From social platforms to brand advocacy
Pinterest is the first social network that appears to have the potential to directly drive sales, but retailers will need to know how to harness its users’ creative urges.
The next big thing in social networking seems to crop up with surprising regularity. From Twitter to FourSquare, the last few years have thrown up dozens of new services. But despite the fast pace of change and the warmth with which users greet some of these new networks, there’s not always great use to retailers in terms of direct sales.
This could be about to change, however. Pinterest, a pinboard-style image sharing website, has surprised brands and retailers with its ability to drive traffic directly to their sites. Not only has referral traffic to retail sites already topped that of Twitter, Pinterest’s own traffic has rocketed over the last six months. Most importantly, its premise means the site is better positioned for commerce than many existing social networks – including Facebook.
“It’s very product-oriented,” says Charles Nicholls, founder of online conversion consultancy SeeWhy. “It’s a bit more commercial in nature because you can drive traffic directly to your site.”
Retailers and brands in the US have noticed spikes of traffic if their products get picked up on Pinterest, and this is likely to keep happening if the site’s own growth continues. Pinterest’s US traffic rose 52% between January and February this year, from 11.7 million unique visitors in January to 17.8 million, according to market research company ComScore.
In the UK, growth is starting from a lower base, but unique visitors still grew nearly 200% between January and February to 727,000. Experian Hitwise director of research Robin Goad reports that 12% of Pinterest’s UK visitors click through to retail websites – already higher than Facebook’s 9% of users who do so.
Pinterest works by allowing users to collect and share images. They can create their own pinboards page using images from all over the web, and up to 80% of activity on Pinterest is a ‘repin’, according to Nicholls, where users re-post images from other people’s pages. This makes it possible to get a huge amount of traffic from images that capture the collective imagination.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest is organised around users’ interests and passions, with different categories for areas such as technology, food and fashion. This makes it easier to introduce the idea of purchasing than it is on Facebook, which users see as a personal space where they conduct their social lives. “It’s a huge opportunity,” says Mike Rowe, chief executive at social media agency 1000heads. “You are capturing people at a passion level, talking to them on a passion level as a brand, and that’s the first time that’s been possible. It’s really appealing to people’s interests, whereas Facebook is about your social life. Pinterest is about the things you care about, your hobbies, things you like to do.”
What to pin on the board?
So how should retailers use the site? Topics popular so far include weddings, fashion, cooking and home decoration, but almost any retailer could create a page that would work – the visual elements of everything from cycling and driving to camping and DIY can be adapted to work on the site.
What’s crucial is that it’s not all your own content. Pinboards need to be inspiring and draw people in. It is important to steer clear of looking as though you’ve simply uploaded your product catalogue. You need to create your own pinboards that provides interesting content. It’s not all about your own brand content. You also need to make all your own content available for people to pin. To do this, retailers can put a ‘pin it’ button, similar to a tweet button, on product pages and content.
This ability to connect with users directly – with products as the topic of discussion – is something some corporate users of Facebook or Twitter struggle to achieve. While Facebook certainly has the reach, with around 850 million members worldwide, selling on the network can prove challenging: customers view their Facebook feeds as their own personal space, and dislike being sold to. And while Twitter has been useful for customer service and for content distribution, it can only play a very indirect role in sales.
Clicks to buys
One unanswered question, however, is how high conversion rates are once all these users have clicked through to your site. There are as yet no figures indicating how many sales actually materialise. “It’s very early days,” says Nicholls. “Brands have only just realised it is a traffic source.” The best option for now is to have a presence and ensure content is engaging, inspiring and likely to catch someone’s eye.
Pinterest is flourishing – and is notoriously addictive, by all accounts – because it allows users to feel creative. Users describe the process of creating a pinboard as akin to designing their own magazine or creating a wish list of what they’d buy if money were no object, and it helps people generate and crystallise ideas. It might become a sales channel, but only for retailers that understand these driving forces and approach it with the aim of inspiring shoppers, not selling to them.