Pinterest vs. Google+: Which New Social Network Is Worth Marketers' Time?

by Corey Eridon

Date

March 29, 2012 at 2:37 PM

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We've all gotten used to the idea of using Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube for marketing -- even if the platforms aren't always as brand-friendly as they could be. And why should they be? They started as social networks meant for people to talk to people, not companies to talk to consumers. But in the struggle for monetization, they've had to adapt and continue offering ways for brands to market and make money using social media.

And we have! Many marketers have figured out how to generate leads via social media, start discussions with leads and customers, and even venture into the territory of social sales. And just when we got comfortable with this whole social media marketing thing -- BOOM! -- out comes Google+, followed shortly thereafter by Pinterest.

Great. Two more social networks brands need to figure out how to use for marketing. We all saw what happened with Facebook and Twitter; a small segment of savvy marketers figured out how to use the social networks for marketing successfully, and businesses that lagged were left playing catch-up years later. We're not going to fall victim to that again with Google+ and Pinterest!

But do we need to figure out how to use them for marketing? Are either of them actually useful in that regard? Like most generic questions of this nature, the answer is ... it depends. Pinterest and Google+ have their strengths and their weaknesses. And while in an ideal world you'd have the time to play around with both to see which, if either, is right for your business, we figure that you're just trying to find enough time to write your next blog post.

So if you just can't decide whether Pinterest or Google+ is really worth your time, here's a breakdown of the pros and cons of each social network. Hopefully the side by side comparison will help you prioritize whether you should pursue them as part of your internet marketing strategy.

Pinterest

Pinterest PrimaryLogo Red RGBFirst, a quick review. Pinterest is a social network where users share (or 'pin') images and videos of items that interest them. They are either their own images and videos, or ones they've found on others' pinboards or on the web. The pins are aggregated on 'boards' that often follow a common theme. If you decide after reading this post that Pinterest might be a good fit for your business, reference this ebook about how to use Pinterest for business.

Why Pinterest Rocks

You don't want to spend your time on a social network nobody is using, so let's start by taking a look at Pinterest's usage stats as an indication of its usefulness, courtesy of Media Bistro and comScore. As of February 2012, Pinterest had 10.4 million users. And in January, not only did Pinterest reach 11,716, 000 total unique visitors, but the average amount of time spent on the site per visitor was 97.8 minutes. Or in highly technical marketing terms – the site’s really sticky. Why does this make Pinterest a great potential social haven for marketers? It means that the site provides significant value to its users, enough so they’re willing to set aside a large chunk of their day to spend on it. And if those metrics continue to go up, it’s an indication that Pinterest is not just a passing fad.

One of the reasons Pinterest has probably taken off – and why marketers should be excited about it – is that it offers a value proposition that’s unique from the other social networks out there. If someone asked you to define what all the major social networks did – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube – it’s pretty easy to differentiate them from one another. And Pinterest is no different! None of the existing social networks do exactly what Pinterest does. Sure, you can share images on Facebook or via a Twitpic, but image-sharing is not those sites' primary purpose as it is with Pinterest.

Pinterest has also made it very easy to share content on the web, something content-crazy (in a positive way!) inbound marketers should get excited about. Pinterest prompts users to download a pinmarklet (a Pinterest toolbar bookmarklet) that allows them to pin any content they find on the web that they want to share; it’s just that easy. No copying and pasting links or switching between tabs and browsers. If you’re investing in visual content – infographics, cartoons, videos, etc. – Pinterest just made it even easier for that content to be disseminated by your readers to a brand new audience.

Which brings us to one of the best parts of Pinterest – that it’s an image-driven site! And people love images, far more than they love words. In fact, images and videos are the most shared content on Facebook. If you’re a product-driven business, sharing beautiful images of your products on Pinterest is a simple way to leverage the tremendous power of visuals on a booming social network that is dedicated solely to sharing beautiful and interesting images.

Where Pinterest Falls Short

One of Pinterest’s biggest strengths, its emphasis on visual content, is also one of its biggest weaknesses for some businesses. Frankly, most people think of Pinterest as a place to look at things like clothes, hairstyles, furniture, crafts, and other visually stimulating images. If you’re not a B2C or product-oriented business – or you’re like HubSpot and your product is inbound marketing software -- it’s a stretch to find a use for Pinterest. That’s not to say you can’t be successful on Pinterest; HubSpot got creative and combined pinboards of our visual content, like infographics, ebook covers, and inbound marketing graphs, with pinboards that reflect our brand, like “Fun Orange Things” and “Things With Spots.”

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And while relatively unsexy B2B businesses have found success on Pinterest, it has also resulted in some backlash from pinners about whether Pinterest should be a safe space from marketers. We wrote a blog post that discusses that debate in much more detail, but if you’re considering experimenting with Pinterest, it’s important to note that you very well may experience some backlash for it if you’re perceived as, well, marketing (even though Pinterest has wiped any warnings against using the site for marketing from its 'Pin Etiquette' since we published that post).

