By now you have no doubt heard about Pinterest, the virtual "pin" board (aka online scrapbook) that is the current social media darling. Pinterest is the fastest growing social network and has been driving more traffic to online publishers (i.e., stores or brands) than Twitter or LinkedIn or Google+ the past few months—and Pinterest has become the go-to site for women aged 25-34. Pinterest wasn't designed to be a business tool (with Pinterest stating the site should not be used for self-promotion), but that hasn't stopped retailers and businesses with a visual bent from setting up shop there.
To help you determine if Pinterest is right for your business and learn how best to use the social media tool to drive traffic to your site or store, CIO.com surveyed Pinterest pros and came up with 14 ways to make your business pinteresting.
1. Decide if Pinterest and your brand are a match. "Before you take a dive into the newest time suck available on the Internet, it's important to determine your brand's compatibility with the platform," says Heather Sundell, marketing manager at The Search Agency, an integrated search and marketing agency. "Is your brand visual? Pinterest is about things that look good. So if you don't have a visually appealing product you'll have a challenging time and may find it hard to gain traction," she warns. Sundell also advises businesses to take a hard look at their marketing resources, "since building and maintaining a new social presence takes time and manpower. If your resources are already stretched to capacity, it might not be worth the effort or right time to start a Pinterest campaign."
2. Get invited. Pinterest is currently invite-only. Though wrangling an invitation is pretty easy. Either ask someone you know who is already on Pinterest to send you an invite or request an invite via the site.
3. Get pinned. Be sure to add a "Pin It" button to your product pages, so visitors and customers can pin your products onto Pinterest. In addition, add a Pinterest "follow" button to your website, alongside your buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Finally, install a "Pin It" button on your browser (or the browser on the computer of the person or people who will be in charge of Pinterest for your organization), in the bookmarks toolbar so you can easily "pin" images. Note: All buttons can be found on the Pinterest Goodies page and are easy to install.
4. Know what your customers are looking for and create boards accordingly. "Create boards that fit with the lifestyle that your customer wants—and pin lots of images that fit that lifestyle, not just your own products/images," says Amanda Cook, director,VSF Wellness. By creating boards that are about the lifestyle or interests of those using your brand, as opposed to just your products, "your customers will see that you understand [them]."
5. Categorize your boards. "If you categorize each page [or pin], more people will see your pins—and if more people become interested in what you are posting, you will get more followers," says Sam Delijani, owner of the online jewelry and diamond store DeBebians , whose Pinterest site has become one of the store's top referrers, exceeding Facebook. For example, "I've seen that a lot of people are posting wedding things, but not categorizing the page under Wedding & Events. That's not smart."
6. Tell a story. Make sure "each board is themed and tells a story about the mood and personality of [your] products," says Cathe Huynh-Sison, creative director, Feterie, a modern stationery store, who pins on both Feterie's Pinterest account and via a personal Pinterest account—and says that since being on Pinterest, Feterie has seen a 30-40 percent surge in traffic. "We support the [Feterie] story with complimentary pins from other sources to create an entire vision. Your boards should not be just about your products, because it's then just an advertisement and a major turn off for consumers. The same rule-of-thumb applies to descriptions of each pin from your website."
7. Create content just for Pinterest. "Why should I follow your business [on Pinterest] if I can see the same thing on Facebook?" argues Annalise Kaylor, director of social media, Intrapromote LLC , a search specialist agency. "Give your audience a reason to follow you in a new channel."
8. Make sure that your images are "Pinteresting." "Well-lit, interesting compositions and vibrant imagery is sure to catch the eye," says Phil Rampulla, founder, The Material Group, an interactive design and development studio. He also advises using "a vertical composition as [Pinterest's] current browsing layout gives vertical images more real estate."
"I think photography is the number one thing to get noticed and get your items pinned and repined on Pinterest," agrees Beth Quinn, owner Beth Quinn Designs, LLC . "Eye-popping photos will spark more interest—and by using props and making sure that the photos are very pretty and aesthetically pleasing, people are more likely to repin your items" - something Quinn knows all about as her beautifully photographed "be passionate, be fearless, be strong" charm necklace recently generated 1,500 repins and 400 likes on Pinterest, causing traffic on her website to spike dramatically and orders to stream in.
9. Make sure that you include your URL. Similarly, include the name and prices of items in the description, as well as key words, "as it helps with SEO and the information is there for those customers ready to buy," says Jayne Drew, managing partner, Smashing Golf & Tennis, a ladies golf & apparel company that uses Pinterest as part of its social media marketing plan (see http://pinterest.com/smashingonline/) and has experienced good results. That said, "selling should be subtle on Pinterest, as& it turns off users if the advertising is obvious."
10. Be a good member of the Pinterest community. Be sure to follow, like and repin others. "Like other social networks, your Pinterest account will grow and thrive with continued engagement," notes Kaylor. So it's important to follow your prospective and existing customers—and like and repin images that fit in with your brand and image.
"The absolute MUST for any brand or retailer using Pinterest is to become a part of the community," adds Sherrod DeGrippo, proprietor, Blue Key Studio, a home decor store. Pinterest should not "be used as simply a marketing tool where a vendor posts all their items for sale and then leaves," he cautions. "The community on Pinterest is smart and savvy. They know marketing when they see it, and if it doesn't otherwise add value, they will write you off." That's why Blue Key Studio has a variety of boards, not just focusing on home decor, but on food, fashion and other things that their followers might like. "Our Dogs and Decor board is a great example. It combines two things I really love: great interior design and canines."
11. Get your employees involved. "Make sure your staff has Pinterest accounts and engage with it," says Zak Edwards, CEO, PrezzyBox , a U.K.-based online gift store that has successfully been using Pinterest. And "make sure they pin/repin your images."
12. Time your pins to appear when your customers are most likely to be online, typically lunchtime, near the end of the business day, and before bedtime (though this can be difficult to do if you have customers in several time zones or a multinational audience).
13. Share data. "Though everyone is writing about Pinterest for retail and fashion, it's a great place to share data in the form of charts and infographics," says Katherine Leonard, digital content developer, lonelybrand , a digital marketing company. "As a B2B marketing firm we share our data on Pinterest via several hyper-specific boards that people can visit for the numbers they need on a given topic, like 2012 Tumblr Data or 2012 Marketing Budgets.
"One of our boards, entitled PR & Ad Agencies on the Web, serves as a hub for any data we have on that topic," she says. "Each chart is branded with our company name, website and the title of our research study, and also links back to a related blog post on our site." Lonelybrand also shares content from around the web (not just their own content), and Leonard says Pinterest has been an efficient way to organize and share data.
14. Find out who's pinning your images—and what your competitors and their customers are pinning. "All businesses should be using Pinterest for competitive intelligence, to see not only what their competitors are pinning but what users are pinning from their competitors' sites," argues Tricia Meyer, a marketing consultant specializing in affiliate marketing who runs MeyerTech, LLC. To find out who's pinning who, simply type "http://pinterest.com/source/WEBSITEURL/" (inserting the URL of the website you want to investigate where it says "WEBSITEURL") into your browser.
Have a Pinterest tip for businesses that we didn't include? Leave a comment.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.