Pinpointing Pinterest's Business Potential

Before companies can successfully implement an efficient Pinterest strategy, marketers must understand how consumers are interacting with the social network in order to generate engagement and enhance brand relations.

For many, the unfamiliarity of something new deters their interest, often triggering fear of the unknown. For others, curiosity sparks the desire to learn, explore, and understand. But, within the social sphere, it's the tendency toward the latter that leads to success over the former.

In this era of increased social activity, many companies are now playing with the potential that Facebook and Twitter offer. Yet, while these two popular networks elicit much attention, Pinterest continues to grow its following, making its mark on the social scene as the network to watch. Much like a physical bulletin board, Pinterest allows users to "pin" their favorite images, recipes, and content so they may collect ideas and share them with friends and followers. However, while many companies recognize Pinterest's growing popularity, many are unsure of how to integrate this network with their current social strategies.

Because much of Pinterest's activity derives from user-generated content, the network forces brands to talk less and listen more. Justin Smith, product and engagement manager at BloomReach, notes that Pinterest users are telling companies how they perceive products via pins, allowing companies to quickly see what products and concepts are gaining traction.

"With 70 to 80 percent of conversations on Pinterest originating with the consumers rather than with the brands, it's imperative that brands learn to tap into these conversations to better understand what it is that consumers want to hear," says Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate. "In doing so, brands will be able to humanize their brands, share their stories, and transform transactional relationships into emotional ones. Brands that form these emotional relationships will ultimately find that their fans become more loyal and ultimately more valuable."

Pinterest's focus on imagery allows brands to tell stories visually. Though some brands are naturally less visual, all have a story to tell. This new social network doesn't necessarily fixate on what a brand makes, but on what those products do for people, making Pinterest an ideal channel for bringing the underlying stories to life. Moreover, Pinterest's new Web analytics tool provides measurable insight into the pins that are truly resonating with users and driving them back to the brand's main site.

"Companies should seek to understand how shoppers are using Pinterest to interact with their brand," says Diane Kegley, CMO of RichRelevance. "Are they gathering information, seeking recommendations, or planning purchases? By supporting these inferred shopper goals through related content, they can take advantage of a unique opportunity to foster engagement, customer loyalty, and profitability."

Pinterest Versus Facebook

According to Gupta, brands view Pinterest as a thematic network, whereas Facebook and Twitter are considered temporal. On temporal networks, new content pushes old content out of view, diminishing the older content's importance. However, on Pinterest, time is a much smaller construct, for content is grouped together on boards in thematically similar ways, enabling richer storytelling and stronger connections.

But, just as stories invite campers to gather around the fire, Pinterest draws consumers to their favorite brands in ways that allow them learn from the company's storytelling and contribute to the future of its tale. Recently, BloomReach conducted a study that explores how Pinterest activity compares to Facebook usage. While Facebook currently drives more than seven times the Web traffic Pinterest brings in, Pinterest outperforms Facebook in nearly every other respect:

  • Pinterest traffic led to 22 percent more sales conversions than Facebook.
  • Ninety percent of Facebook traffic bounced, while Pinterest traffic bounced only 75 percent of the time.
  • Site visitors coming from Pinterest spent 60 percent more than visitors from Facebook.
  • Once arriving on site, Facebook users only viewed an average of 1.6 pages, while traffic from Pinterest viewed an average of 2.9 pages.

Smith highlights that the Facebook versus Pinterest battle equates to the "awareness versus conversions" battle. While Pinterest resembles marketing to someone in a trendy boutique in its direct nature, he says, Facebook seems more like yelling to people passing by on the street. Pinterest often encourages shoppers to spend more money because users are gathering information, seeking recommendations, and thoughtfully planning purchases over time, while Facebook users typically respond to product-specific promotions.

Kegley notes that Facebook offers a social environment where users connect with friends to see what's happening in their lives. In fact, Facebook may be a better channel for brands to use when connecting with consumers due to its wide appeal and ability to promote in context of the social experience. However, Pinterest focuses on curation and exploring lifestyles, food, design, furnishings, and accessories, thus becoming an essential tool for retailers, particularly in the case of milestones, such as weddings, purchasing a new home, or welcoming a new baby.

"Retailers such as Barney's, Nordstrom, and Williams-Sonoma are able to transform their active Pinterest user base into loyal fans by compiling entire ensembles of merchandise in a beautifully presented catalog-style approach," Kegley explains. These offerings can be grouped to specific needs or occasions, allowing users to not only find the floral plates sets, silver entertaining trays, and wine glasses they may seek, but also suggested recipes. "The ability to engage with a trusted retailer and broadcast your taste has never been so readily accessible."

Get in the Game

One study by Digitas, in partnership with Curalate, reinforces the fact that Pinterest allows users to tell the brand's story. Of the more than 120 fashion and retail, automotive, and electronics brands included, the survey revealed that 70 percent of the brand engagement on Pinterest stems from user-generated content. While this highlights vast customer engagement, many companies have yet to grasp the opportunity to drive conversations on visual platforms.

Pinterest holds the potential to help take the guesswork out of a brand's visual content strategy, for they can easily share the types of images their audience wants to see simply by observing what currently intrigues their client base. But, before companies establish and implement a content strategy that's right for them, they must first understand how to think natively about Pinterest and determine how they will measure, monitor, and grow their presence. The key challenge often revolves around creativity because brands are working to strengthen their story while engaging with consumers at the product level for first time.

As Kegley recommends, brands must: Identify and assess how customers are using Pinterest today; determine customers' current level of activity in order to plan an appropriate level of investment; and constantly nurture their social approach and growth. Pinterest, as with all social networks, must be treated as a daily activity, for just as brands would adapt in-store displays and merchandising based on foot traffic and purchase patterns, they must also grow their online presence according to social customer interactions and engagement.