadn't thought about before- I've always assumed that when OBB pins appear in my pinterest feed, they're the most recent ones you've pinned (even if they're from older content). I wonder now if that's true?

        Also, I wonder if the reason old pins perform so much better is because of the exponential way things appear on pinterest as they get re-pinned? That is, you pin something and it appears on all OBB followers feeds, but then they re-pin so it's in their feed for all their followers to see as well as your followers, and the older pins have been there so much longer, that they've just had more opportunity to get into more and more feeds. If so, this means that (provided the content is equally good and equally repinnable) the older pins will always be on more feeds (and therefore seen by more eyes) than new pins. On a nerd-out note, I think there might be some interesting math there. Can you tell whether the click throughs come from people clicking on your pin vs. someone's re-pin? I don't know enough about the way pinterest works to know.

        Still don't know what that means in terms of an ROI for the time you spend pinning new stuff, except maybe that a year from now, some of the current pins will be big performers? Another thing to think about too is that the pins don't have easily seeable dates- so when I see pin X I don't think "oh-that's an ancient article that has been on pinterest for a year but I'm just now seeing it because it's a repin of a repin of a repin of a repin that just now was repinned by someone I follow so I see it", I'm just thinking, "oh what a cool thing my friend pinned." Again, no idea what that means from a business perspective or a pinterest algorithm standpoint.

        And of course finally there's the "picked for you" stuff- the Pinterest algorithm seems pretty good at that (that is, picking things I'm interested in), but I wonder if that changed the traffic parameters from how it was when people's Pinterest feeds just showed what the people they follow had pinned…

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  2. So, two things: Most of the pins I post from the OBE are wedding pins or parenting pins that I keep on a private board because, while engaged and trying to conceive, we don't want to spam my friends' feeds with wedding/baby ephemera. Also, a lot of the time I end up pinning relevant stuff myself rather than looking for it in my Pinterest feed – since I have an RSS feed homepage, if there's new content there I'll pin it directly from the OBE site, and if there's older content that Facebook posts that I haven't already pinned and find relevant I'll pin it after clicking on the Facebook link. How do these patterns affect what you do? Do your algorithms show this kind of activity?

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    • I hadn't factored in the possibility of private boards — that's an interesting thought. Are private boards not shown in repin counts? (I genuinely don't know…)

      And I totally hear you that not all people trawl their Pinterest feed looking for recent pins from the people they follow. But with 55k followers, aren't some of them using Pinterest that way? What's the value of a follower if they don't look at their feed? Why do pinners follow people? Why did those 55k people bother to follow us? What do they want from us, or from Pinterest?

      If most people don't use Pinterest to keep up with the people they follow, then from a content marketing standpoint, Offbeat Bride's 55k followers aren't especially valuable to me, in which case I should just stop pinning. But Pinterest has made a point to reach out to publishers and businesses, offering business-level accounts and special analytics options. They seem to want me as a there as a publisher, but then they don't seem to reward me using the service. It's fascinating! I'd really love to understand Pinterest's strategy better here. It's very possible that they don't want to encourage publishers to use their network for content marketing… In which case, I should stop using it that way!

      • I have wondered about the share count for pinning to private boards too. Considering a lot of content that people pin from you is wedding related, it wouldn't surprise me if there's a lot of repins you don't know about as they are going to private boards.

        I myself have basically everything I've ever pinned or repinned from your sites in private boards – except if I want to share it with someone as you can't send a private board pin.

        As for why people follow other people, I tend to click follow if I have pinned 5-10 from their board, as there is a weird frame of thought among some pinterst users as it's impolite not to. But then I also don't really use my newsfeed.

        This is why I'm a big fan of private boards, pin what you like, without the politics 🙂
        I prefer to follow by email, and then pin it myself, but that's just me.

  3. Whenever I see OBE things it's a flood like you did a weeks worth of pins from your new site content all at once. A lot of time it gets lost because a wedding photographer friend of mine will create a similar flood with every new wedding she finishes editing (which I then unfollow… Again).

    I ended up creating pins from the Megan challenge because I liked the recipes, but they weren't created by you yet so they aren't the pretty enticement pictures you would have chosen for them. I also feel bad every time anyone repins from me because I'm not the creator, just a repinner. (I get a lot of notifications for the Mary Poppins Time Lady cosplay I thought was cool but is totally not me at all)

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    • Ooh, are you talking about following Offbeat Home on Pinterest? If so, Megan manages that account. I'll share this feedback with her… I know she uses Pinterest differently with Offbeat Home than I do with Offbeat Bride.

