Parlaying Pinterest: What You Need to Know About Virtual Pinboards

May 1, 2012

This past fall, I became inundated with invitations to join Pinterest. The site bills itself as a virtual pinboard, and soon, the requests (and other people’s activity) began appearing on my Facebook and Twitter feeds as well.

Although the site officially launched in March 2010, it suddenly became one of the most popular new social networking platforms during the past six months.

According to an April 9 CNNTech piece, Pinterest is now the third most visited social networking site in the United States, behind Facebook and Twitter.  The 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report notes that this doesn’t include mobile traffic.  And by March, Pinterest had more than 104 million visits from people in the United States.  The report refers to the site as, “the hottest social media start-up since Facebook and YouTube.”

Pinterest is a place for people to share photos, bookmark images, comment on posts and generate conversation around a visual centerpiece. The pinboards focus on topics like style, design, advertising materials or advice for new mothers, for example.

Another big part of the culture is “repinning,” which is similar to re-tweeting someone or Liking a Facebook status. It’s also similar to Twitter in the sense of the “follower” culture — you don’t necessarily have to know someone personally, but you can decide if you like their personal style or the content they are curating, and tag along for their journey.

Who is using it and why?

The site has gained prominence among women (particularly those who trade recipes, avid scrapbookers, shoppers and young mothers). In fact, about 60 percent of users are women. Geographically, the Midwest pins the most (Missouri, Utah, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas).

Image-based clone sites are already springing up, including: Sworly for music sampling, TheFancy for high-end lifestyle, Fyndesters for résumés, for wedding ideas, Wanderfly for travel recommendations, SparkRebel for style tips — and then there’s Gentlemint, which caters more to the male demographic.

The key to the website’s success, said co-founder Ben Silbermann, is the people who “pin photos of products they’d like to buy and other interesting bits of info they find while trolling the Internet,” according to CNN.

It didn’t hurt that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama recently began using the site, as well as other major celebrities like singer Katy Perry.

Even the U.S. Army is on Pinterest, with boards devoted to images of basic training and uniforms, as well as patriotic food and home decor.

And the travel and food industries — along with retail and design — have found success with this site, as strong visuals are already a driving force for them.

“To me, boards are a very human way of seeing the world,” Silbermann said at the South by Southwest conference in March. “The site is about helping people to discover things they didn’t know they wanted, things that feel like they’ve been handpicked just for you.”

As for the platform’s own marketing and communications efforts, Pinterest has jumped into the social media pool headfirst. It has its own Tumblr blog about trends generated on the site, “How Pinteresting!” and an active Facebook and Twitter presence. Its Twitter profile bills it as “an online pinboard” to “organize and share things you love.”

Why should PR people care?

Communicators can appeal to clients’ visual sensibilities and bring brand image to life by tailoring your profile toward your audience.

Pinterest opens communications channels in an image-driven, easy-to-distribute manner. But there are still some gray areas regarding copyright issues, monetization and measurement.

If you’re not sure if your company should be using Pinterest or pinning items on your own boards, then you should at least be using the platform as a sounding board and aggregating tool to hone in on what customers or industry competitors are talking about.

During a recent Social Media Week event in New York, Beth Reilly, digital marketing lead, Kraft, said that the company keeps a watchful eye on Pinterest and other burgeoning social networks because of the conversations about food and recipes.

Ellen Hahn, vice president, brand communication and advertising, Hyatt — who also spoke at Social Media Week — said that people should define an engaged and passionate voice, and respond to fans in a human way.  “You have to decide where you want to be present,” she said.

Chris Brogan urged readers to check out Pinterest in an April 23 post on his site. “I’m not an expert on it yet, but especially if women were a key buying element of my business, I would learn fast,” he said.

As with any new site, you should exercise caution before diving in.  Your brand might be better suited to Facebook or Twitter instead. Follow your audience and reach them where they are.

What now?

Since Pinterest moved into the limelight so quickly and continues expand, it has been difficult for brands to figure out best practices.

However, there is a built-in referral model that can help drive and trace sales. Friends can invite you to join the network, or you can log in to Pinterest with your Facebook or Twitter account.

On behalf of Pinterest, The Outcast Agency’s Carolyn Thomas offered some brand best practices and some examples of how several brands have successfully used the site.

“As simple as it sounds, best practices for using Pinterest for brand purposes center around pinning like a regular user,” she said. “Pinning can be a great way to highlight aspects of your brand that may not come to mind at first.” Tips include:

  • Pinning from various sources rather than one specific site
  • Repinning from within the site to engage with others and build a network of followers
  • Creating a few boards that cover a broad range of interests, rather than maintaining a single board

“Pinterest can also be a great tool to learn what your audience/users/customers want and like,” she said, mentioning that The Travel Channel asks their Facebook users what boards to create and what to pin, Whole Foods uses Pinterest to show what its foundation is doing, and retailer Bergdorf Goodman asks their Facebook followers questions and repins their responses.

But remember to use proper etiquette on the site. Credit your sources, use accurate links, be authentic, write captions and be respectful, Pinterest advises. Pin images and videos that are consistent with your brand, optimize descriptions of your posts, link back to your website and invite your audience to participate. Brands can use this simple, intuitive platform to share information about products, projects and ideas, as well as gain insight.

At its best, Pinterest can help your brand curate content, galvanize a community around your values, inspire creativity and generate traffic — therefore, driving sales.  You can measure your impact by using marketing software like PinClout, too.

Once you decide if Pinterest is the right platform for you, then the challenge will be building up your follower base and retaining an audience for the long term. The stronger your images are and the more micro-targeted and niche your boards are, the more followers you will have.

With social platforms like the new Facebook Timeline layout, SlideShare and Instagram, it’s clear that the rise of visual storytelling for communicators has only just begun.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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