Tamika Morrison and Joi Disroe knew each other for several months before they met in person. But, when they finally did connect, it was as if they had known each other for much longer.
"The emotion was so genuine," Morrison said of their first encounter. "When she looked at me, she looked like she saw a friend of hers that she had not seen in a long time."
The two met at a gathering for Atlanta-area "pinners," the name fans use to pledge their allegiance to Pinterest, the popular Internet pinboard. As the online community swells with more and more people sharing images of dream homes, extravagant food and inspirational phrases, pinners are forging connections in real-life at fan parties such as May's "Perfect Pinterest Party" in Atlanta.
The gatherings also offer an opportunity to capture a slice of Pinterest's audience in one room at a time: women of all colors, sizes and income brackets and a few well-dressed men. Many have dozens of boards and hundreds, if not thousands of pins, that they use for a variety of purposes, from sharing and storing recipe and decor inspiration to networking and creating their own brand.
Pinterest has organized several meet-ups in the past year in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, which drew guests from San Diego and even as far as Mexico. The Atlanta event was unique because pinners from the area hatched and planned the event on their own. Besides donating T-shirts and promoting the event on social media, Pinterest had no hand in directly organizing it.
"This party and other parties of this nature are truly an amazing effort by the Pinners themselves," a Pinterest spokeswoman said in an email.
The self-driven model is gaining ground.
Pinners are known to host get-togethers in homes or organize outings based around activities and recipes discovered via Pinterest.
And, because they already have one passion (or several) in common, striking up small talk at these events can be a little easier than meeting up with perfect strangers. The parties are opportunities to meet others whose taste these pinners admire from afar.
Melanie Woodroffe, who admits to being "pin-obsessed," started planning the Atlanta event in February with the goal of bringing pinners together to benefit a local nonprofit. It turned out to be an easy sell for Pinterest, which contributed giveaways for a raffle, and for local sponsors, who donated free food and drinks.
She found the perfect venue in craft store Re-inspiration, a converted house that sells recycled goods by local artists, from wind chimes and jewelry made of glass bottles to driftwood wall signs bearing inspirational phrases.
"Re-inspiration represents a live version of Pinterest," Woodroffe, who wore a gray Pinterest T-shirt as she greeted visitors outside the store. "It is creative and community-based, and I love that. (It) reminded me why I love Pinterest so much!"
It was a no-brainer for the store's owner, Brooke Schultze, an avid pinner who promotes items from the store on her boards.
"The idea was to form a community around Pinterest in Atlanta that extends beyond just sitting behind a computer (and) into the community to see actual things that are featured on Pinterest, " Schultze said.
Guests walked up stairs to an enclosed porch, where a table of red velvet and rum raisin cake balls awaited them, courtesy of "Kheesecake" baker Kelli Fair. Past the colorful wooden birdhouses and lawn decorations of corrugated metal, another table offered vases of M&Ms and popcorn in a nod to the "vase-as-a-vessel-for-other-items" motif popular on Pinterest.
Several guests remarked that they had seen the sausage cheddar balls on Pinterest as well.
Initially, guests moved around tentatively in groups of two and three, taking pictures with smart phones and iPads of store goods and pinning them. As time passed and drinks were imbibed, people began mingling.
Joi Disroe was milling among the crowd when she recognized Tamika Morrison from photos on her boards. Disroe, who owns a catering business with her husband, wanted to put a real face to the person whose images of food and "tablescapes" she frequently "liked" or commented on.
Morrison started following Disroe's "Haute Kitchen" board after seeing a blog image of a kitchen with black cabinetry accented with a gray, heavily distressed island and wood floors.
"When I look at her pins, I think, 'that kitchen could be my kitchen,' " said Morrison, a public relations professional who runs her own boutique agency. "Pinning is about creating a place to escape to, a perfect world around whatever the topic is. She gives me photos that I can bring to my collection."
The two shared a laugh over the odd familiarity of the relationship and talked about each other's pins before parting ways, feeling as if they had just reconnected with an old friend.
"It reminded me of the importance to still connect face-to-face with people, but the cool part was that social media, pinning to be exact, was the commonality we shared," Morrison.
"Instead of the usual 'hello, I'm so-and-so, what do you do?' it was more like, 'Oh! You're so-and-so!!! I love the picture you posted the other day," she said. "It was a very cool experience and shows just how social media has influenced the way we connect."