Over the past few months, you may have heard some chatter about a brand new social network called Pinterest. Not surprising. According to Compete, unique visitors to Pinterest.com increased by 429% from September to December 2011, and the social network already boasts a user base of 3.3 million. Pinterest is only growing in popularity as the hottest new social network, and in December 2011, it made Hitwise's list of the top 10 social networks, currently sitting at #5 and beating out big names like LinkedIn and Google+. And as with any hot new social network that comes onto the scene, marketers are chiming in with, "Can I use it for marketing?" "...and, how?"
Pinterest is a social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting (AKA 'pinning') images or videos to their own or others' pinboards (i.e. a collection of 'pins,' usually with a common theme) and browsing what other users have pinned. Using a visual emphasis, the social network is very much focused on the concept of a person's lifestyle, allowing you to share your tastes and interests with others and discover those of likeminded people. The social network's goal is to "connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting." Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet.
As with most other social networks, users can perform standard social networking functions such as following the boards of their friends, liking and commenting on other users' pins, re-pinning content to their own boards, sharing others' pins on Facebook and Twitter or via email, and even embedding individual pins on their website or blog.
As with any site that is built around content curation, 'pinners' (Pinterest users) must be especially cognizant of citing the sources of their individual pins. And while Pinterest makes no direct statement that marketers cannot use the social network for promotional purposes, the site does discourage blatant self-promotion:
"Avoid Self Promotion | Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion."
Couple this with Pinterest's lifestyle vision, and what its means is that marketers need to find creative ways to promote their brand on the network and truly jive with its vision and user base. In other words, businesses should use the social network to showcase the lifestyle their brand promotes. If you're a shoe vendor, a pinboard of the shoes you sell won't cut it. A pinboard of a few of your shoes interspersed with images of places those shoes could take you, however, is the direction you should be thinking.
Surprisingly enough, user access to Pinterest still operates under an invitation-only basis. That being said, you can request an invitation, and Pinterest doesn't exactly seem to be very stingy about granting requests. Visit www.pinterest.com, click 'Request an Invite,' and enter your email address to be notified when you have access to create your account. Or you can ask a friend who already has a Pinterest account to invite you -- this seems to be the speediest of the two methods.
(Important Tip: Be sure to register your account with the same email address you use for your business' Twitter account so you can easily share your new pins through your Twitter account, too. Once you receive an invitation to sign up for Pinterest, you'll want to sign up through the Twitter option, not the Facebook option. This will enable you to tie your Pinterest account to your business' Twitter account, not your personal Facebook profile. Currently, Pinterest doesn't offer a connection to Facebook business pages.)
Once your account is activated, optimize your Pinterest profile under 'Settings.' Choose your company name as your username and complete your profile information, including a company description, logo, and a link to your website. Be sure you keep 'Hide your Pinterest profile from search engines' checked to 'Off' so your profile can get indexed in search.
Build Your Following on Pinterest
Once you get started, you'll want to create a few pinboards before you start trying to build your Pinterest following (check out the list in the next section for some great ideas!). This way, new followers will have a reason to follow your pins; it's the same reason why you would populate a brand new blog with a few posts before you start promoting it. Unfortunately, because the 'Find Friends' feature on Pinterest leverages a personal Facebook profile (not business page), this tool won't be very useful for your business. Therefore, you'll want to promote your presence through other means to jumpstart your Pinterest following:
1. Feature Your Visual Content: Let's start with the basics. Pinterest is a visual social network, so if your business pumps out a lot of visual content like data visualizations or infographics, consider creating a pinboard that highlights some of your best visual content. Just as the shoe example above, be strategic about how you pin this content, and mix in other images to amplify the visual appeal of your pinboard.
2. Create a User-Generated Pinboard: Because you can allow other users to contribute their own pins to your hosted pinboards on a user by user basis, this opens up a great opportunity to involve fans and customers in your marketing. Pick out a few of your top fans or customers, and create a board dedicated to their pins. Ask the customer to pin images that showcase the lifestyle they enjoy because of your brand. Does your software save them time? Ask them to pin images of things that represent the time they save or the things they can do with that saved time. This is a great way to leverage customer testimonials in a unique and visual way. Clothing retailer ModCloth uses this tactic in its 'Guest Pinner Gallery.'
4. Add the Pin-It Button to Your Website: Make it super easy for website visitors to share your visual content or images on Pinterest by adding a Pin-It button to the visual content on your site. Just like other social media sharing buttons, this will help to expose your brand to a brand new audience. Where you showcase your other social media account presence, you can also add the Pinterest follow button, too! Click here to create your website buttons today.
5. Gather Insight Into Your Buyer Personas: Use Pinterest as a tool for understanding the interests and needs of your ideal customers. View pinboards of your customers to aid in your understanding of who your customers are and what they're interested in.
6. Re-Pin What Your Followers Are Interested In: Showcase the cool things your followers are pinning in a separate pinboard but re-pinning followers' pins. This will add a non-promotional, interesting dynamic to your collection of pinboards while promoting engagement with your followers. Whole Foods is a great example of a brand on Pinterest who re-pins other users' pins often.
7. Become an Curation Expert: Become the go-to Pinterest account for pins about a certain subject or topic relating to your industry. For example, because HubSpot is a marketing software company, we could create a pinboard that features awesome visual examples of great online marketing. Or if you're a paper company, you could create a pinboard that features really awesome origami paper creations from around the web. Minted is a great, real-life example of a paper company that leverages this tactic by creating themed pinboards that show unique ways to use paper, mixed in with other related lifestyle photos, such as in its 'Trick or Treat' Halloween board:
8. Create a Video Gallery: Pinners aren't only limited to pinning images; they can pin videos, too! Create a pinboard of some of the interesting videos your business produces interspersed with relevant images. How about a blooper gallery while you're at it? Do executives in your business do a lot of speaking at industry conferences and events? Create a pinboard that features videos of your speakers and images of them speaking or networking at events to promote your speaking program.
9. Feature Offline Events: Create a pinboard that features the best photos and video footage of the annual event you host to help you generate buzz and promote the next one.
11. Showcase Your Business' Personality: As we've mentioned, Pinterest has a heavy lifestyle focus, so what better opportunity is there to give people a peek into the personality of your brand? Create a pinboard that showcases your employees and life around the office -- show them working together, show them making your products/services, and show some of the fun activities your business participates in, such as company outings, parties, award ceremonies, volunteer days, etc. Letting people in behind-the-scenes will make your brand relatable, interesting, and humanized. The Today Show, for example, uses one of its pinboards called 'Anchor Antics' to let you into the personalities of the show's stars.
12. Drive Pinterest Users Back to Your Website (and Track Results!): Incorporating Pinterest into your social media marketing mix might seem like a great opportunity for your business, but you need to make sure it's generating results to make it worth your time and effort. Whenever possible, include links back to your website and landing pages in your pins to drive traffic back to your website. Keep track of referral traffic and leads generated from Pinterest.
13. Follow Social Media Best Practices: Pinterest is a social network, so it's a great idea to follow the best practices you operate under for most other social networks. Spend time to increase your following, be engaging with your followers, keep your Pinterest account regularly updated, and drive traffic back to your website when possible to increase conversions.
Have you started experimenting with Pinterest for marketing? In what creative ways have you used it to promote your business?
Originally published Jan 31, 2012 12:17:00 PM, updated August 09 2017