The Three Things You Need For a Successful Pinterest Strategy

As of the publication of this post, Pinterest has just caught up to Twitter in popularity. And as marketers find out about the amazing viral power of Pinterest and other image-centered social networks they are jumping on that train.

Pinterest can be regarded as an alternative to Facebook as a brand marketing vehicle. Many of the millions of people who use Pinterest may prefer it, and put more effort into it, than Facebook because it offers a vastly superior photo browsing and sharing experience than Facebook. And Pinterest boards require a fraction of the overhead needed to create and manage an in-house or Facebook photo gallery. Moreover, since Pinterest can display photos from their original locations around the web, it is the perfect place to collect “fan photos” and other visual content related to the brand in some way, even if it’s not owned by the brand. But instead of looking at Facebook and Pinterest as either/or, it’s better to acknowledge that far fewer people are using Pinterest, some people use both, influencers can be found on both, and each has brand marketing potential.

There have been days where several different people have asked me for help coming up with a Pinterest strategy. The businesses looking for help range from super-corporations I cross paths with professionally to entrepreneurs I meet in coffee shops. Most (not all) of these people admit they don’t really want to invest in yet another social media platform, they just feel they’re supposed to.


So to answer their question, here’s how to develop a Pinterest Strategy:

…but first, a caveat: Don’t take up Pinterest just because everyone else is (or seems to be) doing it. Pinterest isn’t for everyone. It might not be for you. Some businesses should choose not to divert marketing resources to Pinterest. You might be better off focusing on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn…or on “the real world” (is “number of hands shaked” a metric you’re currently tracking?).

OK, back to the thread: A Pinterest strategy has 3 components: a visual content (“what”); a budget (“who”); and a way to measure success (“why” and “how”).

Step 1: Identify Images That Carry the Emotional Edge of Your Brand

Pinterest is a platform for displaying and sharing collections of images, both stills and videos. Images are publicly shared between friends and strangers alike—in this sense it’s more like Twitter or a blog, where everyone can see and talk to everyone else, than Facebook or LinkedIn where friends focus on their friends. When images are “pinned” to a board (collection) on Pinterest they are either reposted from their original location somewhere on the web, and the original photo remains in place, or, less frequently, uploaded from a computer to Pinterest and hosted there.

The images that get the most attention on Pinterest are consumer products, like home decor and gifts, and aspirational achievements, like travel destinations and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. Infographics, quotes, and other graphics also have a fighting chance of attracting interest in the form of pins, “repins” (sharing photos originally posted to Pinterest by others), likes, and comments.

With brands on Pinterest, as with all of visual marketing, the question to ask is not just “what is visual about my brand?”, but “what photos carry the emotional edge of my brand?” Emotional content—whether lust or lifestyle— is what powers Pinterest, and emotions inspire hundreds of thousands of brand-related posts.

Happily most retailers, travel destinations, and other businesses with visually appealing products already have libraries of photos and ways to create new photos which can used on Pinterest.

The Nordstrom retail chain, for example, offers a number of “boards” on Pinterest that include—among other themes—at least one catalog, represented by a set of photos from the catalog itself, and photos taken by Nordstrom customers and shared via Twitter, Flickr and Instagram.

Businesses can supplement their own visual content by sharing (curating) images that complement their brand message. In fact, it’s a truism, but not a rule, that authenticity on Pinterest means sharing the love by pinning some images that don’t include your own product.

An example of this approach is Whole Foods, whose 40+ boards almost never directly promote their own products (in fact the only product packaging you see is on the wine bottles). The food pictures they feature indirectly show their products by showing what can be achieved with their products (putting them into the DIY category I suppose); but people could just as easily get similar food elsewhere. To generalize, the images Whole Foods promotes on Pinterest show good looking (and presumably, good tasting and healthy) food, and good for the planet (organic, sustainable, helping farmers around the world) activities.

Some of Whole Foods’ boards appear to consist entirely of photos of food repurposed from the illustrations of recipes featured on their site, and clicking on the photos takes you to the Whole Foods main site. Other boards focus on Whole Foods corporate social responsibility (financial commitment to good causes) efforts.

But a significant number of the posts are not from Whole Foods own sites, and clicking on them takes you to a third party site which generally is about the same topics (good looking food/good for the planet), some of which appear to be partners or suppliers (thus featuring products which may be available at Whole Foods).

Business to business (B2B) marketing is a bigger challenge for visual-only campaigning on Pinterest. With software, for example, one could focus on the people who make and use it—pictures of humans are always interesting to other humans. One could also pin the products that the software powers. For example, Amazon’s AWS cloud computing platform could feature photos of its leadership and employees, and the companies that run on it, plus any corporate social responsibility work they are doing. But I expect no software company on Pinterest will ever generate the sheer volume of activity enjoyed by a Nordstrom or a Whole Foods.

