Is Pinterest a social media platform or an ecommerce opportunity?

We recently published episode 12 of our This Week In Organic show, looking into:

  • Will app content optimization become an essential part of SEO?
  • What’s the future of YouTube now that it’s part of a smaller Google?
  • Is Pinterest a social media platform or an e-commerce opportunity?
  • Are these the 7 Social Media Platforms That Could Explode Before 2016?

Today we’re zeroing in on one of the topics discussed in the episode: Is Pinterest a social media platform or an ecommerce opportunity?

Jump straight this topic in the video below:

[bctt tweet=”‘Pinterest is both a social network and an ecommerce platform.’ @lieblink”]


LAURENCE O’TOOLE: Is Pinterest a social media platform or an ecommerce opportunity? Apparently it has 2.5 million items that are now buyable. Does this change what Pinterest is about and make it into a different type of network? What’s its future and what should businesses be doing and considering from a marketing perspective? Should Pinterest be part of its strategy? Rebecca, you were very eager to jump in there, so why don’t you take it away? What actionable advice can you give for people around Pinterest?

REBECCA LIEB: Well I wanted to answer your either/or question with a ‘yes’ because the answer is very clearly yes – it’s both a social network and an ecommerce platform. And Pinterest has made very definitive moves in that direction just over the last three to four months. I’ve been privileged to work with Pinterest on this to a limited extent.


REBECCA LIEB: I was their keynote in their event when they invited developers in because they finally made that move in social maturity when you open up your API. And when you open up your API to other developers, you’re creating new possibilities. In Pinterest’s case there is obviously an enormous commerce potential there. There’s an enormous potential for native advertising, a term that Pinterest itself doesn’t like, but that’s frankly what it is. And Pinterest is a place where people go to consider purchases, to aspire to purchases, very lifestyle-centric kind of social media play.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: That’s what I was going to ask you. What kind of products are we seeing sold on Pinterest? What do you think is going to go well in terms of the buyable pins there?

REBECCA LIEB: So very anecdotally, what I see Pinterest using, what I understand when I talk to Pinterest executives is it’s projects. And a project might be a redecorating project. Lots and lots of people are using it for home remodelling, home redecorating projects. In fact, that was a very early indicator. Pinterest has still got an overwhelmingly female audience but that’s changing very, very rapidly. It’s almost gone the opposite way of most new internet platforms, which first have a predominantly male audience and then the chicks catch up. Pinterest is maybe the one example I can think of that’s gone the other way.

People are also planning vacations on Pinterest. So if they’re going to climb a mountain or hike the Appalachian Trail or scale Kilimanjaro, they’re planning what gear they need, what they need to buy, what equipment is necessary. They’re also doing this for sports projects.

So this could be quite an accumulation of brands and of merchandise and I’m seeing brands get in there with very aspirational buys and it’s a natural for anyone selling home remodelling stuff. Bill, this goes back to your Corian countertops. But also brands like REI, who might be selling sporting equipment and outdoors gear.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: Perfect. Okay. And so in terms of if I’m a brand and I’m interested in getting some of my content out there, should I be approaching these Pinterest users who are building these boards and a bit like the old-fashioned link-building technique, trying to get them to place some of my imagery in there and include me as part of their boards? I mean, should brands take advantage of the audience there and their purchasing power?

REBECCA LIEB: Well Pinterest would certainly like to partner with you and have you advertise or at least advertise in a very content-centred native way on the platform. But brands might do well to first experimentally dip their toes in the water, so to speak, and have very conversational, social, content-driven channels on Pinterest to drive interest and to see what kind of content on Pinterest might be resonating with their target user or users.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: Okay, perfect. So it’s interesting that you’ve got a slight sort of insider view from having done a little bit of work with them. What about yourself, Bill? Have you done much work on Pinterest with your clients? So have you got any practical advice for people out there?

BILL HUNT: Yeah, I mean it goes back to my point earlier about findability and as Rebecca was saying with the travel, I’ll just give you a personal example. We’re basically taking the family to scuba dive in Bali in November and both kids, the first place they went to see, ‘What should I see in Bali?’ went to Pinterest and started themes on temples in Bali or beaches in Bali and you could see the pictures. And then the pictures they could click through and get more information. And that was an interesting thing. And so I looked to see, could any of these travel companies…and there were a few that were actually putting out brilliant content to let people see what they could do.

Things that I’ve done, again going back to Absolut drinks, what we find is the ‘What’s New’ area, and I think Rebecca’s example about REI or any sports outfitter, as you have new gear for specific verticals, whether it’s climbing or hiking, introducing it there, I think that’s a fair place to do it because you’re putting it out in a ‘What’s New’ category. And we do that with drinks so that people can see it. Now we let this sort of ecosystem take over. You’ll have people that are looking for content, so you’ll get a blogger or you’ll get somebody that’s sort of an influencer and Pinterest will see it, they’ll take it and they’ll distribute it.

Other big things that we don’t see a lot of retailers necessarily having the panic button on product pages, and that’s where again, especially in some of these areas like travel or sports and especially in interior design and weddings is another big one we see, and so if you have content, just simply putting the pin where people can pin it and go out there.

We’ve found that if you start really sort of pimping stuff to people and you do it outside of that community scenario, you’re just simply, blatantly promoting it, we find a lot of people don’t like that. And the success ratio of getting someone to propagate your content is very low.

So again I think if you step back and think, ‘We’ve got a new product launch,’ or ‘We can go in and mine that data and see that there’s a lot of projects that are for…’ whatever it is, sort of a trek, Kilimanjaro. We used it before we went to Africa to see what were some of the sort of insect-proof clothing and stuff like that. And what we found was a very mixed bag of things. So I think hitting influencers, giving people the opportunity to push it there.

