Monthly Archives: June 2013


Pinterest: How to create a content strategy for Pinners

Pinterest's Tiffany Jones Brown
Content Strategist Tiffany Jones Brown speaks to a captive Pinterest audience


I recently had the pleasure of hanging out at Pinterest’s new headquarters in San Francisco. I listened to a presentation by Pinterests’s own “voice strategist,” Tiffani Jones Brown.

Sculpting the Pinning message and brand

In her presentation, Tiffani reviewed a number of qualifying factors that go into determining the company’s content. Voice factors include: personality, vibe, and feeling. According to Tiffani, Pinterest’s voice must have power and resonate in everything the company does. In forging their voice, Tiffani stressed the company’s storyline and how it values Pinners first, above all else. Tiffany described “pinning etiquette” and “Pin with care” as models for crafting a unique voice. Tiffani stressed being “gender neutral” and “to be the voice” when crafting content. With so much of Pinterest’s content being graphical, someone in the audience asked what written content is the Pinterest content strategy team actually creating?  Tiffany responded that content strategy included the creation of traditional company content such as  FAQs, style guides, product descriptions, etc…

Tiffany provided one example of developing the Pinterest voice by comparing two email responses crafted by the company in response to a Pinner who had pinned content that was considered “sexually explicit.” The first Pinterest response used a stiff, generic voice and began with “We removed a pin from your account because it contained nudity…Please remove any other pins you’ve added that contain nudity.” Instead, the Pinterest voice team revised their “corporate speak” and the email response crafted went like this: “We recently removed one of your pins from Pinterest because it may include sexually explicit content. We hate removing pins, but sometimes we have to when they go against our policies. This helps keep Pinterest fun for families, professionals and everyone else who uses it. Please remove any other pins like this from Pinterest. Or, if you think we’ve made a mistake, please let us know!”

Now most brands do spend the time and resources to cultivate a unique voice that speaks to their customer-base. But many corporations still come across  with an icy voice to their audience. But I was surprised at just how banal most of what Tiffani discussed came across to me.  I’m not sure what I expected but it makes sense that Pinterest does not want to be using “corporate speak” when communicating with its users. That warm and fuzzy feeling is critical because Pinners are using their platform, in particular, to post and share about their life passions, like cooking, fashion, travel, etc…Pinners don’t want to dialogue with a “corporation” that doesn’t understand or appreciate their human qualities. Hmmm, wouldn’t everyone like a corporation to communicate in this same fashion?

Pinterest is a start-up. It received 200 million in series D funding earlier this year. The company is valued at more than 2 billion, according to VentureBeat. The company, while not profitable, is flush with cash and can spend the time needed to figure out how it is going to earn a profit.

When VC money comes knockin on your door

So Tiffani and her crew of five writers (yup, this constitutes the core of Pinterest’s current content strategy team) have this golden opportunity to continue refining and developing their voice to maximize Pinner appeal. VCs, however, will one day want their money back. Pinterest will be forced to go public. Now Pinterest continues to experiment with revenue driving models. Founder Ben Silbermann says, “we don’t want to commodify someone’s passions.” Great sentiment. I’d like to see just how far it gets him and the company when it comes time to show a profit to investors.

More importantly, once a company does go public, everything changes. The warm and “viby” voice that Tiffani and her writing crew are busy developing now will most certainly be impacted by the time Pinterest does go public. Think about Facebook. As a public company, it is beholden to its shareholders and must consistently show a profit. Facebook’s stock price is currently nestled in at around $25 a share, thirteen dollars below its IPO price back in May of 2012. In a recent story in U.S. News & World Report, Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg expressed his own disappointment at the stock’s performance, mirroring the sentiment of the company’s shareholders

Meanwhile, Facebook continues to try new initiatives that piss off its users. Just how popular was the $1 fee Facebook implemented forcing users to pay if they want to send messages to non-friends?  Or what about the hashtag? I haven’t used hashtags yet myself but I’ve read nothing but negative accounts by users in my network and just as important is the spam it has created generating dozens of irrelevant spam posts.

Facebook is a splendid case study for Ben Silberman and I’m sure he and co-founder Evan Sharp are not ignoring that company’s ongoing challenges in its quest to remain profitable and popular among its users.

