The launch of another social community can often cause brands to flock around it like pigeons to a breadcrumb. They want to know the next new thing and feel they must "be there" in order to be relevant.
But Pinterest isn't just another social community. It's an inspiration hub.
Pinterest brings the fun of window shopping, watching an episode of "House Hunters," and flipping through a travel magazine all into one experience. So it's no wonder the average time spent there is over an hour per visit.
Pinterest is aspirational. While Facebook is all about me -- where I am and what I'm doing -- Pinterest is the place where we can share who we want to be, what we want to do, or where we want to go. Those are powerful insights that brands can leverage.
We recently completed a study on human sociability -- called Project Butterfly -- to understand what makes people truly sociable and what brands can learn from those behaviors. One of the most notable markers of sociable people is that they're not only interesting people -- they're interested in others. They're listeners almost as much as they are conversationalists. It's this notion of being both interesting and interested, combined with the fact that people are using Pinterest to imagine, that can lead to smarter and more valuable uses for Pinterest.
Consider these opportunities that your brand might be overlooking.
A lot of people have already written about how brands should be posting content about lifestyle, not just using Pinterest as a product catalog. But just posting pictures about things from other categories relevant to your audience's life doesn't really make the most of Pinterest either.
When thinking about all of your content, ask these questions: Could this give people an interesting idea? Does it give them a reason to share?
People are looking for inspiration. They don't just want to look at pictures; they want to think about what they could do with things. Whole Foods and West Elm are constantly used as poster children for brands that are doing this right. Whole Foods gives people ideas on how to play and have fun with food -- not just eat healthier. West Elm gives people a lot of ideas on how to use and apply different design trends.
Think about what you're posting and whether it gives people ideas about what they could do -- and how they could bring content together in new ways. Your ability to inspire people to action makes you more interesting in their eyes.
Share your culture, not just your product
People want to interact with other people. It's why people are increasingly looking to buy local for food and why sites like Etsy have such a tribal following. We want to buy from other people, not just a company.
Pinterest allows brands to show who they are, not just what they offer. It's a chance to give people a look into their culture and meet the people who make it all happen.
The "Today Show" has a board dedicated to Anchor Antics. It's a chance for people to see the anchors as just that -- people. And, it's an opportunity to gain access to a part of that brand most people couldn't experience first-hand.
Obama's campaign has created boards dedicated to his family lifestyle and his interests -- not just politics. I'm surprised a company like Zappos hasn't taken advantage of Pinterest in this way yet. It has talked a lot about how culture is a big part of its secret sauce. This would be a great place for people to see it in action.
Annie's Homegrown has a board that's just about things that make people at the company laugh. It shows personality. It says they're human. And that's a good thing.
Flatter your audience
Show your audience that you're interested in them. It's funny to me how we've established best practices in places like Facebook that tell brands to ask questions to build engagement, but rarely does the brand show it's listening to the response.
Your success in Pinterest also relies on your ability to show you're interested in what others are doing -- not just in what you're posting. And hey, doesn't flattery get you everywhere?
In all seriousness, at the simplest level, re-pin content from people who are following you and tell them why you're re-pinning it. Does it give you an idea? Did you think it was a cool use for something? Does it maybe even inspire you about a new product idea?
You can take that further too. Ask people to build your boards with you. Ask them to pin pictures of themselves using your brand and re-pin those on a special board that acknowledges them. Whether you run it as a contest or just publicize the fact that you want to hear from them, let people know you're listening and that you value them as people and content contributors.
Influence the influencers
This tip builds on the one above. But don't stop at just flattering your users. Flatter those you would love to flatter you -- your influencers. See what the most influential bloggers in your space are pinning and re-pinning. Don't just wait for them to find you. Show them you're interested in what they have to say about other things as well. Show them you're listening. They just might start following you a little more closely.
Embrace Pinterest as a living, breathing ethnography
Sam Gosling wrote a great book, "Snoop," that demonstrates how the things we own and the way we arrange them say so much about us -- even more so than our most intimate conversations. In fact, we've used that methodology in a lot of research projects to better understand -- and empathize with -- audiences. Pinterest allows you to do that in real time, at scale -- constantly.
Go follow the people who follow you. See what else they do. What other brands are they into? What else interests them? What doesn't? What do they wish they were doing?
Your participation in Pinterest is a research project. It's an opportunity to learn things about your customers you've always wanted to know. You'll understand their lifestyles, not just buying styles. You'll understand them as people. And it just might shed some new light on how your brand could be connecting with them in new and different ways.
Use it for some down-and-dirty R&D
Pinterest really is a community all about what people want. People are constantly pinning things they're interested in -- things they wish they had. Brands can benefit from that sense of imagination.
Take some rough product ideas and see what your followers think of them. Or ask them for their input on what they think you should be creating. A design company in Portland, Yala, asks people to upload pictures of designs or items they would like to see produced.
But even the smallest things could give you new product ideas. Maybe your audience is really into dogs. Is there a product extension that could tap into that passion? For a fashion company, maybe that's dog-wear. For an airline, maybe that's a new "product" designed to take care of travelers' pets or help them fly in style.
What if car companies asked about people's favorite features of their car to understand the features that have emotional attachment? Given that a large majority of Pinterest users have household incomes of less than $75,000, what if financial services companies were inspired to create new types of products that could help their customers attain those things on their wish list?
Pinterest is all about inspiration. And that can lead to innovation.
Britt Peterson is director of growth strategy at Cole & Weber United.
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