Pinterest: Three golden rules

There’s no two ways about it. Amongst the plethora of social media sites trying to enter the mainstream, Pinterest is the latest one to break through and the one sparking the most (p)interest (erg) amongst bloggers and marketers alike. A platform where users can find, bookmark and share content across a range of topics, brands are now looking to figure out how they can (and should) be using it for their business.

There are a number of blogs out there which have already done their round-up of important tips, including Mashable (a general guide for users) and Social Media Examiner (specifically for businesses) – both good reads. In my view, the three most important things to remember are:

1)      Use it yourself

This is the number one most important thing about any social medium, let alone Pinterest. As with all new things, there are a lot of people out there questioning the value of Pinterest. To those I say: remember how we all used to feel about Twitter. While the odd person continues to complain that Twitter is just for telling everyone what you had for breakfast, rarely have these people ever actually used it. Similarly with Pinterest, to someone who has only read about it/ had a cursory glance it may appear as nothing more than an accumulation of slightly whimsical wedding ideas with the odd internet meme thrown in. Dig a little deeper and you will find a space where people curate their own content across range of interests – be it feminism, food, charities or political causes (the current Kony 2012 campaign is everywhere). And just like with Twitter and Facebook, the more you use it, the more you get out of it. Even early adopters of Twitter took a while to get into it. These things take time and if you invest a bit into them I promise you it will be worth it (a bit like the Wire, or Mad Men). More importantly, using it will help you see how other people use it, which leads me to my next point…

2)      Inspire, don’t sell

This has been said on every post anywhere about Pinterest but it is so important that I must say it again. On realising the wish-list quality of users’ boards it is tempting to immediately see Pinterest as an opportunity to show off your brand’s products. But to do this is to misunderstand how people are using it. We should all know by now (but perhaps some of us need reminding now and then…) that the key to all social is content. The easiest way to understand this is to think how you personally use Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest as a consumer. You look for people who are posting awesome things about topics of interest to you – let’s face it, the only reasons other than content that any of us follow or like a brand is (1) for free stuff or (2) because we work on them. Why would you follow a brand that only pins their products, unless you are already an avid fan? Look at Bergdof Goodman or West Elm for great examples of brands that could easily have gone down the shop route but instead opted for a variety of style inspiration boards. You can follow the whole lot or just pick specific trends/ styles that interest/ inspire you. Similarly Whole Foods Market is inspirational to any foodie without being overtly sales-y. At the end of the day, we don’t use Facebook or Twitter as a shop, why the temptation with Pinterest? Especially when one of their rules is to ‘avoid self-promotion’.

Bergdof Goodman creates trend-specific boards for inspiration

3)      Use it for insight

Given a large part of what I do in my job revolves around audience insight, one of the most interesting potential benefits to me comes from Lauren Drell’s suggestion that once you have built a base of followers you use this as a way to gain qualitative insight into your audience. On one level you can easily learn about how they are repinning/ liking your own content, to find out whether you’re seen as inspirational, funny or a bit of a joke.  On the next level, it’s also relatively straightforward to have a look at who or what your followers also follow, as well as at their own boards to see what interests they have outside of your specific category. In this way you can gain a deeper understanding of who your audience is, in a way that is perhaps more ‘natural’ than a survey or group. You can widen this out to not just your followers but any followers of a particular category or topic, as suggested by  Grant McCracken who sees this is a method of understanding how people map things in a way which is ‘more telling than language’.

Pinterest is no longer just a place to plan a wedding or share a recipe. In the States the numbers are growing fast and the UK is catching on too. With Facebook’s new pages encouraging brands to go more visual, this is the way people are sharing content. Other manifestations of this trend – such as the rise of infographics and people tweeting pictures instead of written updates – demonstrate that the majority of people prefer a visual communications style – this is also why Pinterest is so captivating. If you haven’t been on yet, give it a look. But beware, it’s addictive. So much so that I am finding it difficult to finish writing this blog as I will no longer have an excuse to sit on it all day.

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