Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard quite a lot in recent months about the rapid rise of Pinterest. The Palo Alto-based scrapbooking web site has reportedly seen its user base grow faster than any site in history. One report claimed the site sends more referral traffic to sites than Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Marketing professionals at home improvement and clothing companies have claimed that Pinterest is among their top referrers. While Pinterest doesn’t appear to send traffic to every kind of site, there’s no denying that suddenly millions of people are spending their days creating boards and pinning pictures to them.
What explains this huge rise in popularity? We now know one of the big reasons. Facebook Actions. What are those you ask? Everyone has heard of Facebook, but relatively few people have heard of Facebook Actions. Back in January, the social network partnered up with dozens of brands in order to get their data into your timeline. In short, instead of just showing that you “liked” something, Actions indicates that you “listened to” a song on Spotify, “own” a shirt from the Gap, or “read” something on your newspaper of choice. There’s even a vocabulary list of the various actions.
Even now you can find Actions’ indelible stamp on your Facebook Timeline. In my case, I am seeing Actions from the month of February for Foodspotting, Hulu, Buzzfeed, Spotify and several others. There are links to pictures of the food I ate as well as food that friends took pictures of. There are links to the Saturday Night Live videos I watched, all the photos I uploaded for the whole month and all the Bob Dylan songs I listened to. Facebook apparently has discovered a highly effective way of leveraging my group of friends to send traffic to partners.
One of the coolest aspects about Actions is that it avoids one of the potential downsides of sharing things on Facebook. When you “like” something it causes that item to appear on your friends’ timelines. Not the case with Actions. These bits of information appear in the Ticker (that real-time stream of activity on the upper right hand-side of the home page) and in your Timeline. That’s it.
Back to Pinterest. As it turns out, Actions have sent huge amounts of visitors to Pinterest, Fab.com and social media legend, Digg, among many others (There’s even speculation that Actions may have actually saved Digg from certain death). I have no doubt that Actions are a big part of the reason why Pinterest has grown so far so fast. There are now hundreds of thousands of new links in peoples’ Facebook timeline that are a whole lot more eye-catching than a typical like. In the month or so since Actions launched, Pinterest saw more than 60 percent growth each day in the number of arriving Facebook users. This also partially explains the large percentage of women who arrived to Pinterest. In essence, friends were sending each other over en masse.
The example of Pinterest and others all means that Facebook is changing the very rules of building a popular web site or service. What was once a case of building strong content, solving a real-world problem, creating a nice site design, and engaging in a bit of community building online, has now morphed into something heavily Facebook-centered. I would hate to be the brand or site that doesn’t make sure to partner with Facebook Actions (when it’s available for everyone) in an effort to drive traffic and build business.
People have long claimed that Facebook was important to their traffic or their brand, but it was a relatively small piece of the pie compared to what the future holds. I would claim that we’re seeing a monumental shift that could make Facebook not just a mandatory piece of a brand’s growth strategy, but possibly the very heart of it.
John Boitnott is a writer and social media consultant who has worked at Village Voice Media and NBC. He is now VP of Business Development at social media/digital PR firm, Hasai Inc.