Pinterest and Instagram; The Scales Fall From My Eyes (Somewhat)

in my cynical, skeptical way, I have spent the last several months heaping doubt and scorn on Pinterest and Instagram, mainly as a hedge against the people who seem too excited about either of these being the “next big thing.” I have, some of you will like to hear, since started truly enjoying these services. But I did have real doubts. Both are based on images, and don’t allow more complex expressions of text, video and audio. Neither is focused on housing things on your own site- they are really spokes in the hub-and-spoke world of social media content, aren’t they?

Instagram, in particular, seemed limited to me. Not only was it only available to iPhone and iPad users until the beginning of April, severely limiting the availability and alienating Android users (again, they solved that), but the content was limited as well. It’s basically a preset group of filters meant to shock and abuse your photos’ color and lighting to hide the limitations of smartphone camera. Yes, it was fancypants doo-dahs masquerading as art.

As I has recently been involved in a family photo scanning project, I liked to joke about the limited appeal of making fresh photos look like they were shot in 1962. Quick, which of these is from Instagram?

john rob doughaslam bill halloween

Instagram Photo

I should note I thought about this post before Facebook announced they were buying Instagram for $1 billion. Um, wow.

Pinterest? Again, the content is limited to images. It’s not a be-all social network. It would be nice to embed these pinboards into your own sites (something I expect will become a real feature at some point); then, it would be a nice complement to your own content on your own domain (yes, your blogs. Blogs are awesome).

For my snark, I started boards dedicated to my personal bete-noire, infographics. Items from my board on “Infographic Crimes Against Humanity” (yes, I blogged about this recently, sue me) have been repinned without regard for context to “Sexy Infographics” and “Great Infographics” boards, sometimes with my withering remarks intact. Suit yourself, I guess. I should also mention the seeming lopsided appeal of Pinterest to women and the more obvious utility to retailers of “stuff” over people trying to convey “ideas.”


However, in actually using these, I found one thing to be true that shook my skepticism, almost wiping the sneer off my face. When I posted content? People shared it. Almost instantly. While I still chafe at the limited type of content, that very simplicity along with the attractiveness of the visuals creates an instant, addictive, appeal (even with the rather ridiculous lack of context in some of the repins as mentioned above).  That makes using these tools more fun than research, and backs up the contention- to a point- that these are the “next social networks.”

That’s great- but how can I apply this to the primary content hubs yeah, those blogs that are supposed to be dead), to spice up the activity, make them less stale, and re-energize our whole streams of content? That, I suppose, is the next step.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio: a Two-Way Street

signal vs. noise: signal lostWhile at the PRSA Digital Impact Conference this week, I sat I in on Pierre-Loic Assayag of Traackr’s presentation on “influence.” Aside from approaching influence as a common sense topic – eschewing single scores for a more well-rounded view of finding influence that is, honestly hard work – he also talked about “signal-to-noise ratio.” Despite SNR being a bit of a hackneyed phrase in social media, my ears still perk up hearing it due to my long history in audio and radio.

It also struck me that the traditional SNR social media definition talks about balancing your content, but I realize it’s not so simple; it’s a two-way street.

Before I finish the thought, I’ll step back and review the term’s definition.

First a simple, but still quite technical, definition, from the ever-useful PC Magazine Encyclopedia:

The ratio of the power or volume (amplitude) of a signal to the amount of disturbance (the noise) mixed in with it. Measured in decibels, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR, S/N) measures the clarity of the signal in a circuit or a wired or wireless transmission channel.

And here is a content publisher’s definition, courtesy of UrbanDictionary (NSFW content throughout this site, by the way):

The ratio of useful information to useless information in any given statement.

From the social media/content marketer perspective, Signal-to-Noise Ratio is typically a rule to follow to limit content about you. Perhaps you have eight tweets/status updates/blog posts about neutral topics, other people or companies, or simply responding to people to every two about you, your company or products. I pull that number out of the air, so figure your own.

But here is where that two-way street comes in. The theme here is simpler than I originally imagined it: what you consider good SNR may not be the same as the audience’s definition. And it’s important to consider both points of view when mapping out content:

1- Define signal and noise both ways (and know what audience/influencers definition is): For example, you may have an idea of a good ratio of “signal” content to self-promotional “noise.” However, your audience may think differently. Depending on their makeup, tolerance for noise may be a lot lower than you anticipated– on the other hand, they may be receptive, and you risk leaving some call-to-action on the table. Feedback from audience will tell you a lot about how you are doing there.

2- Put into practice and adapt: While you do want to consider the audience point of view, you might be best served making a semi-educated decision and seeing what happens. The best part about content is it’s ongoing, not a one-shot campaign. You can always change your ratio as you see what works.

3-Measure and figure out best ratio: I mentioned feedback above, but how you actually measure your program will really make a difference (in other words, here is how you “see what works”). Nothing says your SNR is off like adding more “noise” and seeing your numbers drop.

As I wrote this, I feared I was losing sight of the “two way street” image that came to me during Pierre-Loic’s talk. The truth is that there is only one content stream, and you must serve your audience (whether of a personal blog, a commerce/retail site, a b2b tech forum, or what have you) without giving up your own vision. That’s the intersection.

Make sense? You tell me.