And now it’s good to see that they’re actually trying to be able to monetise that. Can people click through and buy a bottle of Absolut Citron or can they click through to REI and buy some lightweight pack or something for a particular type of trip that someone has posted there? So I think it’s only going to grow and as a lot of people are starting to be conditioned to visually see things, I think that they’ve got an amazing opportunity for businesses that do it the right way.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: So that sort of ties into the content marketing strategy stuff we talked around with video earlier. You’ve done your homework, you’ve done your audience research. What are my audience looking for? What kind of topics? What interests them? How practically can I help them with the expertise I’ve got? And you do that once and that serves you well for Pinterest, it serves you well for your SEO strategy, serves you well for your video marketing strategy. So for me, that’s where I can see all these things gelling together and obviously the marketeers or the decision-maker, the CEOs decision as to how much they allocate to each channel is obviously a challenge and I’m sure it will vary from business to business.

But in terms of Pinterest, I wonder…I asked the question about perhaps paid links. We’re in the SEO industry for a while. There’s been a lot of paid links bought over the years. Obviously we’ve never bought any ourselves but do you see…you know, you see people on YouTube now becoming producers and earning money. Do you see that could potentially be an avenue for people producing content professionally for companies on Pinterest if they’re not doing it already and making money, or people paying for product placement that’s not obvious to consumers? Is that an avenue that you think might happen organically or Pinterest might promote, even?

BILL HUNT: I think absolutely. I think back to Rebecca’s point. Especially in interior design. Imagine there’s a designer, especially an emerging designer. You look at all these YouTube stars and most of them were just people that simply sat down in front of their computer with a digital camera or even their iPhone and started producing stuff. And people like either their slant on it or whatever. So imagine if you’re an emerging designer and you are sort of speccing out someone’s house. It’s one of these things where even before you go into a pitch, why couldn’t you assemble things there on Pinterest and maybe use that as a crowd-sourcing way to tell this potential client what people liked in there? I think it’s there. Again, I think businesses don’t think this way. And you made the point of if we aggregate this data, you know, we should aggregate what’s been pinned in Pinterest, what type of videos are out there in YouTube. But unfortunately many companies don’t. We actually call this the voice of the consumer. So it’s not keyword research but it’s looking at all of these digital signals, conversational mining and social media.

But the answer to the question, I do think it’s going to start to emerge once people pick up and this drink’s case, for example, there’s a friend of mine whose husband is an emerging mixologist and then she was doing Pinterest at a Fortune 500 company and basically she started to help show him how to use Pinterest so that he could create these interesting and exotic drinks. And I know a couple of these drinks companies have actually brought him in as a result of what they saw that he produced on Pinterest.

So I do think it’s there, I just don’t think there’s enough of outsiders monetising it like you can in YouTube, you know? The whole sort of backlash we just had on Kim Kardashian pimping some pregnancy or some morning sickness drug. I think too many brands want that and too many brands aren’t thinking… I think it’s like your deli. Do you have a customer who comes in every morning or comes in every afternoon, has a coffee and one of your pastries and maybe they take a quick picture on their mobile phone? Giving that person a free pastry or something and let them sort of put it up on the channel makes them sort of your evangelist. Those are the kind of things that I think are going to start to happen.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: Interesting. That’s really interesting.

REBECCA LIEB: Yeah, I’d also like to add to that that what we’re seeing and what my research and analysis is bearing out is that content is incontrovertibly becoming more visual and more audiovisual. And that’s what we’ve been talking about here today in terms of talking about both Pinterest and talking about YouTube.

The other way that content is going, and the other place that SMOs and SVP marketing and heads of digital are trying to align their content is with mobile because increasingly we’re using devices that travel, not devices that are chained to our desktops. And we’ve seen very important social platforms like Instagram pop up. We’ve seen Facebook redesigned twice and do so over a preponderance of images and videos and lessen the amount of text that’s happening. SEO is a very text-reliant way of marketing. But SEOs are going to have to increasingly optimise images and video in order to stay competitive because on smaller screens, pictures are worth the proverbial 2,000 words or 100 words.

So it’s important to just look at the broader picture when we’re talking about Pinterest, when we’re talking about YouTube, and realise everything’s going in this direction. Nobody wants to read War and Peace on their watch.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: No, sure. And just on that point, we’ve obviously talked about a lot of topics today and again, Pinterest could probably be another show in its own right. You mentioned earlier about APIs. Are you seeing anything? Can you point to any interesting apps that have mashed up other data from other sources to give people the best of maybe directory data and Pinterest images for these local projects? Is there anything that’s worth mentioning there?

REBECCA LIEB: You know there’s very little these days that doesn’t have an API. I just did a survey of the content marketing landscape. This was about 200 different software providers. I identified eight different workflow scenarios in terms of content marketing. There was literally not a single tool out there that didn’t have APIs because no software, no tool, no platform lives in a vacuum. You need to integrate everything with web analytics, perhaps with a CRM system, with your search platform if you’re using one, with other marketing cloud applications. So everything is a link in a much, much bigger chain, much as the internet is this network of interconnected sites and information, so too now is the software landscape and the tools that help us to get there and to leverage this amazing platform out there.

LAURENCE O’TOOLE: Okay, perfect. Well we’ll certainly endorse that. We spend a lot of time building and developing APIs, so certainly you can’t get by on your own. It’s an integrated world out there and you need integrated marketing campaigns to take your business, whether it’s a business enterprise or a local deli or a software company, to the next level.

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