Online Scrapbooking: What Researchers Can Learn from Pinterest

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This year, the popular image-based networking site Pinterest celebrated its fifth birthday. Over five years of operation, the site has grown from 5,000 to over 70 million users. This is, in part, because its offering to the market is distinctly unique. While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn may have different propositions, they arguably compete in the same space and vie for what amounts to social timeshares. However, the core concept of Pinterest is not based on personal experiences, but rather shared interests.

Boards are collections of pins: images gathered from far and wide. Whether it is personal photos, or graphics sourced from other blogs or websites – Pinterest is home to them all. Each board represents a different facet of the self, becoming individual extensions of a user’s personality. Boards can be themed to any topic, but some of the most popular with Pinterest users are: holiday ideas, crafting projects, recipes and home décor inspiration. It’s easy to see why the brand has enjoyed steady growth and continues to become embedded into consumers’ lives. But can the ideals of Pinterest be applied to research? And if so, what can researchers learn from the social network?

The Power of Images

The first lesson that can be taken from Pinterest is the power and versatility of images as a means of communication. Traditionally, research has focused on what can be expressed through words: how we express ourselves and verbally interact. Images, however, provide a much more visceral medium and express mental constructs that cannot always be consciously identified.

This is not a new idea. Mood boards have been used in business for decades to evoke particular styles and concepts more fluently than words. Often used in creative agencies, these powerful tools use a combination of colour, texture and layout to exemplify ideas in action. Pinterest has married the idea of mood boards successfully with consumer behaviour and concepts of the self to create accurate self-representations which are more effective than words. If nothing else, researchers should take note of the ease with which written communication can be replaced with visual imagery to help participants better express their non-conscious emotions.

Scrapbooking as a Research Tool

By taking this a step further, it is possible to begin to use online scrapbooks as a research tool. Our ScrapbookMR tool is a way of harnessing images in a format that is beneficial to both researchers and stakeholders. There are two types of research scrapbook that can be used depending on the research problem: individual and collaborative scrapbooks.

An individual scrapbook is the most similar to the Pinterest model. Each participant has their own private space in which they can pin images that relate to a particular topic. You may wish to ask a question such as ‘How does Brand X make you feel?’ An open question with room for interpretation provides the most creative and visually distinctive responses. Participants are able to add as many or few images as they wish – ensuring a range of detail and granularity. Once the research project has closed, you can view each scrapbook individually, or as a side-by-side comparison. Comparing individual scrapbooks allows you to search for common themes: the emotional tone of images, colour, texture, contrast and more.

A collaborative scrapbook on the other hand is a single communal space to which all participants have access. This is an easy way of building an overall picture of consumer opinion. It also provides you with an opportunity to simulate consumer opinion in an open forum. Is there a tonal shift in images as dominant themes become established? Do individuals change their opinions based on the input of others, or do they remain true to their original opinions? These are all questions that can be asked when moderating a communal, collaborative scrapbook.

A particularly creative way of using scrapbooks in research is to run multiple collaborative topics centred on different themes. For example, if you are looking to evaluate consumer opinion of your brand you could create scrapbooks based on participant profiles – comparing how men, women and a cross section of both view your brand in a social setting. Or, perhaps you want to compare perceptions of your brand against competitors. To do this, you may wish to invite participants to multiple scrapbooks, each defined by a different brand. This provides the opportunity for you to not only understand differences in brand perception, but also how the social space impacts it.

Exploratory Self Expression

Of course, there is a second way to harness the power of online scrapbooking. So far, we have identified how visual media can help organisations evaluate customer opinions of a brand. But what if you want to evaluate the consumers themselves? Scrapbooks also provide opportunities for self-expression that can be used to better understand your consumers. The best way to approach this is to target a facet of the self, or a regular activity – such as cooking, work life, lifestyle etc.

A self-expression scrapbook is an open forum for participants to build a profile of their selves, whether it is a true representation or a desired portrayal. Either way, this can be a valuable tool to understand your customers and get closer to their beliefs and values. Of course this is better suited to exploratory qualitative research when you are unsure of your specific objectives.

The uses a scrapbook can have are limited only by your creativity. The popularity of Pinterest has proven that online scrapbooking is a thriving platform. Now you know how to harness it in a private or public setting to gather in-depth insights from consumers. What are your experiences with online research scrapbooks? How have they aided your market research? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation.

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