A Guide to Pinterest for Small Business

Jim Peterson of LandscapingNetwork, a small landscape architecture company in Calimesa, Calif., has recently seen traffic to the site increase by 30,000 visitors a month. Where exactly are all those visitors coming from?

From Pinterest.

If Pinterest hasn’t grabbed your attention yet, it probably just did. Though Peterson says he hasn’t yet seen direct sales result from the increased traffic, he believes it’s important for small businesses to put “as many hooks in the water as possible.” And right now, Pinterest has turned into one ginormous hook.

So what is Pinterest and why should you care? Read on for your quick-start guide to this year’s hottest social network, plus tips on how to make the most out of Pinterest.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a social sharing site launched in 2009 by Cold Brew Labs Inc., a privately held start-up in Palo Alto, Calif. Pinterest is the company’s only product to date. The company was co-founded by Ben Silbermann, 29, a former Google employee.

Pinterest.com home page; social media

The Pinterest.com home page.

Pinterest’s goal is to let people “pin” images (and videos) from websites that interest them (hence the name “Pinterest”). You pin an image to a board, which is a thematic collection of photos on topics of your choice. You can pin images in a number of ways, including using Pinterest’s browser “pin it” button or its iPhone app.

About 68 percent of Pinterest users are female, according to comScore. Many are DIY types, hobbyists, and collectors who use the site as a virtual scrapbook to share things they love and that express their personalities. For example, Mimi Strandberg has curated 91 different Pinterest boards on such topics as barn doors, tree houses, duct-tape creations, and creative re-uses of bottles, which she often shares on her Messy Mimi blog.

Pinterest is a free service and, at the moment, it’s still invitation only. Don’t worry; you’ll most likely receive an invitation to join within 24 hours of requesting one.

Why Should You Care about Pinterest?

Put simply: Pinterest offers a new channel for connecting with existing customers and attracting new ones, which can translate into increased sales.

Barely known beyond its enthusiastic user base just a few months ago, Pinterest’s popularity has suddenly exploded. In January 2012, Pinterest attracted more than 11 million unique visitors, according to comScore. That’s more than twice the 4.9 million visitors the site had just two months earlier.

Pinterest is said to be the fastest website in history to blast beyond the 10-million-visitors-a-month benchmark. “I haven’t seen another stand-alone site that has reached 10 million visitors faster,” comScore analyst Andrew Lipsman recently told The Wall Street Journal.

Pinterest users are passionate and tend to spend a lot of time on the site. In January, Pinterest visitors spent nearly 100 minutes on the site on average, comScore estimates, compared to an average of 19 minutes on LinkedIn.

The site is earning accolades and honors along the way. Time magazine listed it among its 50 Best Websites of 2011; TechCrunch named the company the best new startup of 2011.

It was inevitable that companies small and large would begin to tap into this rapidly expanding social network. Many, like Peterson of LandscapingNetwork.com, report huge traffic spikes. Amy Squires, co-founder of The Wedding Chicks LLC, told The Wall Street Journal that the site’s Pinterest traffic “converts to sales.” The company earned about $540,000 in revenue in 2011, up from $340,000 in 2010. Squires said Pinterest now delivers more than double the site’s monthly visitors, compared to Facebook or Twitter.  

Similarly, Carl Christensen, a fine art photographer who runs a gallery called Integrity Studio, told CNBC that Pinterest has increased his online sales by 50 percent.

Large companies such as Neiman-Marcus, Land’s End Canvas, and Coca-Cola are also on Pinterest. Even President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign appears to have recently joined Pinterest, according to Mashable.

Bottom line: If your small business primarily sells products or services to men, it’s doubtful that Pinterest would be a worthwhile addition to your social media efforts. On the other hand, if women compromise a sizable portion of your business, it’s time to start pinning. And the more visual your line of products or services is, the better. Photographers, wedding-related businesses, arts-and-crafts retailers (like Etsy.com), and bakeries are particularly strong candidates for Pinterest.

12 Pinterest Tips for Small Business

1. When setting up your Pinterest account, add descriptive, keyword-rich text to your “About” description. This will help your Pinterest account show up in search engine results. Include your location as well.

2. To get the most visibility for your pins, connect your Pinterest account to your other social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to add your company’s home page URL.

3. Name your pin boards after your business type, products, and services. For instance, if you sell women’s sports attire and equipment, create pin boards for such topics as women’s running shoes or best yoga mats.

4. Follow other Pinterest users in your local area and/or field of expertise. Comment on and share their pins; they’ll often return the favor. Endorse the pins others share by clicking the “♥ Like” button.

5. Develop an infographic related to your area of expertise and distribute it on Pinterest. Infographics are highly popular these days and the best ones tend to get reposted and shared widely.

6. Pay close attention to Pinterest users who get the most likes and repins. Follow them and learn from what they do.

7. Unlike Facebook or Google+, there’s currently no distinction between people and brands on Pinterest. You’ll get more traction if you approach the site more as a person, less as a brand.

8. Don’t get too self-referential. Pinterest is about sharing passions; it’s not for talking about yourself (a la Facebook). Don’t get blatantly salesy, either. Just share interesting, funny, quirky, compelling images; the traffic to your site (and sales) will likely follow.

9. Post pictures on your own site or blog first, then pin those pictures on Pinterest. The pinned images will include a link back to your site, which will help drive traffic there.

10. Make sure to post a Pinterest follow button on your site. It’s easy to do; just copy a snippet of HTML code, which you can get from Pinterest’s Goodies page.

11. Be creative. Curate the quirky, odd, funny pictures that have some relevance to your brand, products, or services, and that appeal to women.

12. Serve as a resource. “Share content that other users will love sharing,” says Tiffany Monhollon, senior manager of content marketing for ReachLocal, an online marketing firm. For example, Monhollon says that a local bakery “could create boards for cupcake recipes, frosting tips, taste combinations, decorating ideas, party ideas, personal favorites, cake disasters, wedding planning and other topics their followers might be interested in.”

James A. Martin is a marketing consultant specializing in SEO, social media, and business blogging. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest.

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