When trying to interact with your favorite bands on social media, do you ever feel like you’re just one tiny voice among thousands?
Social media can often feel like a one-sided conversation, and Pinyata, a story-based app which now boasts tens of thousands of users, is aiming to even out the playing field. It’s allowing fans’ and artists’ lives and interests to intermingle directly in a “story” format—and, unsurprisingly, it’s caught on with our particular community. Our bands are not Beyoncé-level untouchable and this community has always held a symbiotic “you relate to me; I relate to you” relationship between musician and fan.
“We know there are artists who really care deeply about engaging with their fans and being a part of the community, and we just created a platform for them to do that,” CEO Steven Puri says.
We spoke to Pinyata key advisor Falling In Reverse drummer Ryan Seaman and Puri about how artists and fans can use Pinyata to foster a more engaged community.
SEAMAN: Steven, why in the world do you think the world needs another app?
PURI: None of us thought we needed another app, then we realized people wanted to connect. We wanted to connect more authentically, and that’s how we started Pinyata from that sense of, “I’m kind of over Facebook” and we’re thinking on Instagram, the selfie thing is kind of played out a little bit. We built this so that everyone can see each other. You can share back and forth.
One of the things that stood out to me was the interactivity. You use Ghost Town vocalist Kevin Ghost’s commenting on fan art shared in one of his stories as an example as opposed to a fan begging “Please come look at my art!” in the comments on one of his Instagram posts. Why did you want to facilitate those interactions?
PURI: Ryan is actually the person who spotted what we were doing with fan groups and saw the bigger picture, so I’m going to let him talk about this one.
SEAMAN: So, basically this all started with a mutual friend of mine and Steven’s. We were at a party one night and he was like, “I’m working on this app for friends.” He showed me how it worked, and I was like, “You know what? This would be really cool for not just [friends], but for everybody.” It’s really cool for bands to let their fans in on what they’re doing through their day. Then your fans can actually interact with you through pictures and photo stories. I was saying, “Hey, maybe I should actually go to lunch with Steven and we should just talk about some ideas.” So, I pitched him a bunch of ideas and he pitched me a bunch of things then we decided we had a pretty good understanding of what we wanted to do with the company.
Then to take it a step further, I was like, “Let me check this out on Warped Tour,” because it was still in the beginning stages then, and we saw just from talking to bands about the app, we were still trying to figure out how to engage people. But then I found YouTubers Bryan Stars and Johnnie Guilbert were really into it as well as Telle [Smith] from the Word Alive and their fans were interacting with them. Over the course of time, it kind of happened by word-of-mouth where more people were signing up, because they saw their friends and their favorite bands were doing it. It’s more exclusive than Instagram. It’s starting to become more well-known, but it feels like an underground club for people that just want to feel engaged with their fans.
PURI: We had built technology, and Ryan as a creative saw it, and brought the other half of what we were missing from the artist side, saying “I love my fans. This is a cool way for all of them to interact with me.” When we talk to our users, they say exactly what you said earlier, which is, “I use these other social media [platforms], and I know I’m just a Facebook number, but in Pinyata, the idea that Gerard [Way] or Ryan or Telle or whoever sees me? I can post a photo and they see it, that is new to me, and that is so fun.” That was when we realized we were getting this crazy traction because fans craved it. They didn’t get it somewhere else.
Right now it is a pretty underground thing. But what about when it gets bigger? How do you think you’ll keep that interactivity? And what’s your next goal?
PURI: We’re going to continue what we’ve done to get here, which is talking to fans about how they want to use this to really help guide it, and talking to Ryan and a set of artists about it from their side. We want bands and artists to be able to say, “This is such a great way to engage fans, and I engage with them more deeply now.” And we want fans to be able to say, “This is exactly what I never had before but always wanted.” So, moving forward, we’re really just optimizing that—how to make the fan experience really fun and exciting and make it really engaging for artyists like Ryan.
SEAMAN: What’s really rewarding is seeing that I post a story about my day and my fans also are contributing to that. Sometimes what will happen is I’ll come back and look at my page, and the fans have already posted photos from the show that I just played, and I’ll be like, “Oh, wow. That’s a really awesome photo!” From there, other people can see what happened. It’s almost like you’re following the story in real-time if someone is constantly keeping updates on your page. Instagram can’t really do that. You can hashtag things, but on Pinyata, you’re involved in the story. For me, that’s why I find it really rewarding, because your fans feel like they’re getting a piece of the action. They feel like, “Wow. I’m getting to see the dressing room and what the show looks like before we enter it!”
