3 Ways Brands Are Using Pinterest And 5 Ways They Should Be

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You’ve likely heard, read or been told that your business should be on Facebook and Twitter (and that’s probably true), but I’ve recently become very interested in potential uses of niche social networks that, while they may not have the sheer numbers that make Facebook and Twitter powerful tools for social business, can nonetheless offer potentially very high returns for brands that use them well.

Last week Business Week published this profile of up-and-coming social bookmarking site Pinterest. They describe Pinterest as an “image sharing network,” but I would argue that it’s a lot more than that. It’s a mix of image sharing, social bookmarking and recommendations from friends (friends of friends and even strangers) that has already attracted a large, loyal following that often describes the service as nothing short of “addictive.”

According to ComScore, Business Week writes, “the site grew to 3.3 million users in October, from just 418,000 in May” and about 70 percent of the site’s users are female. That’s over 700% growth in 5 months. And they’re still in an invitation-only beta.

Update (11/23): TechCrunch writes that Pinterest is now up more than 2,000% since June with 421 million pageviews in October (that’s more than DIY marketplace Etsy.com, according to ComScore).

Pinterest Basics

If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, the mechanics are pretty simple:
pinterest homepage
You create “boards” (often by topic) onto which you can “pin” items you’d like to bookmark. You can then “follow” boards by other pinners and “like” or “repin” the items that they pin. This ability to “repin” is of course the killer feature (as with reblog on Tumblr) that enables the items you bookmark, or pin, to spread virally among your friends, to friends of friends and beyond.

The items you pin are represented by images (the tool automatically discovers large images on the original webpage you bookmark), so many people are using the site to create boards focused on visual content such as fashion, DIY projects, food, artwork and travel destinations.

Personally, I joined Pinterest a couple of months ago and have found it useful for saving intriguing recipes that I’d like to try, creating a mood/inspiration board for an upcoming epic landscaping project (more on that later) and just for collecting and sharing interesting visual tidbits from around the web.

There are some other nifty features like the ability to tag, comment and add prices to the items you pin. That price bit should be of particular interest to retailers as we’ll discuss momentarily.

Like many social bookmarking services, Pinterest has a bookmarklet you can install in your browser, an iPhone app and now they now also offer a “pin it” button for websites. Additionally the site integrates with Facebook and Twitter so you can share your pins to your other social networks.

Finally, Pinterest is still invite only (so if you need an invitation, let me know).

For more on the basics, BlueGlass has a much more detailed guide to Pinterest right over here and Pinterest has their own FAQ in their help section.

Pinterest for Brands

A lot has been written about social shopping as “the next big thing” and while not new (we’ve always trusted the recommendations of our friends more than advertisers, it’s now just easier to see those recommendations as they happen) online discovery and recommendation engines like Pinterest present a huge opportunity for retail brands.

Pinterest should be especially attractive for brands that are primarily interested in reaching women, which is to say, nearly all of them (by some estimates women make or influence upwards of 85% of purchases made in the U.S.).

Of course, being visually interesting helps your chances (of being noticed and re-pinned) on Pinterest, so beauty, fashion, weddings, health, food, travel, etc. have a natural advantage.

Social Shopping

It is still very early, but I am surprised that so few of these brands have jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon. Consumers are already “pinning” their products, talking about them and sharing them, but brands for the most part are not leveraging these conversations to encourage further sharing and ultimately drive sales.

Pinterest is also a great place to build links back to your site for SEO purposes as Search Engine Land has noted.

Most retailers also have yet to add “pin this” buttons to their online product pages, another potentially big opportunity to help consumers build, for example, holiday shopping lists that they can share with their followers on Pinterest but also with family and friends (Pinterest boards are publicly viewable on the web, not just to logged in users).

The ability to add prices to pins is also an attractive way to highlight special promotions as AMD is doing with their “Holiday Look Book” board featuring product suggestions for everyone from “the multi-tasking mom” to “the gaming guru”.
american micro devices pinterest

Building Reputation

Some brands have gone beyond just promoting their products to use Pinterest to build their reputation by collecting and sharing useful tips for customers in their area of expertise.

Whole Foods, for example, pins gardening ideas and tips, encouraging other Pinterest users to share their tips on Whole Foods’ “How Does Your Garden Grow” board. When you create a board, you can either set it so that only you can pin items to it, or you can also add contributors so that they are also able to post.
whole foods gardening pinterest
Outside of these few examples, I really haven’t been able to find too many retail brands actively using Pinterest (leave a comment and let me know if you see others). Media organizations, however, are a bit of a different story…

Update (11/27): Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma and West Elm are a few other retailers on Pinterest that people have pointed me to over the past few days.

Pinterest for Media Organizations

Media organizations also tend to be among early adopters for new social tools, so it’s not a huge surprise that several (primarily magazines and television programs) have already started to use, explore and in some cases develop relatively large followings on Pinterest.

Women’s Health Magazine features fitness tips, product, fashion and book recommendations and they also have a board to highlight some of their favorite features from the magazine.

The Travel Channel has boards to feature daily vacation destinations as well as boards to showcase behind the scenes looks at some of their programs.

And NBC’s The Today Show has amassed over 5,000 followers by sharing food, travel and style tips but also by providing viewers with a look behind the scenes with a board called “Anchor Antics” and engaging in ongoing discussions about the show’s segments on their “Who’s On, What’s New” board.
nbc today show pinterest
I wanted to highlight the Today Show especially because they seem to be doing a particularly good job of encouraging viewers to comment and interact with their posts.

Update (11/23): PBS NewsHour’s ArtBeat has now created a board called “The Daily Frame” where they highlight a photo of the day (Thanks Teresa Gorman for the heads up).
newshour artbeat pinterest page

Ideas For Brands

So what does this mean for brands who are considering whether or not they should establish a presence on Pinterest?

Here are a few ideas for applications that I think Pinterest could be particularly good for:

  • Social Shopping/Product Recommendations – Add the “pin this” button to your product pages (or perhaps your menu if you’re a restaurant, etc.) to encourage people to share and recommend your products or services to their friends and followers on Pinterest.
  • Photo Sharing – encourage your fans to share photos with you and with each other. For example, Pinterest provides a lightweight, easy way for customers to share photos of themselves wearing or using your product or perhaps attending a special event. Ask your customers to pin their photos and tag you so you can then easily collect and re-pin those photos to a board where other customers can see how people are actually using (and enjoying) your products.
  • Holiday Shopping and Wish Lists – Follow AMD’s lead and create your own “holiday look book” with prices and tags for each product to encourage further discovery (I suspect fashion and beauty brands will likely have better luck with this than electronics, but I gotta hand it to AMD for giving it a shot). Encourage customers to add these items to their holiday “must have” lists. For consumers: what a great way to build a holiday wishlist and easily share your list with your family and friends.
  • Inspiration/Mood Boards – If you’re brainstorming new product ideas or maybe you’re an agency that regularly builds mood or inspiration boards the old-fashioned as you work with clients, Pinterest is a great way to streamline that process and keep everything well-organized. You can also collaborate with other pinners (either inside or outside of your company) to build collective boards.
  • Content Curation/Press Clippings –  Pinterest could be a great way for companies (or even journalists) to collect and curate clippings from various publications around particular topics and encourage further sharing and discovery.

Your Turn

Have you seen any interesting examples of brands using Pinterest? And what are you using it for? Leave a comment and let me know!

And, of course, if you’d like to follow me on Pinterest, you can do that right here.