Nearly two years after its initial launch, Pinterest still has its share of skeptics within the media industry. They have resisted invites to check out the site and snickered at the idea of a virtual bulletin board built using simply visuals. Yet, in recent months, the female population has enthusiastically welcomed the social media platform with open arms. Whether they are pinning what they are having for dinner tonight or where they would like to go on vacation someday, Pinterest has made quite an impression thus far.
People seem to be getting a buzz purely from the buzz surrounding Pinterest, and so are a number of today's most well-known brands. In fact, an onslaught of brands are flocking to the site to set up their boards and attempt to find their place within this new social medium.
Although Pinterest might be the perfect home for some visual-centric brands, it's going to be a tough sell for others. And at this point, Pinterest still seems to be missing some essential components that would ultimately make it more attractive to a wider variety of brands. Let's take a look at some of the platform's current limitations for marketers.
Lack of track record
"It's amazing...there has never been something like it," recently gushed one brand executive about the Pinterest platform.
But let's take it slow. Indeed, the popular social network Pinterest is in the process of stepping up its game, and countless more brands have begun taking notice. Launched in 2010, Pinterest thrives on photographs traveling fluidly throughout the social media stratosphere. Based in San Francisco, Pinterest is now the third-most popular social network after longtime favorites Facebook and Twitter. Gathering together a community of visual collectors, Pinterest is now available on Android devices and the iPad and has worked hard to improve its popular iPhone app.
These are all steps in the right direction.
Yet, despite all these positive signs pointing toward its future success, there are question marks for brands when it comes to exactly how they plan to use it within their overall social media plan.
"As an industry, I don't think we have fully grasped what we are going to use it for," says Shane Ginsberg, SVP of corporate development at Organic. "It has a very narrowly defined demographic, mostly women in the United States. Despite the hype effect it's currently going through, it still inherently and should be driven by users, not brands. We have seen this movie so many times -- remember Second Life? Let's never confuse evaluation hype with brand utility."
Ginsberg has a point. Didn't we learn our lesson? Didn't we learn that there are places for brands to flourish and places where they just don't belong? Perhaps. Yet, marketers recognize Pinterest's buzz and the ease with which one can hop on the bandwagon.
Indeed, certain brands have found a home and truly established their voices on Pinterest. "There is no doubt that Pinterest has struck a chord since it was launched, but it's important to remember that Pinterest does not exist to help brands," says Paul Pierson, partner and design director at Carbone Smolan Agency. "Brands are seeing a vibrant community, and they want to connect with it. If brands want to tap into that community, they need to tap into the culture of Pinterest."
Lack of limitations
Pinterest is addictive. Whether you are a thriving visual brand or a crafty housewife, it's very easy to go on an all-out pinning spree. Pinterest is a visual platform, and it's fairly easy to annoy people. Forgiving Aunt Dorothy because she pinned far too many puppy pictures is going to be far easier than forgiving a brand you respect.
In this case, the sky is not the limit for brands.
"With any new tool, there is a tendency in over reaching," says Matt Howell, managing partner and global chief digital officer at Arnold. "No brand should go out and create tons of Pinterest boards and then fall behind in keeping them up to date. No one wants to check out a visual graveyard. Don't leap before you look. Start small and get into the rhythm of creating content."
Howell points to content creators such as HGTV and Real Simple magazine as a way to win at the Pinterest game. They are aggregating to big audiences and doing it right. Another brand getting praise from Howell is fashion and style brand American Eagle. Fashion photographs well and tells a story easily. It's a winning combination on Pinterest. A category such as financials is going to be a bit more abstract, but Howell believes that there is a way. "It's about stopping for a bit, and taking the time to consider what is the right way to engage this audience within this category," he says.
"The worst thing a brand can do is throw up everything they have and just hope for the best, and I worry that's just what might be happening on Pinterest," Ginsberg adds. "There must be an emotional connection to these visual images. The customers are the curators. And if you do it right, you can use Pinterest as a learning tool. You can see how your brand sits in context with what else they value in their rich and varied life. For this reason, Pinterest shows lots of promise...but it's no time for lofty evaluations. I still have yet to see how they plan to integrate Pinterest back to the rest of a user's digital life."
Lack of conversations
Pinterest users do not go to Pinterest to read. They aren't looking to have a conversation with the guy they sat next to in eighth grade biology -- or your brand. They are looking to click, "like," share, and re-pin. Pinterest serves as its very own sanctuary. So brands must keep it brief, add keywords, and pin images -- and not overdo it. You say you want to start a conversation with your followers within Pinterest? Be careful.
"A brand will never have as big a following as they have on Facebook and Twitter," says Erin Houg, VP and digital director at Starcom. "This is not the place for a brand who wants to get a million followers and start a conversation with all of them. Pinterest is much more of an organic following. People will get in touch with your brand by the images you put out there. Pinterest offers a huge opportunity to hit on the emotion of people via a form of self expression that is so much richer and deeper than a status update or tweet. If you want a one-on-one conversation, head to Facebook or Twitter. With Pinterest, it's more about connecting over a shared interest that speaks to both parties."
Just don't speak too much.
Lack of copyright rules
The web has always been a Wild West of sorts when it comes to the idea of copyrighting. And more than ever, Pinterest seems to be amplifying this copyright-lite culture that we are living in. Brands and their legal teams are getting evermore edgy given the risk of copyright infringement on Pinterest.
There are ways to safeguard yourself. First, experts suggest to only pin (and re-pin) images that your brand owns or has appropriately licensed. Work alongside some complementary brand partners and pin and re-pin their images, which will not only increase your image library, but also pick up some new followers.
"It's about providing good content that only the brand itself can provide," Houg says. "If you have a great product, users will want to interact with that product."
Lack of advertising opportunities
Media executives agree that it's hard to inherently promote within the Pinterest space. It's a fine line between providing content and overly promoting to an audience that is not in the mood to be promoted to.
With any advertising comes an effort to increase brand awareness, increase engagement, and -- in Pinterest's case -- build links. But will you scroll around the page and find a traditional ad? Not yet -- and perhaps not ever. So without advertising opportunities, how does the platform offer greater value to brands than a Facebook or other more mature platforms?
"Pinterest offers companies the chance to play to a number of different categories and create and connect with passion groups within those different categories," Houg says. "I don't think the focus should be 100 percent on what you are trying to sell. It's more about coming up with the vision for the brand rather than populating boards with a bunch of products. Pinterest is very interesting in the way it has a loyal following and an ultra-dedicated user group. They have so much data at their disposal. I think there is a very good chance that they will potentially monetize in the future."
Tricia Despres is a freelance writer.
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