As a small business owner you’re in a great position to start exploiting social media for all its worth, adding much sought after personalisation and relevance at an integral stage of your development.

Although social media can be a fairly time consuming practice depending on how many platforms you choose to use, it’s also the key way for a small business to develop awareness, raise its profile, gauge its market and interact with existing and future customers. 

As the UK is celebrating its first Small Business Saturday on 7th December 2013, here is the second in a series of posts that takes a look at each individual social media platform in turn (last week we looked at Twitter for small businesses) and highlights how you can achieve the best from each one. 

This week: Pinterest.

As of September 2013, the three year-old social media site Pinterest has more than 70m global users, making it one of the fastest growing websites in history. And according to several studies, Pinterest drives more traffic to publishers than Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit and Google+ combined.

Not convinced? Here are some more stats:

  • Pinterest users spend more: Pinterest shoppers in the US spend an average of between $140-$180 per order, compared to Facebook and Twitter shoppers who spend on average $60-$80.
  • In the UK, Pinterest has seen a 786% increase in the last year, growing from 901,761 visits in September 2011 to 7,985,316 in September 2012. Pinterest has very quickly shed its niche image and is now in direct competition with Facebook and Twitter.
  • According to a study by Convertro, Pinterest represented 17.4% of social media revenue for ecommerce sites in April 2012, up from 1.2% in Q2 2011.
  • The same survey, which interviewed 7,431 online buyers from August 9 to 17 2012, also found that significantly more online consumers agree that Pinterest is a place to “get inspiration on what to buy” and “help keep track of or collect things I like”.

What are the key advantages of Pinterest?

Pinterest is by its very nature a visual medium: everything on the site you post is an image. Images are the fastest and most direct form of communication we have.

Pinterest is extraordinarily sticky: users spend more than an hour and a half on the site every month, sharing and resharing content. It’s a site that’s very easy to get lost in, so retaining the user’s interest is key. Therefore the more varied and interesting your content is the better.

Pinterest is a viral marketing machine: more than 80% of content consists of repins. Users actively promote your company for you. In fact 70% of brand engagement on Pinterest is generated by users themselves, not brands.

How can your small business use these advantages?

Geoffrey Colon, a group marketing manager at Microsoft:

The landing page for Pinterest is an endless visual stream of subtle product recommendations from the very people who influence your purchasing decisions. Friends and strangers with good taste,

It’s very easy for a large company to merely set up a few boards, pin some pretty pictures of their own products and leave it at that. Your small business is better than that. 

Here are five great examples of brands nailing Pinterest here, but how are they achieving this?

Be visual

This means using bright, bold colours, large interesting images and consistent yet imaginatively themed boards.

The more visually captivating your pin is, the more likely it is to be repinned. The best boards have a good mixture of photographs, graphics and a small amount of text. Keep it varied.

Be resourceful

Large brands pin images of their own products to their boards; it’s easy for the user to click on an image and be taken directly to the brand’s own ecommerce page where the user can purchase the product.

What of the small business or individual who perhaps operates their ecommerce through a page on Etsy, eBay or Shopify store? Easy: integrate both platforms.

Pin the images of the homemade products found on your site to a board, then Pinterest users can click directly to your store through those pins. Pinterest acts as a separate online catalogue for your store outside of your own site and increases your online presence.

Be different

It’s difficult as a marketer to vary the experience for users on any given social network. For Twitter you only have 140 characters to play with. On Facebook it’s difficult to go beyond the ‘wall’.

Pinterest however is a platform where you can experiment with many different themes, competitions, activities and ideas, all through multiple boards; running various activities concurrently and inspiring interactivity and engagement.

Mr Rooter is a North American plumbing company, and with all the will in the world it’s difficult to imagine a a plumbing company running a particularly glamorous or captivating Pinterest page. 

But then, Mr Rooter does have a mascot, and that mascot has been replicated in plastic form and given away in various marketing promotions. Followers are encouraged to take photos of the Mr Rooter mascot in locations across the globe and submit them to the ‘Where in the world is Mr Rooter’ board.

This is a great way to encourage interaction, brand loyalty, spread awareness and it also makes your followers provide your content for you.

If you’re a restaurant brand with a keen sense of ethics, you might want to publicise the wellbeing of your animals. You could go to the farm, take pictures of the animals and pin them to a board. Check out Pitt Cue Co., a barbecue restaurant recently opened in London that has a board which shows you the faces behind the… uh… pulled pork sandwiches. 

