Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How Big a Deal is Pinterest?

Pinterest, a social media site launched in March 2010, was getting about 40 times more visitors in December 2011 than it did in June 2011. 

But will the explosive growth continue, and will Pinterest be useful to corporate content marketers?  Vitrue CEO Reggie Bradford thinks the answer to the first question cannot be known yet, but the answer to the second question is a definite “yes.”

Is Pinterest valuable to large brands?
Bradford: Essentially, any brand that can tell its story or feature its products visually stands to benefit.  They’d be capitalizing on what has made Pinterest so compelling and fueled its spectacular growth: a focus on eye-catching imagery.  Pinterest essentially brings “scrapbooking” to the Internet, sans scissors and glue.  So marketers who are able to leverage great visual content can weave their boards into a cohesive social experience within their existing Facebook and social community. But, of course, some brands translate better to a “visual bulletin board” social experience than others. Retailers that already let people visually express themselves should be leveraging Pinterest—think clothing, shoes and jewelry. Brands in the DIY and home improvement space can benefit as many users share favorite room designs, remodeling ideas, paints, furniture, etc. Or cooking or food brands can leverage images and recipes for users to pin and share.  The Wall Street Journal is using Pinterest for Fashion Week. The thought behind it is the WSJ is already covering fashion and the event—which both are inherently visually—so why not leverage Pinterest to perhaps reach a wider audience.

Pinterest content can be surfaced on Facebook Tabs, which is great for creating an integrated and cohesive social experience. But marketers should remember over 40% of Facebook users are accessing it viamobile devices, so brands will want a tech platform with mobile optimization so that Pinterest material looks as great as it was intended. And these stats will only increase. Our own research shows incredible growth with mobile access. (Can provide our recent mobile-social user engagement data, if interested).

Pinterest users seem to have distinct interests.  How do you explain why that pattern has developed?
Bradford: Sure.  We’re seeing an overall trend from social communities being organized around friends and connections to being organized around interests.  Pinterest taps into this by allowing users to create custom “boards” – think virtual bulletin boards -- to feature something specific, let’s say crock pot recipes, which allows others to discover it based on their own interest in that subject.  This bodes very well for its use by brand marketers.  If you’re a coat store, would you rather attract people who are specifically looking at coats or try to make friends with everybody in the hopes that a good percentage of them want a new coat?  Interest-driven social media creates a very different dynamic. And Pinterest’s use of visuals, and simplicity of its use, have attracted users and is increasingly become a time-consuming digital activity.

How might a brand approach the issue of using Pinterest, as compared to Facebook, for example?

Bradford: Whether or not to embrace, or how fast to embrace, an additional social network is a decision every brand has to make for itself, based on its social goals and strategies.  And, again, some brands translate more naturally for Pinterest. However, the beauty of social is that brands can experiment inexpensively, even free, with these new platforms as they come along to see if they bring anything unique that especially addresses their aims.  Facebook is clearly dominant on the social network scene and has, along with Twitter, become foundational for social campaigns.  But brands should stay aware of newcomers, especially when you can incorporate what’s “cool” about those newcomers into Facebook via tabs so you can integrate and get the best of both.

What limitations or advantages does Pinterest have as a venue for brands engaging with potential customers?
Bradford: Many brands have invested a lot of time and effort building their Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and more recently Google+.  The thought of tackling another network can be daunting.  That’s not Pinterest’s fault.  But without a comprehensive platform to streamline the management of multiple streams (Pintrest’s API is not yet accessible), internal resources become an issue.  Secondly, the “Pin It” button works well for consumers, but was not designed for marketers.  It’s missing features that allows for analytics tracking (platforms can help here along with the API).  Lastly, still images are great, but do have their limitations. Unless users click through to the source site, a brand’s ability to communicate everything they want to is limited.  You also have to watch for link rot where the source image is moved or removed, thus generating a broken link that stands out like a sore thumb in such a visually driven environment.

As for advantages, judging from a Shareaholic report which indicates Pinterest is already generating more referral traffic to sites than YouTube, Reddit, Google+, and LinkedIn combined, you’d have to be living in a cave not to see that benefit.  Images are powerful, and not only are users clicking once, they’re clicking twice to continue through to the picture’s source page.  Another advantage is segmenting, which Facebook marketers were already experiencing with Open Graph Objects.  Brands can segment to boards they’ve divided up by season, theme or merchandise type.  Finally, there’s the size of Pinterest’s audience…12 million monthly unique visitors and crossing the 10 million mark faster than any previous independent site.  That has to be attractive to any marketer.

Again, only time will tell if Pinterest has staying power. The road of technology is littered with once-hot platforms and products. But Pinterest does have potential… and brands should experiment to see where it fits into their overall social goals and communities.

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