The warm and fuzzy Pinterest voice

Pinterest has the luxury like any other venture-backed start-up to proceed at a measured pace not beholden to any stockholders. Tiffani and crew can take the time to hone the Pinterest voice, making it warm and congenial for its users. But nothing I heard in Tiffani’s presentation made me think that what the company is doing in developing its voice and branding isn’t terribly unique. Because Pinterest is heavily invested, it has more than a few years to go modifying and shaping its brand voice.  Meanwhile, the VCs still breathe down Silberman’s neck wanting to know sooner, rather than later, just how Pinterest is going to become profitable.

Tiffani left Facebook to work at Pinterest.  Does anybody wonder if Tiffani would leave Pinterest the day it goes public to go work for another start-up?  Well, assuming she’s still working as the company’s chief content strategist she probably won’t have to worry, as she’ll become one of the next SF Bay Area millionaires.

Entrepreneurs generally love the start-up culture. The time before a company is forced to go public is generally considered one of the most exciting periods in a company’s life. Once it does go public and shareholders enter the mix, the fun is diluted.  Pinterest is hiring like crazy, in particular, for more software engineers.

Pinterest will be an interesting company to track. According to Alexa, Pinterest currently ranks 17 on the top websites visited in the U.S. with Google and Facebook ranking 1 and 2, respectively.  While the majority of its users are still women, men are becoming a larger demographic. Tiffany did bring up the important point of how Pinterest’s voice will continue to adapt as its tries to broaden its user-base.


Before Midnight: The truth hurts but authenticity trumps fantasy (spoiler alert)

Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke as Celine and Jesse
Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke as Celine and Jesse in Before Midnight

When I first heard about Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third film in his story about a romantic encounter between Celine and Jesse in Vienna, I couldn’t wait to see it. I distinctly recall when Before Sunrise first came out back in 1997. I was 28 and desperately wondering when I’d fall in love. Watching the film then, I couldn’t help but be delightfully impressed at the provocative banter between actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. I recall just how refreshing it was to see a film that weighed heavily on the verbal exchanges between both characters to propel the story forward. If the dialogue failed to deliver so would the movie. The fantasy of just such an encounter was not new, however.

I traveled to Europe as a college student (having attended the University of Oslo) and most certainly entertained the idea of meeting a French (or in this case, Norwegian woman) and falling in love. Why not? My parents met in Caracas, Venezuela of all places at a party purely by chance. The encounter led to my Dad wooing my mother for more than a year and eventually she capitulated and they married in Paris. They later moved to San Francisco and started a family.  They are still married to this day; my father is 83 now.

Tracking the lives of two characters enveloped by chance

The magic behind this unique trilogy is the quality of the screenwriting. LinkLater has made it clear that in all three movies there is no improvisation between both actors. Ethan and Julie memorize the dialogue and act it out in as natural way as possible. While garrulous, the verbal play between both characters comes across so authentically that you’re wondering whether you’re watching a movie at all.  In Before Sunrise, Celine came across as a romantic cynic.  Jesse was more the idealist. The culmination of both character traits shine in Before Midnight. Celine, upon realizing the significance of Jesse’s pain in not being able to raise his son on a 24/7 basis, quickly takes a defensive position. She does not want to move back to the States for the sake of Jesse. All Jesse wants is to have a sane conversation about the idea, to express his regret, and if anything, receive some sympathy from Celine.

Celine’s insecurities about the choices she has made in her life play an important part in why both characters fight in the hotel room. Jesse complicated his life by falling in love with Celine. He divorced his first wife to start anew with Celine and finds himself a parent a second time around with twins no less.

When does love matter most?

Before Sunrise was a perfect little romance. Before Sunset saw the maturation of both characters, nine years later, and the realization for both of just how important they meant to each other.  Before Midnight captures the willingness of both characters to fight for a love none thought was originally possible. I don’t believe in miracles and I never thought the chance encounter between Jesse and Celine came across as one. But when does love matter most? Is it when you’ve made perfect love with your partner, somewhere in Greece? Or having kids and spending time with friends, cooking, drinking, and sharing meaningful conversation?  No. When love seems like it’s on the precipice of disappearing is exactly when it is time to take off the gloves and fight for it to come back.  Relationships are challenging. Toss in kids and you’ve got plenty of potential complications thrown into the mix. Divorce remains an ugly reality because couples just are not willing to make the sacrifices and/or compromises needed to forge a lifelong commitment towards one another.

