We Heart It, An Image-Sharing App Used By 30M Young Women, Adds Messaging

We Heart It, a visual bookmarking service popular with teenaged girls, is transforming itself into a messaging app with the launch of new feature called Postcards.

In a previous era, young girls sat around with fashion magazines and scissors and cut out their favorite inspirational images, turning them into collages or art for their bedroom walls. In today’s digital age, teen girls use online services instead, including apps like Pinterest, Tumblr, and We Heart It.

Though We Heart It didn’t initially begin as service that was designed to attract a younger, female audience, over the years, it grew organically to become a popular destination for visual inspiration, especially among this demographic. Today, the service has grown to 30 million registered users, ranging in age from 15 to 24, with the average age being around 18.

These young women are largely using the service on their mobile devices, too – with around 80% to 90% of We Heart It activity now taking places on mobile phones, and equally split between iOS and Android.

In some respects, the service is a lot like a more youth-focused version of Pinterest. There’s a feed of image thumbnails, collections that are similar to Pinterest’s “boards,” user profiles, and the ability to favorite images by tapping on a heart, or adding them to your own collections. But while Pinterest is often focused on images that link back to a source – a product page where you can buy the item or a magazine article, for example, We Heart It is really just about the images itself.

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Here, girls collect images that they find personally appealing, whether that’s pictures of favorite celebs or bands, cute outfits, inspirational or emotional quotes, photos of nature or the outdoors, animals, beauty inspiration like nail art, funny sayings, food and recipes, home decor, original art, and much more.

But now the company wants to take its product to the next level – to go beyond the social service it is today and tap into the bigger trend that is private mobile messaging.

With Postcards, We Heart It is introducing a feature that lets any user on the site send a private message to another using one of the site’s hundreds of millions of hosted images. The end result, the company hopes, will be a more engaged user base that turns to the We Heart It app more often.

“This dramatically expands the use case for us, in terms of how or when people we use We Heart It,” explains Dave Williams, President of We Heart It. He says the company is very happy catering the young female demographic, and is working now to offer the kind of services those users want and need.

“We launched Postcards because what we were hearing from our users is that they wanted to communicate with each other…But they don’t need another messaging app,” he says. “Postcards is baked right into the core of the experience – you can launch a Postcard from any image…it’s not something where we said ‘let’s tack on messaging.'”

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The feature itself is simple to use, and it’s true that it doesn’t seem to have corrupted the overall experience of We Heart It, which is still very much about visual inspiration, not messaging. But if the company is successful in getting users to return to the app more often, that can impact We Heart It’s bottom line.

More recently, the company has begun working with brands who seed the site with their own imagery as a way to get in front of this coveted demographic. In addition, brands can pay to promote their images in We Heart It’s main feed and search results, and the company has already done around a dozen deals related to this with companies including Disney, Lionsgate/CBS Films, Hollister, Macy’s, Vera Wang, and others.

While Williams couldn’t talk about the size of the deals specifically, he would say they were “substantial” and many were “six figures.”

In addition, several brands returned to advertise again after the pilot trial completed.

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The company measures success by the “heart rate” brands’ images receive, Williams explains. That is, the ads are “hearted” by users and then those users’ followers see them and heart them, too. “We’re seeing as high as, or much higher in some cases, 30% earned impressions,” Williams notes.

To kick off the launch of Postcards, the company has a number of brands and celebs participating, including ShakiraTeen VogueStarbucks, and others.

The new feature is live now for all users on the We Heart It iOS and Android application.