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Pinterest: The Value of the Visual Social Medium

When Brian Cohen walked by Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann at a New York University business plan competition in 2009, he abruptly said four words to the young entrepreneur: “You have 30 seconds.  Today he says, “I still feel pretty bad about it,” reflecting on his cliched investor behavior. No matter – within 15 seconds he had stopped Silbermann mid-pitch.  He didn’t care about the product anymore; he was backing the founder no matter what. According to Pinterest first investor, “This is what Facebook was supposed to be”.  But for some Pinterest was, and is still a mystery, a stand-in for, “Some buzzy new social media site that I keep hearing about but don’t have time to figure out.” Now that Pinterest has 20 million users and a weighty $3.8 billion valuation, Cohen’s instincts are looking pretty spot-on.

Pinterest, the social network that styles itself as a scrapbook, has seen its valuation soar by more than 50 percent in just eight months. Ben Silbermann, Pinterest co-founder and chief executive, said “We hope to be a service that everyone uses to inspire their future, whether that’s dinner tomorrow night, a vacation next summer, or a dream house someday”. The three-year-old company recently announced that it would start rolling out “promoted pin” adverts which appear in search results and category feeds. The site is already popular with some consumer brands as users often pin products they like and use it to compile wish lists of things they would like to buy.

With more than 70 million users, according to consumer insight firm Semiocast, Pinterest has become a valuable tool for many small businesses looking to drive sales or connect with potential clients. While Pinterest has a reputation as being heavy on female-friendly content, like women’s apparel or home decorating tips, experts say the platform has a lot to offer businesses of all kinds, from retailers to service providers. “Most small businesses are not doing a lot of ecommerce, but there’s still an SEO (or search engine optimization) value,” says Marketing Land and Search Engine Land editor Greg Sterling. By being active on the platform, Sterling says small businesses can improve their rankings on search engines like Google or Bing.

According to a Business Insider article Pinterest has emerged as a top platform for brands and e commerce sites to receive referral traffic back to their sites. It is the best social media platform for showcasing products and driving commerce, because of its focus on “things,” rather than relationships and messaging. Pinterest users are five times more likely to be women than men and also tend to be well-educated and have high income.”

Consumers engage with Pinterest for the quality of the pins relevant to their social agendas: redesigning their home, learning great recipes, or picking out a great vacation spot.  Engagement with Pinterest goes up as users are drawn into high quality and authentic experiences as described by their fellow “pinners.” If Pinterest trends towards becoming a digital catalog, it would lose its draw for users who are looking to mimic the authenticity of the events and designs they discover.  The move towards a digital catalog is a move away from being engaged on a social platform.

Even before the launch of official business boards on Pinterest, the social media team at Sony discovered how to use the platform to help launch new products. Because Pinterest users thrive on finding original images to repin, the Brand New Sony Products board quickly became a source of primary images geared toward gadget lovers. That board’s pins and repins drive measurable sales to Sony’s online store, while giving product managers a forum to interact with fans.

TOMS puts giving at the heart of its brand by donating shoes or sunglasses to people in need around the world. The company supported its holiday campaign with a pinboard that mixed photos of limited edition products with stories from TOMS employees and from recipients of donated goods. Over 24,000 followers participated in the promotion, positioning TOMS as a brand that lets you find collectible gifts that improve the lives of people you’ve never met.

Chobani hasn’t even been around for a decade, yet it already controls nearly a fifth of the American yogurt market. Taking on the establishment in a saturated market requires a deep knowledge of your target customer, which the company explores thoroughly on its Pinterest boards. Chobani’s social media team has gone on the record that they believe people prefer to “connect with people, not businesses.” By pinning interesting images and sparking compelling discussions, Chobani adds value for its followers. Watching those conversations unfold gives the company’s marketers vital insights that can shape future outreach efforts.

We can expect to see avid internet users everywhere shift more to the visual web, which is likely to result in an increased role for Pinterest in many product company’s digital marketing strategy.

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