Social media watch: Pinterest

Saying there’s a new social networking site of note is likely to prompt some eye-rolling. After all, social sites come and go — Friendster, anyone? — and merchants are rightfully wary of investing time and resources in establishing a social outpost that may not endure.

But since launching in May, momentum has genuinely built behind Pinterest — and merchants may be surprised to discover their products are already featured there.

Pinterest is loosely based on the concept of a bulletin board. Users “pin” item images to themed “pinboards” they create, reflecting their own interests and personalities. Users can like and comment on others’ “pins” (meaning pinned items) and follow other users and/or individual pinboards.

Sample Pinterest individual profile

Perhaps because of the emphasis on alluring visuals (as opposed to Twitter and Facebook’s streams of textual status updates) Pinterest’s following has exploded. As of November, Pinterest had grown 2,000% since June, and attracted more page views than the craft-and-artisan marketplace Etsy.com, according to TechCrunch. And the site has attracted $37 million in funding, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek — suggesting it has staying power beyond next month.

Boards can be highly conceptual — “the written word” or “the color pink” — and they can feature destinations, individuals, recipes, and anything else represented online with photos. But most often, Pinterest boards function as intensely personalized product collections, with millions of items “pinned” using the site’s bookmarking tool. Pinterest users can pin any product, whether or not merchants are Pinterest members — just as consumers can post links from any Web site to their blog or Facebook pages.

And that’s where merchants come in. Particularly for sellers of visually-appealing items such as fashion and home goods, taking a proactive role in the community is a good idea. For example, when apparel manufacturer Lands’ End discovered that scads of products from its Canvas line had already been pinned, the brand established a Pinterest page and launched a week-long “Pin It to Win It” contest during the peak holiday season that gave creators of pinboards featuring Canvas products a chance to win one of 10 $250 gift cards.

The benefits of such an outreach effort include:

  • Inbound links. With Pinterest images linking directly to product pages on your site, you gain relevant inbound links that bolster SEO.
  • User participation. Pinboards can be set up to accept contributions from other users — which means brands can set up pinboards and solicit additions from followers.
  • Customer insights. How do followers perceive your products and classify them? How do they group your products with items from other brands? Exploring how users are pinning your items can help shape positioning and promotion.
  • Collection selling. Last but not least, you can use pinboards to promote new combinations of your products that encourage shoppers to buy. Pinterest’s “Pin Etiquette” prohibits pure self-promotion that flouts the spirit of the site – but at the same time, the site does allow inclusion of prices and other commerce-friendly content. The best way to stay appropriate is, of course, to spend time on the site and experiment with it before launching a campaign.

Advanced Microdevices’ Pinterest page strikes the right balance, showcasing products in pinboards such as “Holiday Lookbook 2011” but also including playful collections such as Christmas images and “Touch My Bottom” – cold-weather photos meant to promote its laptops’ cooler processing units.

Example of a brand using Pinterest - AMD

Other brands on Pinterest include:

West Elm

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