As social media increasingly becomes a vital part of a brand's communication mix, let the Facebooks and Twitters of the world be; Pinterest is steadily moving up the popularity charts among users. But the big question remains the same - how can brands use it.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, the social media world has surely been buzzing in the last few years. And, with continuous reinvention of these platforms, the opportunities social networking is offering to communication strategists have only been increasing. Amidst this, the social media world has pulled yet another bunny out of its hat, called Pinterest, which has been making waves around the world, particularly in India over the last few months.
The online scrapbook
Launched a little over a couple of years ago in the US, Pinterest enables users to 'pin' images and other media content that interests them on their categorised online pinboards. With the concept of 're-pin', the pinned images go viral on the network.
According to available data, Pinterest, has grown four times in size in the 10 months. As of April 2012, the site has touched the 20 million unique visitors mark, from five million in May, 2011 (with 4.5 per cent of the user base being from India). While this may seem paltry compared to Facebook's 46 million users in India and 900 million globally, what is interesting is the rapid shooting up of the number of Pinterest users beginning 2011 end. Roughly around the same time that Pinterest integrated Facebook Open Graph, its daily user base rose sharply with the new Application Programming Interface (API) allowing Pinterest to scale up the shareability of its content.
"Every Facebook activity has a viral impact; the activity appears on the ticker of your friends, it appears on yours friends' news feeds and your own Timeline. Integrating Open Graph, Pinterest used all three very effectively. The key thing? Your Pinterest activity becomes a permanent one on your Timeline, there for everyone to see and experience for themselves," says Venkky.
Rajiv Dingra, founder and chief executive officer, WATConsult, too, shares his enthusiasm about the platform."Visual content is getting more prominent and is being showcased in an interesting manner these days. Unique platforms that require less effort (by the user) and have more potential to share content are gaining ground. When it comes to Pinterest, looking at my pinboards tells you about my interests. Content discovery is getting more interesting," Dingra says.
"Photographs on Facebook are usually personal. There was a space where interest-led pictures were empty. That is the space Pinterest is operating in," he adds.
So how can Pinterest be useful for the Indian marketer? A simple answer would be findings of numerous global reports that suggest how Pinterest is increasingly driving more referral traffic than most other social networking sites, particularly in the e-commerce space. A mean achievement, one would think, considering it is probably the newest kid on the block.
Another unique aspect about Pinterest is how it is more popular among the fairer sex. Brands targeting women may want to pay some attention, hence.
Venkky safely puts the ratio to be at 80:20 in favour of women.
He explains this fact simply, saying, "Women have forever maintained scrapbooks. They are extremely social. They tend to collect things, maybe much more than men. They are usually the ones to maintain physical photo albums, and recipe books filled with varied recipes collected from various sources. Pinterest combines the idea of personal collection and the art of scrapbooking, making it very interesting to them."
Dingra of WATConsult sees Pinterest to be interesting for brands, with its potential to create demand.
"Pinterest is an interesting space for brands because they might not even have to go to the consumers directly (with users pinning and then re-pinning interesting content themselves). For brands, it is both a platform to showcase as well as get prospective customers. It is a demand-creating platform. Buying decisions could be influenced by pinboards and could easily translate into offline behaviour," notes Dingra.
While brands not only in India but globally are still experimenting with Pinterest, there are case studies of brands overseas such as e-commerce players Fab.com and Etsy, furniture and houseware retailer west elm, and US-based food supermarket chain Whole Foods Market, among others, that have used the platform well.
Kotex, for example, ran a campaign called 'Woman's Inspiration Day' in Israel, wherein 50 'influential' Pinterest users were identified. Handcrafted gifts were made for them based on their Pinterest boards that revealed their interests. With surprised users pinning images of the gifts across social networking sites, the campaign fetched 694,853 total impressions from the 50 gift kits that were sent.
Closer home, Web18, the internet and mobile arm of Network18, while not betting aggressively on Pinterest yet, is not shying away either.
Mithun Kidambi, manager, social media strategy, marketing and communities, Web18 tells afaqs! of two brands - Firstpost.com and IBNLive.
During the recent UP elections, high-resolution images of the day-to-day events were posted on Firstpost's Pinterest page. On the IBNLive page, photos of the day are posted according to each vertical that it operates in (such as sports, politics and entertainment). Of course, the story does not end with a mere picture. Each image carries story links that direct the user to the respective website.
"We do not count mere followers of our pages as response to our activity on the platform because it does not depend on just that. Users who do not follow Firstpost or IBNLive also re-pin content," says Kidambi.
He adds that "very soon", In.com, a portal from Web18, will also be present on Pinterest.
Creative experts speak
Surely, marketers need a push, a recommendation from their creative partners as well. Creative agencies, too, are beginning to identify the available potential in Pinterest but are quick to point that mere presence will not be enough; the activities must be engaging.
"With relevant images, even a brand catalogue is worth sharing if the brand essence comes out. The fact that a brand is taking the effort creates a better bond," he adds.
According to Kansal, the timing for Pinterest has been spot on, with the virtual world becoming increasingly visual. Technology, too, is making it easier for users to click, post and share better quality images online. And the simple interface makes the interaction even easier.
Karl Gomes, co-founder, AgencyDigi, says, "Unlike Flikr (an image and video-hosting website), not everybody creates content on Pinterest. That is where it works. A lot of people just re-pin. Any or every brand can be present on Pinterest."
He opines that it is not just about selling products but engaging with a ready consumer base that is already present on a platform.
"The good thing is people are pinning things they like, irrespective of a brand's presence. It is a good thing to watch for now - to drive an idea and opportunity. The more people use it, the bigger the idea will get. Today, you need evangelists of the brand. Not all brands can fight their own battles. They will need the consumer to shape perspectives. Brands will have to be present at any available platform because if they do not steer the conversation there, somebody else sure will," Gomes says.
The way forward
While all agree that it is still early days for Pinterest and brands are still testing waters, the key forward would be innovations by the platform.
"If innovations (a la Facebook and Twitter) do not happen, sites like this will enter what I call the 'floopy zone'. You cannot just pull the plug. If you have to be a serious social player, you have to be looking at 100 million plus active users," says Venkky.
He also thinks the absence of a monetisation model could prove to be a problem.
Web18's Kidambi says, "The way forward is what you will do differently with Pinterest. It is still in experimental stages for us. And we are not planning to assign spends on it immediately. We are not waiting for the platform to mature to be present on it, but grow alongside."
Clearly, it is a circle where one probably cannot survive without the other. While Pinterest will be required to continuously reinvent itself and offer differentiators, brands cannot be on the sidelines waiting for the platform to throw up newer opportunities for innovation, either.