Inside Pinterest\’s innovation lab and the future of video shopping

Earlier this month when Pinterest launched Pinterest TV—a new, live video feature on the site where top creators have begun posting shoppable videos walking their followers through beauty routines and holiday cocktail recipes—the videos all shared a certain aesthetic and tone: breezy, instructional, and upbeat. This was by design. “We make sure the content is inspirational, it’s positive,” says Pinterest executive David Temple. “It’s the kind of content you come to Pinterest expecting.” 

In other words, Pinterest TV is not a free-for-all repository of videos like, say, YouTube or TikTok, neither of which Temple names when, by point of contrast, he refers to other video platforms where “you can go spouting off whatever conspiracy theory or political theory” or throw up a “picture of kids you have. That’s great. But Pinterest has a different mission and we wanted to build our product differently.”

[Image: courtesy of Pinterest]

To ensure this uniformity, Pinterest TV was put in the hands of TwoTwenty, Pinterest’s in-house creative team that oversees product innovation at the company. (Temple oversees TwoTwenty as well as Pinterest’s emerging products division.) Named after the address of Pinterest’s original offices, the 15-person team brings together Pinterest staffers from across the company to share their unique experience and perspective—the lawyer, for instance, who is really into gardening—and brainstorm ideas and new technologies. And then bring them to life. 

“We usually describe it as a product incubator,” says Meredith Arthur, who leads TwoTwenty’s all-female production team. “I think what makes it special is that there are so many different people working together. It’s really unusual at a big company to have this small, incubator team working cross-functionally in this way.” 

Pinterest TV is the first product to emerge from TwoTwenty and is the company’s attempt to compete with, yes, YouTube and—especially—TikTok, which have been proven to drive purchases from Gen Z in particular. Pinterest also recently launched a TikTok-like “Watch” tab, where viewers can scroll through creator videos and like, comment, and save to their Pinterest boards.

The overall push into video programming mimics a trend throughout social media, though Pinterest’s effort is coming much later than other companies’ video initiatives and has been characterized by some observers as a catch-up exercise. Instagram, for example, launched IGTV in 2018; Facebook debuted Facebook Watch a year before that. 

But if Pinterest is arriving a little late to video, it insists that it’s being “intentional” and going about it in a way that remains true to the platform and what its more than 400 million monthly users have come to expect from the Pinterest experience. In other words, it’s not just doing video for video’s sake. To this end, there is the shoppable component, as well as a feature that allows users to interact with creators via chat. To complement the more deliberate shopping nature that Pinterest users exhibit (as opposed to the impulsive buys on other social-media platforms), episodes take their time in 30-minute formats.

Pinterest TV is also not jamming advertising down users’ throats. When the platform launched, it allowed for organic, brand partnerships with creators, but there are no pre-roll spots or any kind of paid advertising elements—at least not yet. As of now there are no built-in monetization streams for creators, but Temple says that some creators have doubled their followings in a single episode. And the live shopping element will presumably lead to brand partnership opportunities.  

As for production, TwoTwenty works closely with creators, walking them through filming and giving them tools to shoot, such as ring lights, microphones, and cameras. The other day, TwoTwenty helped beauty blogger Austen Tosone shoot one of her first make-up tutorials—a holiday look—collaborating with her on the idea and then mapping out the video. “We plan it out, we do a tech check, we make sure her equipment is working, that she’s got two camera angles,” says Arthur. 

“More importantly,” Tosone’s episode was preceded by one by fellow beauty guru Manny Mua, in an attempt to create some crossover synergy and help grow Tosone’s audience. “He has a huge following in this world, he went on at 3 p.m., Austen went on at 3:30. She was ecstatic about that. She was like, ‘I’m a fan. I can’t believe I get to follow right after him!’ 

“So it’s just an example of the hand-holding and the process of molding her into someone who hopefully can continue to start to go more on her own. We want to make sure that’s being established.” 

As for the establishment of TwoTwenty, the team evolved out of an informal conference that Pinterest had been holding for years, during which employees from various divisions would get together and share ideas. For example, that lawyer who grows plants? “He started developing a class on grow lights”—indoor light bulbs that help plants grow—Arthur says. The conference “really embodied the experience of Pinterest in real life for employees to get people into this mindset of creating, sharing, and learning.” 

That then morphed into a three-day event last May—Pinterest Live—where outside influencers, such as reality-TV star and hair stylist Jonathan Van Ness and Pinterest creators presented classes that were streamed live. “We really upped our programming game,” says Arthur. “We got to 25 episodes in three days. “We had people from all different backgrounds, all level of creators, and we saw what resonated. We learned a ton about how people engaged and then built that into the technology” for Pinterest TV.  

As for the future, Arthur and Temple playfully deflect the idea that Pinterest TV could evolve into its own, independent app, akin to the Home Shopping Network, with TwoTwenty helping to churn out and program content. “We can imagine that,” Arthur says, without elaborating further.

“There are so many opportunities in this space,” Temple says. “It’s just a process of learning as we go.”