This article first appeared in The Australian on 5 March 2012 – I thought I would share for those who might have missed it.
The only constant online of course is change – just as I think I’ve got Twitter, LinkedIn and FaceBook worked out – other interactive social sites show up. My 16 year old daughter has taken herself off FaceBook – claiming that Tumblr is where it is all at… and now Pinterest has arrived and appears to be the new frontier of social media for business. There is no doubt that all the social media players are quickly moving to more image intensive platforms – [On FaceBook you can ‘scarily’ now view your entire history on the site in a visual time line] and as a business we need to stay abreast if not harness the power of what is new. In some sense we need to be a new adopter in all our communications – rather than following after something is tried and tested. Of course the list of potential social media sites does seem endless – and one doesn’t know really what is going to be the next big thing.
Pinterest is creating the biggest online buzz at the moment claiming “Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting…a favorite [sic] book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people…Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests”. In its most basic form, it’s a visual bookmarking site that allows users to pin anything they find on the web that interests them. All of your likes, comments, pins and re-pins are recorded on your own profile – or, more fittingly, pin boards – thereby connecting people based on their interests rather than existing friendships or professional networks. These boards are arranged by any number of topics from gardening to technology and include subjects such as “Products I Love” and “Favourite [sic] Places and Spaces.” It’s a refreshing approach to social media – neat, orderly, uncluttered and void of those annoying flashing ads offering everything from banishing belly fat to burlesque lessons. And it’s also a potential gold mine for businesses; arming them with a tool to connect with consumers on a personal level about the things they hold dear – think hobbies, interests and passions. And you can’t just sign up – you must be invited to join and play with this exclusive new social media toy.
As marketers though we’re dipping our toe in the water, and we’re excited to see where the Pinterest journey will take us.
Businesses have already started flocking to the site in an attempt to humanise their brands – giving them a personality or bringing that personality to life. For instance at RedBalloon this is a very attractive proposition as we are an online brand and it’s often difficult to have resonance with your customers when you rarely have face-to-face interactions with them. This is incremental to our activity on Facebook and Twitter and we need dedicated people to listen, learn, look and play with all of the social networks. Real people talking and listening with real people – not pushing marketing message for the sake of it… this is NOT a broadcast media.
But Pinterest takes it a step further, allowing brands to connect with customers on a level above and beyond the product they are selling, which in turn creates a more genuine and reciprocal relationship. We use the site to share gorgeous, striking images of our experiences and our customers genuinely enjoying those experiences. And these images really are worth more than a thousand words of copy on a webpage – on Twitter they may be re-tweeted and on Facebook shared among friends, but the image carries far more weight when it’s targeting an interested audience.
From a pure marketing standpoint, Pinterest is a collection of focus groups. Try to think of a more perfectly efficient way to road test and gather feedback on a new product or idea. Can you? The site already attracts almost 12 million active users a month – women make up between 70 and 80 per cent of its members, most under the age of 45. But itgoes one step further. What an opportunity for entrepreneurial marketers wanting to target consumers in an environment designed to connect people according to the things they love and desire. Many brands are already embracing the new frontier with some success. There are examples of clothing brands running “pin it to win it” competitions, where customers have to browse the brand’s website and pin the images of their favourite outfits to win. This encourages users to interact with the site, but also visit and browse the products on the brand’s own site.
As Pinterest continues to grow and develop, there will no doubt be some great brand stories emerge, but similarly therewill be brands who do not respect the site’s raison d’etre – pushing the boundaries and upsetting users who have had yet another social space encroached upon by brands trying to sell sell sell. The site itself has loose rules around promoting products, stating “Pinterest is designed to share things you love…try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion”. But the creators are also keeping very tight-lipped on the subject of how they plan to make money from the enterprise, so I predict a few changes to the way the site operates in the future. I guess it’s a wait and see game for now, and I for one am intrigued to see how brands will tread the fine line between wooing customers, building relationships and selling products.
Here is a link to the RedBalloon Pinterest page