Pinterest is attracting the attention of brands at home and abroad. Sarah Bush, the firm’s UK country manager, tells us what makes the digital pinboard such an intriguing prospect for start- ups on these fair shores
We’ve all heard it in recent years: any business that it isn’t on Facebook or Twitter is doomed. Of course, the opportunity that these social media platforms provide to brands can hardly be ignored. Not only do they offer a direct point of engagement with customers at home and aboard, but more than this, they put the business in front of an audience of billions.
However, whilst these two internet giants have attracted the bulk of the business world’s attention of late, another platform has started to receive significant recognition. Founded in San Francisco in 2009, virtual pinboard site Pinterest taps into an entirely different need than the social interaction offered by the afore-mentioned big guns. As is the case with the majority of modern tech start-ups, the idea for the site sprung from a young and intuitive mind. The firm’s co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann, from Iowa, spent his childhood engrossed in entomology, collecting all sorts of interesting insects. As he grew older, it occurred to him that here was an activity that hadn’t yet found its way into the digital world.
“Ben recognised that a lot of other people enjoyed collecting and that collecting and curating are very natural behaviours, but there wasn’t really somewhere you can do that online,” explains Sarah Bush, UK country manager for Pinterest.
“So in November 2009, he got together with two of his friends and they started working on the website that turned into Pinterest.”
Having been valued at $3.8bn last year – and raising $225m from its latest round of fundraising – it’s safe to say that Silbermann was onto something. This is merely reinforced by the fact that the company is yet to monetise itself. It is still in the ‘test stage’. Nevertheless, four years after its birth, Pinterest has now set its sights on Blighty, appointing Bush as country manager in September 2013. Part of her role is to make the service as relevant as possible for British pinners but spiking the interest of brands is also on the agenda.
Bush believes there is a lot at stake for businesses with a quality product, engaging content and ultimately, a life of their own. “It is not like other social networks that rely on you having a community of friends on that platform,” says Bush. “Pinterest is about collecting your interests, and brands can play just as big a part in that as individuals.”
She is also eager to point out that Pinterest is far more than the photo-sharing service that it is often made out to be. To all intents and purposes, this is how it began, but it has now evolved into a far more compelling proposition. In addition to letting users create ‘boards’ on anything from dream holidays to healthy breakfasts – and ‘pinning’ pages and images from anywhere on the web – it also offers consumers and brands alike an insight into the type of content that is proving popular at any point in time. As Bush explains, “whereas on Google you are seeing pages that have been indexed by technology, on Pinterest you are seeing content that has been indexed by people, and it gives you a totally different way to search and discover, which in turn leads to different ways to plan.”
Indeed, the very way in which Pinterest operates brings some tangible benefits to enterprises of all sizes. The ability to re-pin other users’ pins – many of which will be links to products or branded content – means the emphasis is ultimately on quality over quantity. “You don’t necessarily need to have as many followers on the platform to generate good scale and good reach across the community,” says Bush. “The community does the work for you. All you have to do is create generally inspiring and interesting content that will be picked up by the followers that you do have, as well as people who visit your website, and that will be pinned.”
Without a doubt, Pinterest is set up in such a way whereby small firms can prosper. Whilst moves to start charging for the services are rumoured to be in the pipeline, cash-strapped and time-poor start-ups have much to gain from the Pinterest phenomenon. “Content is evergreen. It is never removed,” adds Bush. “You don’t need to be creating as much content as you might do for other social platforms. For a small business that doesn’t have massive resources, that is obviously a great thing.”
And despite much of the control being in the hands of users, there is an extent to which brands can have some influence over proceedings. Not only are Promoted Pins being rolled out – this is where money could come into play – but the Rich Pins tool enables brands to include vital information inside a pin, whether that be the price of a product (for product pins), and author or publisher details (for article pins). By signing up to the Pinterest for Business service, brands can add a ‘Pin It’ button on their website and thus put themselves on the radar of pinners in the UK and further afield. Users who have pinned an item can also be notified should it happen to come down in price.
The Pinterest movement is still in its infancy on these shores but all the signs are positive. Of particular interest is the impact it is having in the offline world, with Bush citing the case of fashion retailer Topshop – which has added ‘most pinned’ labels to its in-store products – as a prime example. “There is definitely a correlation between pinning and offline behaviour,” she says.
One thing’s for sure: it’s an opportunity that business owners can ill-afford to ignore.
Lifting the mood
We Love This
Whilst brands from all sectors have something to gain from Pinterest, it is no coincidence that the creative sector is reaping a fair share of rewards. For Rebecca Marriott, co-founder of event and creative agency We Love This, it was total no-brainer to incorporate Pinterest into the business. “Pinterest is brilliant for us because it is a massive visual pool,” says Marriott. “When I used to do mood boards years ago, the only source of inspiration I could really get was Google, which made life pretty difficult.”
Designing and hosting events for the likes of Morrisons certainly takes some planning, but Pinterest has made the process all the more easier for We Love This. More than this, it has proven a highly-effective brand- building tool, offering Pinterest enthusiasts an insight into what We Love This is all about. “Being a creative agency, I think it is so important that you have a presence on Pinterest,” she explains. “When a prospective client is looking at our Pinterest boards, they automatically get an understanding of our style. Because it is not just focused on your work, but on the kind of things that you as an individual and company like, it is a much broader brush. I’d say it is more of a lifestyle, if anything.”
Marriott admits that she dabbles in Facebook and Twitter, but believes Pinterest is a much safer bet when it comes to establishing and maintaining a brand image. “As a small business, people automatically are buying into you as soon as they meet you,” she comments. “The thing that makes me feel nervous about Twitter and Facebook are that people can read different things into comments. You can look at Twitter sometimes and think ‘I can’t believe they’ve written that’ whereas with Pinterest, you are never going to provoke any unrest.”
Given her passion for the service, it will come as little surprise to learn that the We Love This website is currently being rebuilt with Pinterest at its core. Marriot explains: “I know already that Pinterest attracts clients just because of the boards that we produce on it, so I wanted it quite prevalent on the website as well.”