It makes sense; one of the other weaknesses of Pinterest is the lack of dedicated brand pages. Google+, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn all eventually developed space specifically for companies, which helps alleviate some of the frustration consumers feel when they feel like they’re being marketed to in their personal social networks. The challenge marketers will face on Pinterest, then, is figuring out how to market without seeming like marketing. In other words, create visual content that’s so cool, people won’t care that it’s also driving referral traffic and inbound links to your website. Visual content creators out there know doing that is much harder than it looks.

Google+

google plus logoNow that we know Pinterest's strengths and weaknesses, let's do a quick review of Google+ before continuing our deep dive. Google+ is a social network many have described as similar to Facebook. It lets users -- and since November, brands have dedicated pages for the same purpose -- share status updates, links, images, and videos. These updates can be commented on, shared, or receive a +1, which shows up in search engine results pages. We also have a Google+ for business ebook for your reference if you decide it's a worthwhile social network on which to spend your marketing time.

Why Google+ Rocks

While users don’t expect Pinterest to be used for business, marketers on Google+ aren’t met with any surprise from others on the social network. Even when Google+ initially launched without dedicated brand pages, it wasn’t strange to see businesses promoting their content – probably because the network worked so similarly to Facebook (more on that later) which has long since integrated brand conversations with personal updates. So if you’re concerned with being met with consumer backlash on Pinterest, Google+ is certainly a safer space to try out a new social media venture.

Google+ also allows for better targeting of content with its Circles functionality. You likely have several personas developed for your business, and if you’ve done any content mapping you know that while some content is ubiquitous, much of it needs to be tailored to the audience. Instead of blasting updates to your entire Google+ following, Circles allows marketers to let their followers identify the topics they’re most interested in. This is the kind of content targeting inbound marketers relish, because it leads to higher click-through rates and a more engaged social following.

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But perhaps the best argument for getting started on Google+ is its integration into search results. Google+ status updates and content people have given a +1 to now appear in the organic search engine results on Google.com. So whether you simply have a +1 button on your blog or you’re actively publishing content to Google+, your content has a much greater chance of dominating search results than it did before your participation in Google+. If you’re interesting in seriously dominating organic search results with Google+, reference this blog post that will teach you the tricks of the trade.

Where Google+ Falls Short

Just like Pinterest, Google+’s strengths also contribute to its weaknesses. Namely, some people find it really confusing. What’s the difference between just posting to Google+, and +1’ing content? If I do either of them, does it mean I show up in search? How can I use Google+ to share content without making it indexable in search? These are all valid concerns that, as marketers, we understand, but we also easily take for granted that our target audience may not understand the intricacies of how Google+ works. And if they don’t get it, they won’t use it.

Perhaps that – plus a lack of clear value proposition – is why Google+ usage has leveled off after its initially skyrocketing adoption rate. While Pinterest has users on its site for over an hour at a time, eMarketer reports that users spent an average of just 3.3 minutes on Google+ in January. Ouch. So while Google+ has more users than Pinterest, those users aren’t actually spending time on the site each month; do marketers really want to spend time on a social network their users aren’t?

For Google+ to provide the same kind of value for its users as Pinterest, it needs to provide a unique value proposition like Pinterest has. Remember when I said it was easy to define the major social networks, like Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter? I have a confession. I had a difficult time coming up with the words to explain Google+ in the beginning of this section. All I could think to say was – it’s pretty much like Facebook. And until Google+ can differentiate itself further, it’s not likely users will spend more than a few minutes a month on there, either.

So, Which Should You Choose?

Pinterest has the opportunity to be extremely valuable for retail businesses, or anyone who sells an aesthetic-centered service -- think hairdressers, for example. But it can also have a lot of value to businesses that are willing to put in the time to create visually stimulating content -- we've written an entire post about how B2B organizations can thrive on Pinterest. But your time will be wasted if the only time you have to give, at this stage in the game, is sharing links to written content you and others are creating. Realistically, that's what many businesses are doing on social media (and that's okay!), and Google+ is a much more appropriate social network for such sharing.

But I would be remiss to close out this post without mentioning one key difference between Google+ and Pinterest that might affect your decision to participate in the networks: Pinterest users are mostly women, while Google+ users are largely men. Okay, let's dive into some data and raging gender stereotypes for just a minute, courtesy of Remcolandia:

  • 83% of Pinterest users are females between 18 and 34.
  • Most Pinterest posts and photos are about design, fashion, and home decoration.
  • 63% of Google+ users are men, who tend to post about technology.
  • Two of the biggest user groups on Google+ are college students and software developers.

Does your business' target audience have a similarly heavy skew in one of these directions -- either by industry, job type, or gender? If so, this data may be key in deciding whether it's worth your time to pursue marketing on Google+ or Pinterest.

All of this isn't to say you should use Google+ or Pinterest, or that you should limit your usage to just one. If you have the bandwidth to experiment with both, finding opportunities to present your information both verablly and visually, take on the task! (And share the results with us, please!) But since we know how strapped for time and resources many marketers already are, hopefully this side by side comparison of the pros and cons of the two newest social networks makes your decision to participate just a little less agonizing.

Which social network -- if either -- do you find more helpful for your business, and why? Do you think one or both will fade into oblivion as a marketing tool?

Image credit: Louis K.

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