They’re actually getting to collaborate with you; in essence, they’re getting to build their own story within your story
PURI: That’s why our tagline is “be in the story.” This is the first place that you can be in the story with your idol.
When you were first formulating this idea, you actually quit a pretty big job because you believed in this so much, right?
PURI: Yeah, my dad thought I was crazy. He’s been at IBM his whole career, and I was working for News Corp. This came up, and it just inspired me, so I left. I just had this feeling that this was something we wanted to create in the world.
With the aim being artists wanting to interact with their fans more as friends, it makes sense that it caught on in this particular music community. Did you expect that Warped Tour-type artists would gravitate toward it?
PURI: For me, it’s a huge surprise. For Ryan, probably not. Ryan’s the one who spotted it and literally said, “I know what this thing is. You’re building this thing. I see the vision of what it could be.” The artists and YouTubers who have used it have been really passionate about this platform because they saw Ryan and knew him and were like, “Dude, what are you doing? Show me more of that.”
SEAMAN: Yeah, pretty much. It’s more developed than it’s ever been. I mean, this goes back to the question again of why did we want to create another app about there because these things just take so much time, but the most rewarding thing is that we’ve all put our creative efforts into it and we just see it growing. It’s amazing that we’ve gotten this far. We have a little more to go and it’s great to be a part of something that I feel is very intimate but spreading. Even if there’s like two million users, it’s still going to be intimate because you’re choosing to follow the story of whatever artist or YouTuber or celebrity that wants to share their story, and you can be involved.
What are some of the biggest things you’re working on, or some bugs you’re working out right now?
PURI: What we’re doing now, from talking to users, are tailoring it to things that they’ve asked for. For example, months ago, lots of users were saying, “We love that we can post gifs, we love that we can post photos, but we want to post videos.” We built that, so videos are in the app now, and there are a lot more little things users have suggested like, “I wish I could do this,” or “I want to be able to follow this user in this way and see groups of people,” so those [features] will be coming out this spring and summer.
Since it’s also so new, a lot of what I’m seeing is new users who don’t seem to know how to use it. So, if you were going to describe an ideal story on Pinyata, what would you say people should be posting to use it to its full potential?
PURI: Artists that love to see their fans participating usually call out something they’re doing and then the fans know what to contribute. So, for example, if any artist were to post, “Hey, I just got my hair cut today. Show me a photo of your best (or your worst) haircut.” Or “Hey, I’m going to lunch with our singer, what are you having for lunch?” and fans love to contribute like that. I know Kevin Ghost has done a lot of fan art, where he posts, “I just got this piece of fan art, show me something you painted about Ghost Town” or Telle with his dog Colby, “Show me your pet!” That’s really a great use for this to be engaging the fans.
SEAMAN: We’re all on the same page whether it’s being at a concert together, or going to lunch or doing an adventure today, like, “Oh, man. I have to do all this work today. What do you guys have to do?” and then they post their adventures for you. Sometimes I’ll be teaching drum lessons and I’ll post photos and be like, “Okay, I’m in the shed working things out. What are you guys doing?” and they can just post all that stuff within my story, and that’s something neither Facebook nor Instagram really gives you access to.
Why was it so important to you, in looking at these other platforms that are more about just one moment, to have this storytelling element?
SEAMAN: Instagram and Facebook and stuff are all selfish, for lack of a better term. Selfies and all the stuff. Pinyata’s not about just one self, it’s about everybody. It’s about a community.
PURI: We saw that all the other platforms were just this one-way street kind of like, “I care about you, but do you know who I am?” We feel like there are a lot of artists who recognize there’s actually this community around art, and I happen to be leading this conversation. I want to knit all these people in my community together, and that’s what we’ve built—something to knit a community, [which is the opposite of] “You love me, and I don’t know who you are” on Instagram.
SEAMAN: Steven, why do we think this is taking off?
PURI: We’ve polled a lot of users, asking, “All of these same artists are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever,” and the number one thing they say is, “I feel seen. I feel like I’m treated like a real person. I feel like I’m noticed.” They matter. They’re not just a number on Instagram. ALT