Marketing   //   September 2, 2022

How Pinterest’s new app Shuffles aims to buck the social video trend

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Pinterest has quietly developed a breakaway app called Shuffles that allows users to prioritize photographs. It comes at a time when many social media apps are trying to replicate TikTok’s video format.

The new collective collaging app launched four weeks ago in a closed beta release and has already received close to 500,000 downloads on Apple’s app store. It was ranked number 65 among the top free lifestyle apps on the iPhone.

The app is officially the first new product Pinterest has tested under new CEO Bill Ready’s leadership. Shuffles is also being tested online at a time when the image-sharing social media platform has seen a dramatic slowdown in revenue growth; its number of users have stagnated at about 433 million at the end of the June quarter. Shuffles goes beyond merely scrolling other people’s posts, and aims to link in with Pinterest’s general purpose to inspire and create things on social media. Perhaps most noteworthy is that the app strays from the current social media platform trend of an endless feed of short-form video.

“Shuffles is an engaging way to create, publish and share visual content,” a Pinterest spokesperson said in an emailed response. “With more people coming to our platform for creative inspiration, we’re continuously experimenting with new ways to help Pinners and Creators bring their ideas to life. As this app is in its initial test phase, we don’t have any additional details to share on the record at this moment.”

The app was developed by Pinterest’s innovative incubator team TwoTwenty. The team launched in November with the mandate to quickly create new products in spaces where Pinterest feel there are gaps to be addressed. Shuffles was initially launched within the Pinterest team, and employees were able to start inviting friends. The company said its reach grew organically through word of mouth. Over the last few weeks, Shuffles invite requests have increased in volume across social media, particularly on Reddit and Twitter.

In order to access Shuffles, users sign in with a Pinterest account. They can then select images from their own photo gallery, their Pinterest boards or by searching for new Pins. Users can cut up these images to “shuffle” them into a collage. They can also add effects and motion to those images. Once ready, the mood board-like Shuffles can be shared on the app and other users can like, share and comment. Users can also share their Shuffles in message threads with friends across different apps or to a dedicated community. The hashtag “#pinterestshuffles” has received more than 22.9 million views on TikTok. One user used Shuffles to create a mood board titled Monet featuring a homage to the legendary French painter.

“The app is simple and not too cluttered with features. You can follow people you know but it doesn’t seem like there’s an emphasis on real-life connections,” said Lia Haberman, a UCLA professor who studies influencer marketing. “It’s easy to get started, versus having to navigate all the bloated features users get on the other social platforms,” she said.

The basic concept behind Shuffles is to make it easier for users to actively create things on social media rather than getting sucked into mindlessly scrolling through the feeds of other followers. One user on the app created over 150 shuffles in a week on the app, according to a person familiar with the development.

“If Shuffles can maintain this growth, it puts them almost on pace with BeReal, which is this year’s other breakout app,” Haberman added. BeReal, dubbed the anti-Instagram because of its focus on candid photos, has experienced a sudden surge in popularity and has clocked over 8 million downloads this summer.

Katya Constantine, founder of agency Digishopgirl Media, said that she thinks “it makes sense for Pinterest to play to its strengths,” rather than trying to join the rush of competing apps seeking to create a TikTok competitor. She said she feels like Shuffles plays to Pinterest’s “core audience and enables them to unleash their creative potential in a familiar environment.”

“I think if you look at the full spectrum of [Shuffles] users — whether individuals or influencers or pro content creators or businesses — there’s a lot of pent-up appetite for something beyond just short-form video content,” she said.

Instagram, for example, was the subject of social media backlash in July, sparked by concerns that the app had become overly video-centric and was pushing material from accounts that people did not follow. As a result, Instagram was pushed into a partial retreat. The app suspended a test that allowed users to view videos and photographs in full-screen and rolled back the volume of recommendations in users’ feeds.

“While there’s overall a push both among users to create and from advertisers to advertise on more engaging formats, this has also recently mostly resulted in everyone from Instagram to LinkedIn trying to imitate TikTok,” said Constatine.

Pinterest has not shared how it plans to expand Shuffles, or how it fits into some of the company’s other initiatives, like shopping. But Shuffles is drumming up excitement around Pinterest in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time. Pinterest’s user growth has slowed in recent years, and during the second quarter of this year, the company reported that global monthly active users decreased 5% year over year to 433 million.

As Pinterest also seeks to get people to think of the platform as more of a shopping destination, Shuffles could be important in getting people to rethink their perception of Pinterest.

Ultimately, Haberman said that Shuffles is a beautiful experience, but until Pinterest figures out a way to monetize the app, its success may not last very long. “The buzz has been good for audience growth. But at some point they’ll need to monetize the app, which means they’ll need people to create, browse and shop through the platform,” Haberman said.

“If Shuffles’ biggest success is going viral on TikTok thanks to a handful of creators who cross-post, but the app doesn’t see referral traffic back to their own platform, then its success is likely to be short-lived,” she said.