Many businesses are still grappling with how to use social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Do we really need another?

Smart company

Brad Howarth

Apparently we do. In December a new social media service became the fastest in history to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark (according to comScore), and it is not slowing down.

It’s called Pinterest, and according to comScore it has had average growth of 52% from January to February, and boasts 17.8 million users. Not bad for a site where you still need to be invited or apply to join.

With that rate of growth, it’s not surprising that businesses are taking a keen interest in Pinterest.

The premise behind Pinterest is simple. Users create online virtual pin boards, to which they “pin” images. Multiple boards can be created and sorted by their content, and comments can be added. Users can browse the various boards and “follow” their creators, and can “like” images or re-pin them to their own boards.

According to the chief engagement officer at social media consultancy socialface, Shona Mackin, Pinterest provides another channel to interested consumers and can drive traffic back to a business’s website.

“It’s still pretty new, but we’re finding it pretty successful, primarily because it is so visually-based,” Mackin says. “The clients are noting a definite increase in traffic to the site. With our online retailers it is a really easy way for them to get an additional site with additional link-backs to their site.”

Mackin says she works with clients to ensure that their sites are image heavy, and that the images are of a size that is readily “pinnable”.

The visual nature of Pinterest makes it particularly appealing to visually-based businesses, such as the weddings website SaySo Weddings.

“Weddings are such a visual thing, and people are looking for unique ideas and inspiration,” says marketing manager Kelly Hody. “When it comes to weddings it is all very well to describe things, but seeing things adds so much more.”

Once she had created her Pinterest boards Hody went looking through the boards of other members in the weddings category.

“Re-pinning other people’s stuff brings me up in people’s feeds,” Hody says. “And then once they find us they go back and look through our other boards, which are designed to drive people to our website.”

Hody has staged numerous events to create unique content, including a “trash the dress” photoshoot, where brides were photographed in their dresses doing non-wedding activities. In another shoot she brought 14 brides together for a cake fight.

“We got lots of great photos out of that, and we’ve put them up on a board,” Hody says. “And people look at that, then look at the website that has created this content.”

The visual nature of Pinterest has proven popular with the graphic design community. For the owner of Skyring Architects, Stephanie Skyring, Pinterest provides a simple way of visually communicating with clients.

“What we are trying to do is understand what they want and communicate through images,” Skyring says. “We had a library on our website with photos, and it was insanely clunky. And then we came across Pinterest through a friend. It is effortless the way you can upload it so quickly. So we just moved all of our photos across.”

Another factor that marks Pinterest as different to other social media sites is that its user base is very heavily skewed towards women. Upwards of 80% of users in the US are female, although in the UK the balance is more even.

Mackin says in her experience the greatest response to Pinterest comes from women aged between 25 and 40.

“Guys don’t seem to really get it,” Mackin says. “I haven’t seen a lot of guys who aren’t heavily into social media get on it.”

The demographic skew was made very clear for Fleur Filmer when she started using Pinterest to promote her two online jewellery businesses. The first business, Lulu and I, is aimed at the special occasion market for brides and cocktail party attendees, and an age range of 30 to 50. Her second business, Franky and Cate, targets a much younger age group with casual seasonal fashion accessories.

“For Franky and Cate, which is for a younger demographic with more seasonal, colourful products, it has worked brilliantly,” Filmer says. “For Lulu and I it has had moderate take-up, but no sales success.”

While many businesses are now heavily engaged in using Pinterest, the relationship has not always been a cosy one, with many parties critical of Pinterest for a clause in its terms of service that granted the site perpetual rights to any images posted. However, an update to the terms of service unveiled in March waived this right.

The changes have been a comfort to Jessica Low, owner of the event management business Ruffled Bazaar, which uses Pinterest to showcase the goods of stallholders at its markets and festivals.

“With the changing of Pinterest terms and conditions, people are feeling more comfortable,” Low says. “The business side of Pinterest is only just starting, and that’s why we are trying to jump on it before other competitors start.”

It’s not just product companies that are getting benefit from Pinterest. The Sydney-based public relations firm Polkadot PR has been making extensive use of Pinterest since seeing it in action six months ago in the UK.

“We realised that it was huge over there,” says senior account executive Suzi Baker. “We do provide a service, but a lot of the things that we produce are visual, like events and media coverage. It is a really good way to clip our media coverage in an instant and pin it to our coverage board. And we can send that out to clients and potential clients.”

Baker says the boards are also a good way to show the personality of the team, and it has been effective in attracting the attention of bloggers. Polkadot has been strategic in the way that it interacts with other members of the Pinterest community, and will follow any bloggers or business people that follow it.

But Baker cautions that it is important to think about what is being pinned.

“In order to make it successful, your boards have to have a meaning, so that when someone clicks on it they know what the board is about,” Baker says.

Some organisations have begun using Pinterest to stage contests. The fashion brands Nasty Gal and Minkpink recently teamed hosted a contest whereby entrants were required to pin one fashion item from a combined collection and style it with images pinned from other sites.

It is the ability to interact with images that is appealing to many brands. E-Web Marketing’s head of social media Wendy Huang says her agency is exploring ideas with visually-oriented clients including electrical goods retailer Bing Lee.

“It is good for things like product launches, because people on Pinterest like looking at new, exciting things,” Huang says. “We could maybe get people to do something on Pinterest like create a pin board for ‘my dream living room’ and have them pin a new TV with the other elements that they would have in that, to create a picture of what it would look like.”

But while interest in Pinterest is high, few organisations report significant sales through the service. Pinterest itself has no transaction capability, and relies on users leaving its pages to visit those image owners. Another site, Fancy, takes a more business-oriented approach but still requires buyers to leave its site.

But for Stephanie Holdsworth, she is more than happy with the dozen sales Pinterest has brought to her online store selling treatments for eczema, asthma and allergies, Allerchic. Holdsworth has driven sales by posting images of many of the products that she sells, such as wet dressings and allergy alert shirts.

“I’ve definitely made 12 sales from – mostly the allergy alert shirts,” Holdsworth. “I always ask ‘how did you find the site’, and 12 of those have come back through Pinterest, or through a friend that had pinned a shirt to their board.”

“Twelve sales in two months for pinning a few photos I don’t think is too bad. And eight of them were from overseas.”