This content isn’t found on Pit Cue Co’s website, Tumblr page or Twitter feed. It’s a great tactic, as it pays to spread you content across multiple platforms rather than repeating it.

This encourages users to follow you across all channels, and not to drop/block/unfollow your company if all you’re doing is dual or triple broadcasting.

Organic farming company, Riverford, runs an active Pinterest page full of interesting boards. One of the best is ‘Guess the veg?’ 

Kudos to Riverford for not going down the easy, slightly dirty route.

Be friendly

The London based jewellery company, Tatty Devine, has a board called ‘Inside the Tatty Devine Studio’. Here we get a sneak peek at the jewellery being manufactured and a look at the faces working behind the scenes.

This lets users take a look behind the company, and personally identify with it in ways that perhaps couldn’t be achieved via other channels.

Be informative

Benefit Cosmetics provides an ‘instant beauty’ board, pinned to which are various make-up tips and tricks.

Creating the pins themselves will take a bit of work; you’ll only be able to fit approximately four or five images before the spacing becomes untenable, but don’t forget you have 500 characters in the text box for clearer instructions.

Incidentally, this board may only have five pins, but it still has 14,513 followers. Benefit also features the product used to achieve the look within the image, and clicking on the image itself takes you to the relevant product page on its ecommerce site.

Whatever your business, you can use specific boards to offer help and guidance on how to do all kinds of creative or practical things; tying into the products or services you offer. Perhaps if you run a gardening business you could offer advice on planting at the right time of year, if it’s a DIY business your could offer advice on how to hang a picture evenly.

Here’s a board from pet insurance provider Petplan, showing various breeds of dogs and their most common health problems.

Thinking laterally while also staying relevant to your brand is a great way to keep your users interested and surprised.

That being said, it doesn’t always have to be relevant to your company…

Be entertaining

It’s important on Pinterest to show a desire to provide a deeper consumer experience by going beyond self-publicising

Pinterest is a curator’s dream, and with access to countless images and an infinite amount of themes, it’s easy to get lost among the colourful crowd. If your company is just squawking its corporate message and promoting its wares, you won’t achieve mass engagement as users will quickly move on.

Be as curative as the users. Explore Pinterest yourself, get lost down its various rabbitholes, come out the other side with lots of interesting boards filled with tonnes of inspiring pins.

Just keep a keen eye on either the relevancy to your brand, or relevancy to your customer.

Have a go at creating your own, eye-catching, memorable and idiosyncratic content. Who says mortgage lenders have to be boring?

Be generous

Many companies have done great Pinterest competitions, taking advantage of the visual nature of Pinterest and the creative tendencies of its users. Here Scottish craft beer manufacturer BrewDog ran a competition for Pinterest followers to design a bottle label and have it printed on a limited run of beer.

Plenty of other brands and large companies run regular ‘pin it to win it’ or the extraordinarily pricey ‘win all your pins’ competitions, however with something like the above example this may be more achievable and cost effective.

New features for Pinterest

This year, Pinterest has recognised the value of its platform to brands and companies, and has rolled out lots of new features to help make things easier for them:

Rich pins

Pinterest are improving pins by automatically including updated details. For instance, reviews of films, ingredients for recipes and, more importantly for ecommerce, price and availability of products. 

This is well worth doing as pins with prices attract 36% more likes than those without.

Price alerts

Pinterest debuted price alerts in August. If the user has an unpurchased product pinned to their board and it becomes cheaper, Pinterest automatically sends an email informing them.

Promoted pins

Pinterest is also trialling promoted pins, following on from Twitter and Facebook’s forays into monetising its social network.

Promoted pins look identical to regular pins, and there is some debate as to how transparent they ought to be, however this is just a trial run and only a select number of users will see them in search listings for a specific, undisclosed period of time.

Integrating Pinterest into email marketing

Sony has recently began sending out dedicated emails highlighting its Pinterest presence, integrating its own boards and pins into the email and driving traffic to its page. Integrating Pinterest has led to a 70% higher average open rate for Sony and an average 18% higher click-through rate. 

Many companies are doing similar Pinterest email integration. Either just by advertising its Pinterest page or by providing incentives to follow their boards and pin their products. Here are 20 further examples of retailers integrating Pinterest into their emails.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things…