Step 2: Determine Your Marketing Budget For Pinterest

If you’ve passed the first hurdle, and you do have visual content with an emotional edge, we get to the question of resources, or “overhead” if you (like me) think in terms of ROI rather than merely sizzle and pop. Determine what resources you will put into Pinterest. Consider at least the following:

  • How is your visual content going to get photographed, hosted, and posted to Pinterest?
  • How much time (or budget) do you want to divert to Pinterest from your other marketing and social marketing efforts?
  • Do you already have someone collecting visual content about your brand from inside the company (like marketing collateral), and hopefully from outside it as well (like news and reviews)? Is someone already tasked with posting this content to your web site, blog, and social media sites? If so, it’s relatively easy to add a workflow to add images to Pinterest also. (It’s especially simple with the Pinterest bookmarklet already installed in a web browser). But it does take some time to set up, to post, and to monitor and engage on Pinterest, including extracting metrics about campaign performance. And it will take time away from other things your people could be doing.

If you want to participate in Pinterest on the scale of dozens of boards managed by Nordstrom or Whole Foods, you may need a full-time Pinterest manager. If you don’t have the resources to manage a lot of boards on Pinterest, then rely on unpaid volunteers (advocates)—yes, I’m talking about crowdsourcing again—to do the heavy lifting for you. Ideally one spends as little company time as possible on Pinterest while giving recognition to your advocates (customers, employees in their free time, and fans) who enjoy celebrating your brand on Pinterest.

The better practice is to host original visual content on your own web site or blog, then repost it to Pinterest (rather than uploading it for hosting by Pinterest), so that link traffic flows back to you from Pinterest. This turns your Pinterest investment into a source of qualified traffic which can drive conversions on your web site, whatever that may look like for your business.

And if you have a lot of sharable visual content on your site you should also provide Pinning (sharing) buttons on your site so that your visitors who are on Pinterest can post your images to their boards. This creates a virtuous circle, because as people discover your Pins, they’ll click through to discover your site. Then, while learning more about your business, they Pin your photos and their followers find your images, share them, visit your site, and share some more, and the cycle continues.

Of course here again retailers are the clear winners because fans of products can pin product photos directly from their online stores to Pinterest. If you’re a retailer with an online store, particularly with visually striking products, you need to be on Pinterest.

If you’re a small retailer, then you want to budget your time and think crowdsourcing until the return on your investment becomes clear. Establish clear expectations about how employee time is going to be distributed between various efforts and track metrics (like web traffic and conversions) attributable to each effort to see if your investment is justified.

Step 3: Measure Your Success on Pinterest In the Way That Best Fits Your Business

The most basic metric for success is to compare the value of traffic driven to your web site by Pinterest to that of other traffic sources, not just in volume but in “conversions” (purchases, newsletter signups, downloads, sales inquiries, etc.).

Retailers with online catalogs have the easiest time measuring ROI on Pinterest. Nordstom, for example, links directly from Pinterest to e-catalog pages where people can purchase what they saw in the picture they just clicked on. It’s a relatively simple matter to attribute sales to Pinterest traffic, and compare the revenue generated by Pinterest traffic to traffic generated by other marketing mechanisms.

Whole Foods is a retailer, but does not have an e-commerce site—you can’t order online, even if you click through to the Whole Foods site. So measuring success looks different. A survey comparing the annual spend per customer of Pinterest followers versus non Pinterest followers, or purchases of products compared to Pinterest traffic related to those products, might shed some light on the success of Pinterest efforts.

Pinterest is also an alternative to PR and advertising as a way to create awareness of products and initiatives. It can be used as a mechanism to reward partners, employees, and customers for their contributions. It can help reinforce a brand’s image as a trusted advisor and go-to resource by association with images its customers, employees, or partners want to see. The success of these Pinterest goals will be “measured” in the same way you would measure any other PR campaign, ad campaign, etc.

Finally, recognize that Pinterest is also a great way to stay connected with a brand’s fans. Whenever they see one of the brands images, it will evoke the “right” emotions to keep that connection going.

Conclusion: Once You Have a Plan, Start Pinning

Like all of marketing, treat Pinterest as an ongoing experiment. Try a few things, see how it works, adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to cut your Pinterest budget if you can’t justify it—leaving whatever crowd-sourced sharing you’ve managed to establish in place, of course. Finally, don’t be confused by glowing accounts of what amount to “one hit wonder” Pinterest success stories. These could be entirely random. (Look at this list of most popular shares from Spring 2012—would you have expected any of those? )

What are your favorite Pinterest strategies?

2 Replies to “The Three Things You Need For a Successful Pinterest Strategy”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s