Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat may hog the social media spotlight, but quietly Pinterest has become a potent social media marketing channel and, for some brands, one of the most productive.

Like most social platforms, Pinterest has sought to woo businesses with offerings that help them engage more meaningfully with users. These include Cinematic and Buyable Pins.

But Pinterest's latest offering, how-to Pins, highlights the fact that social platforms are increasingly gaining more than they're giving, particularly when it comes to SEO.

How-to Pins, which were announced on Tuesday, allow users to interact with instructional content in a more efficient way...

The next time you find an interesting project or idea on Pinterest, you’ll see a snapshot of the steps right below the Pin image. You can also click or tap on any of the steps to get the full instructions and a list of supplies - without ever leaving Pinterest.

Pinterest has teamed up with a number of content brands, including Cosmopolitan, Martha Stewart Living, Food.com and Marie Claire, as well as retailer The Home Depot, to launch how-to Pins.

The new Pin format is a no-brainer for Pinterest. 

As Pinterest's Jason Costa notes, "One of the main reasons people come to Pinterest is to find ideas they’re excited to try for the first time," so a Pin format that delivers how-to content in a delightful manner should benefit the overall Pinterest experience.

But what's in it for brands?

For a retailer like The Home Depot, which isn't in the content business, how-to Pins could potentially be a good way to promote its wares to the Pinterest audience.

But how-to Pins are a more complicated proposition for the content brands.

That's because while it might be easy to use existing content to create how-to Pins, the new format represents yet another push on the part of a popular social platform to deliver valuable third-party content without giving up control or ownership of users and experience. 

Like Facebook's Instant Articles, it's not that there's nothing in it for the brands behind the content. There is.

But there's a strong argument to be made that the brands are getting the very short end of the stick, especially when it comes to SEO.

Case in point: Brit & Co., a digital publisher that is an early adopter of how-to Pins.

One of its how-to Pins, How to Make Easy, Cheesy Pizza Pull-Apart Bread, is based on an article it published on its own site under the same title in 2014.

The how-to Pin, which is of course hosted on pinterest.com, appears on the first page of a Google search for the title while the article on the Brit & Co. appears near the bottom of the second page of Google's search results.

This demonstrates the potential of how-to Pins based on third-party content to provide a significant SEO benefit to Pinterest at the expense of the third-party which owns the content.

Obviously, how-to Pins have the potential to drive referral traffic to brands like Brit & Co., and it's possible that Pinterest could one day provide a means for content owners to share in monetization of the content they post to Pinterest.

But it's still questionable that brands will ultimately come out ahead by ceding control of user experience and ownership of audience to social channels that are increasingly asking for unfettered access to and use of their most valuable assets, and gaining a free SEO benefit in the process.

Patricio Robles

Published 1 April, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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