Pinterest, the popular social photo sharing website fashioned around the age old concept of the pinboard, has become a valuable tool for marketers, who are using it to connect with consumers, drive traffic and increase brand awareness.
The potential audience is huge. In just two years, Pinterest has almost 12 million monthly users. According to a recent report by Shareaholic, a company that helps websites share their online content, Pinterest drove more users to other sites in February than Twitter, which has 140 million active users.
Pinterest allows users to "pin" images from the web onto virtual boards organized by category or theme. Other users can then repin these images onto their pinboards, enabling images to travel across the Web as more and more users repin them.
The site has attracted attention from brands in recent months because of its power to build word-of-mouth recommendations, the biggest driver of consumer purchases, said Geoffrey Colon, a vice president focusing on digital strategies at advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather.
"The landing page for Pinterest is an endless visual stream of subtle product recommendations from the very people who influence your purchasing decisions -- friends and strangers with good taste," said Colon during a presentation he made to Ogilvy employees last month on how the agency should pitch its services to brands who want to use Pinterest.
"This means that there is an endless opportunity for your brand and its products to be seen by Pinterest's 11.7 million unique monthly users as endorsements from friends in the form of repins," he said.
In an interview with FINS, Colon said marketers should develop an image strategy in addition to any content or video strategy on the Web to sell their products. "Marketers and brands need to think about what images can we create that define us, so that people can pin and repin these," he said. A YouTube marketing strategy requires videos that can be expensive to make; developing images for Pinterest is less time consuming, and the content is easier to share.
Compelling designs or images can encourage users to become natural advocates for a brand. Mashable reports that 99% of pins on Pinterest belonging to fashion website ModCloth are from advocates of the company – rather than from ModCloth itself.
The brands that are using Pinterest most effectively are those that not only feature their own products, but also curate and pin content that they don't sell, said Colon.
Whole Foods on Pinterest, for instance, showcases an organic lifestyle rather than products for sale. It features everything from innovative gardening ideas to images representing health and wellness.
"People want to talk about things that are relevant to them," Colon said. "If a brand can show it has something to offer around the subject categories that are relevant to you, I think you become more willing to listen to that brand." Whole Foods then becomes a credible spokesperson about organic food, rather than a retailer pushing its own products.
Of course, the more visual a brand, the more likely it is to have compelling images to pin. Retailer Nordstrom, furniture company West Elm, and designer Kate Spade, are examples of brands that are using Pinterest well, Colon said.
Nordstrom features ideas from events like Valentine's Day to prom to weddings. West Elm offers users decorating ideas based on color themes like coral and aquamarine. Kate Spade displays products from jewelry and shoes to bags and dresses. The Pinterest page attracts repins because Spade's consumers are inherently design and fashion oriented.
This doesn't mean that Pinterest can't work for for brands that are less visual. Colon cites Virgin America and British Airways as examples of companies that at first glance have boring visuals -- not everyone wants to look at pictures of flight equipment -- but have built a strong presence on Pinterest by pinning, and encouraging users to pin, photographs of destinations around the world where they fly.
Given that the social pinboard is only two years old, Colon said brands, those who advise them, are still discovering how to use it to increase sales.Case studies, however, have shown that using Pinterest does increase traffic.
According to social marketing company, Simply Zesty, fashion retailer Lulu's saw a 29% increase in traffic in just one week on a single line of skirts, after a Pinterest user pinned a picture of a Lulu's skirt on her pinboard.
Pinterest is great for driving traffic, explained Colon, because when a retailer, say Gap, pins a photograph of a pair of jeans from its website and someone repins it, the new viewer is directed back to the retailer's own site. "Brands should be optimizing their websites for a good user experience," Colon said. "They should pin things that drive people back to their website."
Pinterest also links to Facebook. If a company is logged into their Facebook and Pinterest accounts at the same time, pinning activity from the social pinboard automatically shows up on their Facebook account, thus alerting their Facebook followers to their posts on Pinterest. Simply Zesty reports that since Lowes added a Pinterest tab to their Facebook Page, the home retailer has seen a 32% increase in followers of their pinboards.
In the coming months, once Pinterest further optimizes itself for mobile – the website is currently only available on the iPhone, Colon expects its traffic and user base to increase.
"Pinterest has hit nail on head in terms of where the Web is headed over next few years," says Colon. Instead of waiting to see how the tool evolves, he advises jumping in now. "It's like buying real estate when the market's low. Brands should be thinking about their strategy now."