Can Pinterest make your small business bigger?

Brands like Whole Foods, Nordstrom, and LL Bean are well-known for their powerful presence on Pinterest. But those brands are well-known in general. Can the image-focused platform have an impact on smaller companies?

Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) make up the bulk of Pinterest’s business accounts. Of the companies using the platform, 80 percent have less than 10 employees. Take, for example, Heather Cleveland, a Bay Area interior designer whose eponymous design firm has just one employee besides herself.

Cleveland initially used Pinterest for fun and started bringing it into her professional life as a way to gauge her clients’ tastes. She likes the platform because Pinterest, like her industry, is completely visual, and design terms like “modern” and “contemporary” are completely subjective.

If people had a crystal-clear vision of the way they wanted their homes to look, they wouldn’t have sought out her services in the first place, Cleveland notes. “[Having clients make Pinterest boards] enabled me, in the beginning, to zero in on their aesthetic without going two or three rounds doing detective work,” she says. “Customers appreciate that because it allows them the flexibility to spend more money on furniture and less on me figuring out what they like.”

Household names like Nordstrom use Pinterest mostly as a branding tool. While Cleveland does that as well – sharing her blog posts on the site increases her visibility and authority within the design world – she also uses the site to grow, frequently generating new business through her boards, which more than 5,700 people follow.

Pinterest can help a SMB expand in a different way than, say, Facebook or Twitter can. Though companies of all categories use the platform, Pinterest does tend to have a creative bent, which makes using it feel a bit more intimate.

“Pinterest is a very personalized, individual experience,” explains Joel Meek, head of partner online sales and operations at Pinterest. “When you pin things to your board, it’s a tool you’re using to plan for an event that’s important to your life.”

To grow your business on Pinterest, Meek says there are four things to keep in mind:

  • Personality: To create an engaging presence, the most important thing is to make sure your board matches the vibe of your business. Cleveland still pins recreationally as a cook, a gardener, a traveler, a nature-lover, a beauty product-user, and a mom. Her boards allow potential clients to get a glimpse at her aesthetics, as well as her interests, which can create a bond before they’ve even met. Meek recommends pinning everything from your blog, website and apps, as well as content from other sites. Taller pins with high-quality images typically attract the most visibility.

  • Simplicity: If it’s not easy for people to pin your content, they’re not going to. Gaining a bigger following can be as simple as adding the Pin It or Follow buttons to your website or app. For example, next to every piece of jewelry on Jeweliq’s website is a Pin It button. “What we saw was sort of like an ongoing wish list that customers can maintain,” says Sid Tiwari, one of the company’s founders. “We can see the organic activity from that pin; it’s not exact science, but you can at least see which trends are appealing to customers, the virality of it.” The more a pin is seen, the more likely it is to be repinned and then repinned again by someone else.

  • Visibility: Designed to be seen by more people, Promoted Pins are more likely to be commented on, shared, saved, and liked. Artifact Uprising, a Denver start-up that makes custom photo books, currently runs 28 Promoted Pin campaigns on a cost-per-click model aimed at getting more email sign-ups and app downloads, as well as sales. Artifact Uprising chooses which pins to promote based on what’s already garnering traction and then looks to see which other pins have similar qualities – but not too hard. “Don’t always try to hit a bull’s eye. Throw a bunch out there and trim around that,” suggests Brad Kopitz, the company’s chief revenue officer. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we found exactly why a certain pin works; we just found one that works.”

  • Measurability: Pinterest Analytics can tell you who your audience is: gender, location, devices they use, what else they’re pinning about. “Analytics give our partners more insight into other types of things their audience is interested in and that can shape their content strategy,” Meek says. The software can also inform you on which of your pins are getting the most activity, allowing you to tailor your marketing plans, based on what’s getting the most likes, shares, and repins. As vice president of marketing for DODOcase, a leather goods company that specializing in making cases for electronic devices using a traditional bookbinding process, Macy McGinness tracks everything social media-related. And like Kopitz, she reacts accordingly. “Seeing which images are being pinned more than others, we try to emulate what we think it is about those pins [that resonate with people],” McGinness says.

Looking at DODOcase’s social analytics across the board, McGinness finds that while Pinterest doesn’t bring as much traffic as some of the other sites, the platform does generate a disproportionate amount of revenue, second only to Facebook. In Tiwari’s opinion, the visual nature of Pinterest lends itself to more purchases.

“You go on Pinterest to look for some kind of inspiration; I think we’re capturing [the consumer] further down the funnel,” he says. “When you’re on Pinterest, you’re much more engaged and looking at women’s fashion, you’re much more likely to convert than someone looking at their news feed on Facebook or browsing Twitter.”

He adds that when Jeweliq was launched two years ago, the company pinned its entire inventory. The first 15 sales came directly from Pinterest.


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