      • Oh yeah, sorry. And the recipie challenge pins I was talking about were created over a year ago, and social media has changed since then.
        Honestly I dont repin the new stuff because I've read the article and know I registered the info/would rather just search offbeat home directly for that article again instead of pinning with a group of questionable links. (props to y'all for being a direct source that's worth direct searching)

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      • I have had a similar experience with OBH on Pinterest where it'll be like the gates open and there's 12+ new pins from the account in my feed (which I use pretty exclusively, but it looks like I'm in the minority on that, I think?)

        I find the way Megan does OBH is very similar to the way in which most people, and organizations/businesses pin. The "it's Tuesday; I have time. Let's make some content!" mentality seems to pervade the site from what I'm seeing. I also don't follow every account's every board — I select based on my interests and the pins already on the board.

        Admittedly, I don't follow OBB on there because I did the "purge the wedding porn" in the middle of planning to get my head straight and never started follow wedding boards and accounts again.

        Come to think of it… Does Pinterest tell you if there are changes to your 55k followers for OBB? I'd be curious to see how stable the actual accounts are who follow, or if it stays more static. That could also factor into the traffic patterns you're seeing.

        • Pinterest analytics show me changes in engagement with my 55k followers this way:

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  4. Pinterest is a weird playground, but I think the scheme is reasonably fruitful.
    As a user, I follow boards that are especially interesting and check through the feed of new things they're giving me when I have time. I very rarely follow a whole account. I assume that those that do so regularly would get an unconsumeable deluge of content.

    As a pinner who cares about popularity –
    When I'm settling down for a few hours of pinning, I first check which of my pins were most popular recently, and consider whether and how to use those boards and keywords again. Lately, this has been pushing me to use longer descriptions, and of course, I try to use good citations of sources whenever possible.

    As a former salesperson – I generally went for rewards that would pay off in a week to a year. The rewards I could score right away would only protect my job that day. While I certainly enjoyed them, they were like little sugary snacks, quickly in, quickly gone, and my boss would soon have hungry eyes again. The pipeline only took an hour of my day to maintain, delivered the same volume of results as the other 7 hours a day of busy work, and provided job protection for months to come. The most successful members of my team had put years into building their pipelines, and their pipelines had started rewarding them with hugely fruitful referrals. They could put most of their day into the less adrenaline charged work of maintaining and building the pipeline, get huge results month after month, take a week off when they needed to, and they rarely had to think about job security.

    Pinterest seems to use the long term pipeline model more, and Facebook seems to be more modeled on short term results. Personally, I like to mix both, and I value plans that don't punish me hard for taking time off.

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    • Suuuuuuper interesting insights. Thanks for this!

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  5. I've noticed about three or four of my pins get repinned everyday. I'm wondering if they are so popular, simply from being popular! I suspect they are the ones which are being 'recommended to' other pinners. One of them is one of my own tutorials, and not my best 🙂

  6. I check my pinterest feed multiple times a day, from both my phone and my laptop. I use the search function occasionally if I'm in the mood for something specific (recipes, superheroes, wedding dresses) that my feed isn't fulfulling right at that moment. From the above comments, I guess that's fairly unusual? The search function biases towards popular pins, as far as I can tell, so someone searching for wedding pins will see the older, more repinned pins first, rather than the new pins. Same goes to the recommended pins that pop up on the dash. It's definitely a slow burn marketing method as a result, but once a pin hits critical mass it turns up over and over – I repinned an art installation once, and now I get notified every time someone repins it because it's a popular one. I don't think they're even repinning it directly from me; it's coming up in the search.

    The vast majority of my pinterest consumption is non-interactive. I follow several cosplay boards, but very rarely click-through or repin, because once I've pinned a favourite cosplay for a character I feel like I've 'done' that pin. Same with clothes – I love looking at pictures of wedding dresses, but I follow those boards because I want to see lots of different pictures, not because I want to save any of those pictures to look at more than once. On the other hand, I pin tons of recipes and knitting patterns and home improvements, because I know I'll want to refer to them again later. Do you see a difference between tutorial posts and general posts e.g. "how to make an awesome button bouquet" vs "check out this bride's awesome button bouquet"?

    There's also the secondary affect: lots of pins are for listicles (Buzzfeed especially loves the 'fifteen amazing non white wedding dresses that will make you wish you were getting married right now' listicles, but there's a lot of house and home blogs that do 'twenty wedding favours you can make at home, plus free printables' that are just links to other people's content) where pinterest users click through the buzzfeed article to get to the site. I don't suppose there's anyway for you to tell if you're getting links that way, but I bet a lot of pinterest traffic is coming through that way – actually, maybe the traffic from some of OBB's 'types of shoe' articles might give a rough idea of the breakdown? That's the only real example I can think of that you guys do, but they're still a bit different, so it may not map exactly.

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