With tech stocks seeing a market resurgence, social media platform Pinterest is now reportedly aiming to launch its initial public offering (IPO) later in the year, shifting the company's performance data into the public eye, and potentially changing the way it operates moving forward.
Going public can have a significant impact on how any company operates, which is particularly notable in the case of social media platforms, given their businesses are fully exposed to audiences. For some, it works out well - Facebook, for example, has gone from strength to strength since listing back in 2012. But for others, not so much. Twitter has, at times, struggled under the increased market scrutiny - so much so that its still trying to change the narrative around active users, and the inevitable comparison with Facebook, while Snap Inc. has also come under more intense pressure since listing in 2017, forcing it to change its broader trajectory.
Of course, both Twitter and Snapchat have been in more direct comparison with Facebook - which has sought to crush both at different times - whereas Pinterest has been working to distance itself from the same. For the last few years, Pinterest has been repeatedly noting that it is not a social network, describing itself as 'a discovery engine' and 'a catalog of ideas'. That makes sense, few would argue that the social elements of Pinterest are as prevalent as they once were, but the statement also seeks to re-focus the narrative around the company, so that its 250 million monthly active user count is not displayed on graphs beside, say, Facebook-owned Instagram, which currently sees 4x that amount.
(And worth noting too, Snap Inc. sought to do the same ahead of its IPO by re-framing itself as 'a camera company'. It didn't work).
Given Pinterest's more clear evolution along these lines, it will likely benefit from lessening the Facebook comparison, though it will still exist, and a public listing, as noted, will bring with it all sorts of new scrutiny.
And there is another risk for Pinterest. While it may distance itself from Facebook, product discovery is owned by another tech giant - Google.
Michelle Castillo of Cheddar outlined the potential risk on this front.
SCOOP: Pinterest is changing its pitch to advertisers as it prepares to go public. The company wants to be seen as a place people look to for purchasing items, our @MishCastillo says. #CheddarLIVE pic.twitter.com/QlWcVLgOSL— Cheddar (@cheddar) February 22, 2019
Where Pinterest will seek to boost ad revenue is through direct response, on-platform purchases and improved contextual discovery, via the use of tools like its newly automated 'Shop the Look' Pins and evolving visual search capacity.
Google is also looking to advance its options along the same lines, and once Pinterest goes public, and comes under increasing market scrutiny, Google may take the Facebook route and use that as a cue to heap the pressure on by launching its own, similar tools.
Google's already keeping tabs on Pinterest in this regard - last year, Google launched an updated image search layout, which uses a Pinterest-like format, including additional, contextual search tabs to further refine your search.
Google's real concern on this front would appear to be Amazon, which offers more direct shopping options, but if Pinterest looked to be taking market share, Google could easily change focus and squeeze the visual discovery platform. And Pinterest will need to continuously take market share in order to grow and win investor confidence.
So how will that change Pinterest? It's hard to say - as noted with Snapchat, market pressures can change a company's trajectory, and hinder future development.
Snapchat has more recently been forced to re-assess its operations, reducing staff numbers and tempering it's more ambitious plans - like, for example, the development of Spectacles. Pinterest has done well with the development of its Lens visual search option, and its engineering team hits above its weight in terms of visual recognition and product matching. The platform's gradual evolution also bodes well for it, in terms of ongoing prospects, but market listing does come with a level of risk.
The opportunity to raise capital and invest in future growth is impossible to ignore at some stage, but it'll be interesting to see what happens to Pinterest moving forward as a result.
Pinterest is reportedly looking to launch its IPO in June this year.