What you need to know about Pinterest

In their most basic form, today’s popular social media sites are really no different than old-school arts and crafts projects, only more convenient and less timely. Gone are the days when scissors, construction paper and a pile of glue sticks were vital to chronicle one’s life. Facebook’s new Timeline for instance, allows users to create […]

In their most basic form, today’s popular social media sites are really no different than old-school arts and crafts projects, only more convenient and less timely. Gone are the days when scissors, construction paper and a pile of glue sticks were vital to chronicle one’s life. Facebook’s new Timeline for instance, allows users to create an online scrapbook one picture and post at a time. Instagram uses digital filters to crop and mat a photograph into a piece of art. And then there’s Pinterest, a virtual bulletin board containing images and links that a user finds interesting or inspiring. It becomes a visual representation of who the user is or who they hope to be.

Members of the site can collect images or pins to be placed on thematic—and public—boards that are customized around topics of their choosing. An event planner, for instance, can save images of table settings, venues or party favours sourced from sites across the internet or other like-minded Pinterest users.

Launched as a closed beta in March 2010, Pinterest has become one of the top-rising social media channels in the past few months. Its mainstream appeal hit somewhere between Snooki’s pregnancy and the launch of the iPad 3. Data compiled by digital advertising agency Modea shows that on average, users are spending more time on Pinterest (15.8 minutes) than Twitter (3.3 minutes) or Facebook (12.1 minutes).

“Up until Pinterest came along there wasn’t a way to visualize that tagging or bookmarking or sharing process,” says Twist Image president Mitch Joel, of Pinterest’s sudden widespread popularity. “I think part of it is just the fact that human beings are very visual people and to create that mood board is a profound and powerful thing.”

A number of social media sites are moving away from text-only content and introducing more image-heavy applications, but the simplicity and rich, visual experience puts Pinterest over the edge, says Ed Lee, director, social media at Tribal DDB. “With Pinterest, you see it, you pin it. Job done.”

David Jones, vice-president of social strategy at Proximity, says visually, “pinning” is similar to a fashion blogger posting a picture of “something cool” and writing a few lines about it—a task that could take as much as an hour. Pinning an item takes a fraction of the time but still allows the user to create an online identity—who they are, what they value and what they stand for, says Jones.

“You’re creating these emotional spaces driven by imagery, and the way you collect things says a lot about you as a person,” he says. “From an anthropological point of view, it’s creativity without having to actually be creative.” And because Pinterest is built to work with users’ Facebook Timeline, online influencers have yet another platform to engage with followers.

With its vast potential of recipes, decorating tips and fashion trends, it’s not surprising that women are flocking to the site. While reports around user statistics vary, Modea suggests that the majority (68.2%) of people on Pinterest are female. The site’s female users are driving traffic to publications such as Country Living, House of Beautiful and Elle Decor in record numbers. A recent Mashable.com article reported that starting last summer, “Pinterest sent more traffic to MarthaStewart.com than Facebook and Twitter combined.”

Why? Because publications like House & Home have “awesome images” and “cool content” that people want to share, says Jones. If a user repins an image from another user, the original link to the article or website remains intact. “If it’s great imagery, people will find their way back to your site,” says Jones.

So the pretty-picture magazines are enjoying a boost from Pinterest, but is there potential for marketers to boost their brands?

Scott Stratten, president of Oakville, Ont.-based Un-Marketing, thinks so—especially if brands cater to women and have a wealth of visual and relevant content as long as that content is easy to pin. A lot of fashion or retail sites, for example, tend to use Flash or animation, which isn’t pinnable, he says. “If you sell sweaters, you’d much rather have a sweater that’s easily pinnable from your store site or a direct link to where you can buy the sweater rather than have somebody take a screen shot and pin it themselves,” says Stratten. If content is shareable, a brand’s growth on Pinterest is organic rather than forced, which is always ideal.

“If the majority of your market is using that tool, then put that pin on your website,” says Stratten.

Despite Pinterest’s recent surge, the industry has seen buzzed-about platforms lose their luster before (ahem, Four Square and Quora). So is this the kind of communications tool marketers should pin their hopes on? Or is it simply the shiny new social toy of today that will be replaced by something else tomorrow?

The answer? It depends.

Though the referral and adoption rates are compelling, it’s still early days. Industry experts agree that it’s hard to gauge the potential of Pinterest or the impact it will have on consumers—or a bottom line. It’s important to remember that Pinterest is still in its infancy and will likely evolve over time, says Joel, using Twitter as an example. Hashtags and trending topics were introduced to the microblogging site more than a year after it launched in 2006. Eventually, “people will be using Pinterest in new and different ways that we could never have imagined possible,” says Joel.

The real message for marketers is that they must at least be aware of the different social media platforms and then determine which ones are a good fit for the brand, says Stratten. “You don’t have to be everywhere and everything on all these sites,” he says. “You’ll just spread your resource too thin.”

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