Should your business be on Pinterest?
The answer: 'A good, solid maybe.'
Friday, June 15, 2012 7:00 AM
What it is:
Pinterest is a photo sharing social media website, started by West Des Moines native Ben Silbermann.
How it works:
Users are able to post images of things they like to online “pinboards.” Users typically post images sorted by events or interests, and other users have the ability to “repin,” or share, other users’ images. Users also “follow” other users, or businesses, that they are interested in, similar to following someone’s Twitter account.
Who uses it:
The site has been particularly popular so far among women. Some businesses - national and local - have found the site useful for marketing.
• Drake University: Dorm room decor ideas, attractions in Des Moines, information for students
• Better Homes and Gardens magazine: Decorating ideas, gardening trends, recipes
• Iowa Corn Growers Association: Recipes, corn decorations, 4-H projects
• Wellmans Pub, Americana Restaurant & Lounge, Wallace Farms, Bombay Bicycle Club – all accounts run by Phil James, owner of Good Milkshake LLC: Sports photos (Wellmans), random fun photos, recipes, classic Iowa and Des Moines photos
• U.S. Army: Historical photos, training photos, Army resources, values
• New York Public Library: Book covers, picture of the day, library photos
• charity: Water: A nonprofit that bring clean water to developing countries pins creative fund-raising ideas and fund-raising results
• General Electric Co.: “Badass Machines,” Old-time GE photos, data
A local flavor
Pinterest co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann is from West Des Moines and has made a strong impression on one local shop owner who uses the site.
When Domestica’s Chrissy Jensen was looking for an invitation to join the site in its early stages, she sent a tweet to Silbermann. He responded by giving her 10 invitations to share. Silbermann also stopped by the store with his mother when he was in Des Moines.
“It makes you happy to support him,” Jensen said.
Silbermann also created a buzz locally when he agreed to speak at ThincIowa last October, an event organized by Silicon Prairie News.
“When I talked to him in person, he had this excited, dorky energy about him,” said Emily Beckmann, a project manager at Lessing-Flynn Advertising Co. “Then when he gets on stage, he’s this well-put-together person. He spoke very well and had awesome points that he made.”
Silbermann, who graduated from Yale University and spent time working for Google Inc., personally contacted the first 5,000 users of the site and gave them his personal cellphone number, according to a March article in Business Insider. When asked at the South by Southwest conference in March why he never gave up on Pinterest despite low initial user numbers, he responded by saying he thought it would be too embarrassing to fail.
He and co-founder Paul Sciarra decided to focus all their time on the site, and it worked. Pinterest is now the third-most popular social networking website.
It’s new. It’s sexy. It’s growing – fast.
It’s not Facebook. It’s not Twitter. It’s not LinkedIn.
But it might have to be in the same conversation as far as businesses are concerned.
Pinterest, a photo-sharing website co-founded by West Des Moines native Ben Silbermann, is reportedly the third-most popular social networking website, trailing only Facebook and Twitter, and reached 10 million unique monthly visitors faster than any other website in history.
Some businesses have found the platform to be a good way to interact with their customers. The site’s record growth raises the question: Should businesses have a Pinterest account?
“I think the answer is a good, solid maybe,” said Drew McLellan, CEO of McLellan Marketing Group and a Business Record columnist. “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
It is not right for every business, he said, and especially not right if the business doesn’t have a plan in place or time to keep up a page. That said, “I’m surprised there aren’t more Iowa businesses that are using it,” he added.
McLellan and others say that businesses are asking about Pinterest and trying to figure out if they have a role on the site. Not many area companies have signed up for an account, though.
Businesses should consider having a Pinterest account, said Norah Carroll, a digital strategist with social media consulting company Lava Row Inc., because of the number of users, and type of users.
“Those users are decision-makers; they’re the buyers in families,” Carroll said. “They have purchasing power. They are the ones who are going to talk to their friends about what they’re purchasing, what they’re trying, what they made last night for dinner.”
Why use it?
Companies are successfully using Pinterest as a way to sort content from around the Internet that their customers and followers of the page might be interested in, Carroll said. Using Pinterest is more about brand preservation than sales, she said.