Authenticity satisfies more than Hollywood endings

Before Midnight is a rare cinematic example of art reflecting back on life without the need for metaphor. It is authentic and perfectly suits a more jaded time; we live in a period in which the idea of romance remains an ideal but in practice is more effort than it’s worth. I’ve grown sick and tired of hollywood endings, and Before Midnight is a gratifying slap in the face to those movies that seek the fantasy route to satisfy their viewers. There is no bow tie in Before Midnight. It’s merely the realization that love is a fragile flower requiring an endless supply of affection, attention, understanding, and commitment. Something easy to agree with but more problematic when trying to apply.

The Before Midnight screenplay was a collaboration between LinkLater and the actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. The script deserves an academy award.  Share with me your thoughts about this movie.




Perfection: To be perfect in America, thanks to Wikihow

What is perfection?

“Unfortunately, we didn’t find that your responses were a perfect fit for this project”

– Chris, WikiHow

The idea of perfection

As I long as I can remember, I’ve never been burdened with the idea that perfection should be the goal in any of my creative pursuits. I don’t recall ever hearing my coaches, teachers, friends, or even my parents stressing perfection as the end all be all for any project I undertook. Yes, working hard and setting benchmarks for your self is vital to evaluating your own progress and development. But this idea that perfection is achievable never crossed my mind. So why is it that I keep encountering this notion of perfection in the working world?  Why do employers use it to discount employee prospects, for example?

“Perfect is the enemy of the good” is a proverb commonly attributed to Voltaire, the 18th century enlightenment writer and philosopher. The message one can infer is that striving for “perfection” can ultimately do harm to what is actually achievable in the real world. This is especially true in halls of the Congress where  the practice of politics remains the art of compromise.

What does it mean to be perfect?

But what is perfection? It is one’s perception, which defines the very word. The irony, however, is that once a creation has achieved perfection in the eye of the creator, it remains a subjective phenomenon, and by definition becomes imperfect.

And now we come to why I’ve written today’s post. I applied for a freelance writing/editing position at Wikihow. Wikihow is a directory featuring a multitude of “how to” articles. I enjoy writing and figured it would be something appropriate for my professional skill-set and possibly could lead to additional work.  When I submitted myself as a candidate, I had to pass a test. It was a series of questions that required you to become familiar very quickly with how Wikihow produces its content for the general public. I spent about an hour on the test and submitted my results. I figured I did satisfactory given it was my first encounter with Wikihow. I wasn’t familiar with its practice and manner in producing content. I heard back within 24 hours. I received an obtusely written response saying in effect that more testing would not be pursued with me. I wanted clarification and was emailed the definitive quote, which I put at the top of this blog post.

Now to be fair, Wikihow has a methodology in how it  produces content. But telling me I wasn’t a “perfect” fit irritated me. It was something akin to feeling like Romney Wordsworth in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “The Obsolete Man.”  Serling’s depiction of a Orwellian future where the state determines your function in society made me feel like not being “perfect” was the same thing. This notion that if you don’t fulfill the needs of your employer you therefore have no value is a feeling most certainly shared by the six million plus long-term unemployed in the U.S. today. We know the American economy is still in a precarious state and those who fall in the over 50 demographic are having the most difficult time securing new employment.

To be perfect in a competitive world

The fact that employers can search for perfection doesn’t help one who feels less than perfect. In today’s job market, you can’t compete with perfection. If a job candidate has exactly what the employer is looking for, and you’re missing any specific criteria, are you going to get the job? Employers literally receive hundreds of resumes for one posted job and can be as selective as they want. Perfection is not some ideal. It’s a reality perpetuated by the competitive world in which we live.

When the competitive world in which you live keeps telling you that there’s a level of perfection and you don’t qualify, in a word, it sucks.  Perhaps those of you reading this now think you are perfect. You have exactly what an employer is looking for. If so, this post is certainly not meant for you. It’s meant for the rest of us. I believe to approximate perfection is the most realistic achievement possible for humankind.