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Pin to Win: Social Sharing on Pinterest Trumps Email

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I’ve long argued that Pinterest is the most sales-actionable social network around. The sole focus of Pinterest is to allow users to visually express (pin) the things they enjoy and then share them with others of like inclination. As such, the site is rife with pools of “affinity,” each full of latent purchase intent. Brands that showcase their products and services on Pinterest instantly create ready proximity to these pools of affinity, an important element in stimulating consumer action. New data from social sharing service ShareThis bolsters this theory, showing that for the first time, Pinterest outpaced email to become the third most popular sharing channel in the fourth quarter of 2013.

As a recent post in Marketingland points out, even as email sharing declined 11 percent year-over-year, Pinterest sharing increased 58 percent, making it the fastest growing sharing channel in 2013. Most of that growth was driven by women, who account for 56.76 percent of social shares across all channels and 57.63 percent of shares to Pinterest.

Social Sharing and Affinity

Social sharing is an expression of affinity and connection; for businesses, affinity and connection are prerequisites to sales conversion. The structure of the Pinterest platform encourages this process, which is why I think every business should have a presence on the social network. This is especially true for B2C brands and companies with an e-commerce function, given that images appearing on a company’s boards can be linked to external URLs (for example, if a user clicks on an image, he or she can be brought to the company’s ecommerce site checkout page). Businesses selling directly to consumers can leverage Pinterest’s interactive visual imagery to foster brand affinity and increase sales conversion.

The utility of Pinterest for businesses selling to other businesses (B2B), though, is less clear. Frankly, I’ve heard many social media managers and digital marketers say it’s a waste of time. I disagree with this notion.

Here’s why. Employees, executives, and owners of B2B companies are ultimately consumers, and as such are guided by affinity and proximity. Affinity leads to intent, and proximity to action. If they have any interest in their job or profession, these B2B-ers will likely be drawn to Pinboards, Pins, and Repins which are in some way related to their industry. When finding something of relevance (affinity + proximity), they will likely take some form of action, such as re-pin a product or service or check out a brand’s website (intent/action). This kind of convergence is a hallmark of the digital age.

From Affinity to Sales Action

The secret to the success of Pinterest- and thus key to its value to businesses and marketers- can be found in the site’s ability to translate user affinity into sales action-ability. Pinterest offers brands a unique platform to visually showcase their products and services in a social environment where every user share (pin or re-pin) produces exponential exposure on the boards of those who have shown affinity for the interests of the user. In other words, the very structure of the Pinterest platform is sales actionable in that it offers consumers relevance and proximity- it gives consumers a reason to buy, and provides an easy way to do it.

Pinterest's new Interests tool is likely to enhance the platform’s sales action-ability. With Interests, pins are organized within a handful of broad categories, so Interests will group together pins in much more narrow categories to help recommend pins users are more likely to be interested in.

A few lines in the company blog post announcing the Interests tool jumped out at me, as I feel they reflect the extent that Pinterest is on the cutting edge in their understanding of the digital consumer:

We’re working hard to make Pinterest as relevant as possible for each person so it can be a place you can find and save all of the things you love, even if you didn’t even know you were looking for them…Your interests on Pinterest change over time, just like they do in real life. The more you use Pinterest, the better things get.

Relevance and Guidance

Today’s harried online consumers are looking for two things from brands: relevance and guidance (in that order). When a brand proves its relevance to consumers by showing that it can resolve their problems and cater to their wants and needs, they are looking for more of the same. In a growing sea of online content, consumers want to establish trusted relationships with brands that have proven they can deliver time and time again.

Once brands have established this trust, consumers are looking for guidance on future action- they want their online brand partners to help them efficiently navigate the plethora of raw content, and even anticipate what they will want to do or see next. We already see this on sites like Amazon and Spotify, who track on-site behavior to increase the relevance of future recommendations. Although the constant stream of recommendations can sometimes be annoying, I have come to appreciate and even rely upon the function. For example, much of the new music I listen to comes from artists recommended by Spotify’s anticipatory search engine; many of the books I read come from Amazon recommendations.

Here are some hard numbers which reflect my assertion that the Pinterest platform is an ideal place for brands to provide relevance and guidance to consumers.

Pinterest Users are Brand-Focused

  • 43% of Pinterest members agree that they use Pinterest to “associate with retailers or brands with which I identify”, compared to just 24% of Facebook users who agree to the same use with Facebook. Source: Bizrate Insights
  • Also in the Bizrate report, 70% of users say they are on Pinterest to get inspiration on what to buy. By contrast, only 17% use Facebook for the same.

Pinterest Users are Sales-Ready

  • 69% of online consumers who visit Pinterest have found an item they’ve purchased or wanted to purchase. This is compared with only 40% of online consumers who visit Facebook. Source: Bizrate Insights
  • Research from Rich Relevence shows the average sale resulting from a Pinterest user following an image back to its source and then buying the item is $180, compared with $80 for Facebook users and $70 for Twitter users. Source: FastCoDesign
  • Pinterest referrals spend 70% more than visitors referred from non-social sites. Source:Search Engine Journal

The numbers don’t lie. Brands looking for a place to connect with consumers- to foster brand affinity and provide relevance and guidance to their target audience- should look to Pinterest.

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