“If we can feel like we are part of those brands, or if we feel like we are experiencing it along with the companies themselves, then I think we can form those ties, and we are more likely to be buyers of their product,” Carroll said.
Chrissy Jensen, owner of the East Village shop Domestica, uses Pinterest to share items with followers that she thinks are “cool.” Domestica, which sells handmade craft-type products, has been regularly cited by area social media experts as a company that is using Pinterest well.
Jensen uses Pinterest to interact with customers or potential customers not only by pinning store products, but also pinning pictures that she thinks customers would be interested in. The end goal is definitely to promote the store, but in a way that makes customers feel like they are connected with the Domestica brand.
“It’s definitely promoting Domestica, but also giving a little insight into what makes me tick, and what makes the shop tick,” she said.
Emily Beckmann, a project manager at Lessing-Flynn Advertising Co., delivered a speech at an April 140 Character Conference in Des Moines talking about the benefits of Pinterest. She helps run Lessing-Flynn’s Pinterest page and feels strongly that there are potential uses for businesses. She notes that retailers and restaurants are natural fits, but says that any business with good content can find success on the site, even businesses in the finance and insurance sector.
“They have so many limitations when it comes to even Twitter and Facebook as to what they can and cannot post,” Beckmann said. “But they could have a board with the content that they have on their blog, or the different products they sell. It just takes a little bit of creative brainstorming and you can make it work.”
If nothing else, she said, businesses should secure a Pinterest page so that nobody else sets up a page using their brand name.
For business-to-business companies, “it really is an opportunity for them to be a resource,” McLellan said. “It’s a sharing tool.”
What to consider
One potential downfall that some businesses run into, experts say, is signing up just for the sake of signing up. In the same way some companies have Twitter accounts that never get updated, companies that get onto Pinterest without a dedicated plan will likely not be successful. Carroll at Lava Row already sees companies that jumped on the site early fizzle out in their usage.
It comes back to the payoff, McLellan said. A lot of companies might be able to find a business application for the site, but that doesn’t mean that the time and manpower that goes into running an account is worth the reward.
His advice: Look around. See what other businesses are doing that are either similar to yours or tangentially related. Think about if Pinterest provides a better solution than something your business is currently doing, or if you have the time and resources to add it on.
“And think about why you would be there, and what you could do that would be relevant and meaningful,” he said. “And if you can’t think of anything that would be relevant and meaningful, then why would you do it?”
Case study: Domestica
The end goal of using Pinterest is self-promotion, said Chrissy Jensen, owner of Domestica. But it’s not about spamming customers – or potential customers – with sales offers or products.
“I would say the base of it is just a way to share what we’re interested in as a business, what our business aesthetic is, things that we see that are cool, that we can’t necessarily carry here, but we want to help other people see it and find it,” Jensen said.
As a business, Jensen tries to make Domestica a “buddy” with the people who interact with it on Pinterest. Her approach: If someone sees something interesting that Domestica pins, there is a chance that they will click on the business’s Pinterest page or at least remember who posted it.
“So it’s really free advertising without having to be a total jerk about it,” she said.
Jensen will sometimes post pictures of new products on the board, but “a lot of it comes from the excitement of the thing, rather than trying to sell.” She will also use Pinterest to post products that customers specifically ask about, such as birthday gift ideas.
“I don’t think you can set out a blanket of what Pinterest is for,” Jensen said. “I think it’s just about what your audience wants from you.”
“We Love This!”: This is Domestica’s largest and most prominently-placed pinboard. It is a board that allows the business’s fans to post things they think are worthwhile. “Coming from a place that we have a lot of followers, we also want to help you get some of those followers too,” Jensen said. “And help people find each other.”
“A Bit of Domestica”: This is the board where Jensen puts pictures of the store, things happening at the store, and sometimes things for sale.
“Make This”: A board that features pictures of things such as handmade quilts and crafts, with links to where the image came from – often a blog or website.
“Mad About Print”: Domestica pins pictures of posters from around the Web, sometimes with a link to where viewers can buy the poster.