Management - The Marketing Power of Pinterest

Leverage The Next Big Social Media Platform

PinterestPinterest – the social media network in which users post, pin and re-pin images from around the Internet onto their own "boards" – didn't seem so business-friendly at first. But that all changed late last year.

"There was confusion in the first year because they had a term in their etiquette section that said, 'Don't be self-promotional,' and some business owners took that to mean that it wasn't appropriate for business," says Jason Miles, co-author of Pinterest Power. "But in the last few months, they rolled out a set of business-oriented changes. The most important one is that their terms-of-service policy has been updated. There is now clearly a terms-of-service policy for businesses, and one for personal use."

With that, Pamela Vaughan, inbound marketing blog manager for firm HubSpot, says Pinterest now has clearer guidelines on how the website should and shouldn't be used for advertising purposes. "They've definitely come out with more things that show their support of marketers on the site by giving some guidelines and some direction," she says.

If you're new to Pinterest or are just considering a presence on the site for the first time, here's how you can get started.

Make Your Website Pinterest-Friendly
Before you actually dive into Pinterest, Miles says you may need to work on your own website a bit. "Bottom line, for anybody who has physical products to sell, the first thing is they want to make sure that they audit their website so users are able to pin images from their site effectively," he says.

Miles believes the easiest way to do that is via the Pinmarklet tool. "It's a browser plug-in and it allows you to pin content from anywhere on the Internet," he says. "So, you want to get the Pinmarklet tool, audit your site, and have high-quality images that people can pin to Pinterest. And obviously, the quality of the photography is crucial, along with making sure that accurate descriptions are in place for your content."

Contribute, Don't Just Consume
"Once you've got quality images, it becomes about getting exposure for those images," says Jennifer Evans Cario, author of Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day. "Start connecting with influential Pinterest users and group Pin boards in your industry so your pins can get some decent exposure and the potential of a re-pin."

In its early days, Cario says Pinterest made it easy for each picture to gain exposure. "These days, there's a fairly confusing algorithm at play that only allows a tiny portion of a user's pins to make it to the category page," she says. "That means you have to build a strong base of initial exposure for your pins by taking the time to build up followers organically."

To do that, Cario suggests users frequently "like" and re-pin images that others post. "The biggest mistake I see companies making is pinning only their own content," she says. "Pinterest is a social channel, it's not a marketing channel. Users are looking for brands that wish to add value to the community, and it's incredibly shortsighted to believe your content is the only content that adds value."

Miles says the Twitter strategy of following a bunch of people in the hopes that they'll follow you back simply doesn't work on Pinterest. "Spam-type comments and following thousands of people randomly is probably one of the biggest mistakes you can make," he says. "The basic social functions are to re-pin, like, comment, or follow someone's board. So, you actively want to be doing that and focus on people that you know or are interested in you, and the better you get at doing that, the better off you'll be."

Cario says being a strong Pinterest participator really comes down to three things: good content, good connections and consistent posting. "There are no magic tricks," she says.

Pinterest, though, recently came out with a new feature designed to help businesses get started on the network – it's called a Secret Board, which can be used for business purposes and can come in handy while your Pinterest board is under construction. "The nice thing about Secret Boards is you can build a board in private and then launch it, rather than have all your followers watch you construct the board," Miles says.

When you add content to your Pinterest page, Miles suggests categorizing your ad specialty items as specifically as possible. "For promotional items, rather than just pinning everything on your website into one Pinboard that says 'Promotional Items,' go deeper and have boards that say 'Pens and Pencils' or 'Awesome Water Bottles,' and become exceptionally narrow," he says. "So, if someone's looking for just that topic, you've satisfied their needs for that information."

Provide Valuable Info
Vaughan says one of the best ways to offer quality business content through Pinterest is to link to information that customers can actually use. "I use Pinterest myself, and I create boards for things that I'm interested in," she says. "As a plan, you should be pinning things and creating boards around the lifestyle that your brand promotes, because that's how people use Pinterest."

For example, Vaughan's company sells software that promotes the idea of inbound marketing. "All of our content on Pinterest has to do with being a better marketer, and that's kind of how we use the website – to get those ideas out there and not focus so much on the software," she says.

The way that Vaughan does that for HubSpot is through links to helpful information. "One of our boards that we update regularly is a board of our blog content, and we make sure as a business that, every time I write an article, I include a really interesting visual component to it, because I know that my social media manager will post that image on Pinterest with a link to the blog article," she says.

Vaughan feels this is a great way for ad specialty distributors to bring value to their current and potential customers. The goal should be to provide valuable information and tips on how to utilize products, rather than simply posting photos of them. "It's like how Facebook is displaying images more prominently than they did before. That's the kind of stuff that spreads," she says. "It's causing businesses to pay more attention to the visual components of their marketing. So, I think one of the best ways to use Pinterest is to get more leverage out of visual content."

Make it Personal
Vaughan believes Pinterest is also an excellent vehicle for allowing users to get to know you and the people who run your business, which can help build a rapport. "You can create a board that shows your employees or your company culture through an image," she says. "One company that does that really well is G.E. They have a couple of different boards that show behind-the-scenes pictures of employees doing their jobs and things like that to show the people behind the brand. So many other companies do interesting things like that – not necessarily demonstrating the products and services themselves, but what goes into them."

Vaughan also recommends giving your customers a chance to contribute to one or more of your boards. "You can create a user-generated board and have other Pinterest users pin to it," she says. "That kind of gets people engaged. It's a really cool way to tap into what people are sharing, and you can leverage it for business."

Conduct Market Research
If you're still not sure what kind of content to post and how to make your products attractive on Pinterest, Cario suggests doing some basic Pinterest research. "Pinterest gives companies an amazing way to see what people are interested in," she says, "and since it's a visual service, it's even easier – meaning you don't need to read through a ton of blog posts or comments. You can just visually skim the page and stop to read descriptions."

Cario also recommends conducting a search on Pinterest for boards that are related to your own product offerings. "For example, visit Pinterest and run a search for 'trade show.' You can then click 'Boards' and see a list of Pinboards users have created where they're collecting images of trade show booths or trade show giveaways," she says. "It's a great way to see how products similar to yours are being used, or to look for trends in what people like right now."