Marketers Find a Friend in Pinterest

April 18, 2012

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In an age of fat data plans and broadband access, Pinterest has a message for the media: a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s about seven Twitter posts.

Magazines like Real Simple and Better Homes and Gardens and marketers like Whole Foods and West Elm have been quick to embrace Pinterest, the social media start-up firm that allows its users to share images by “pinning” them.

Andrew Lipsman, the vice president for industry analysis at the research firm comScore, called the site’s popularity among brands one more example of “the rise of the visual Web,” along with Instagram (which was recently acquired by Facebook) and Facebook’s timeline feature, which is heavily driven by images instead of text.

“Pinterest is creating sort of a meritocracy of what’s visually appealing,” Mr. Lipsman said. “Brands are scrambling and trying to figure it out. They know it’s going to be big, but they don’t necessarily know the best way to use it.”

Better Homes and Gardens, published by Meredith, has 73 pin boards, where images can be posted, including “Lovely Laundry Rooms,” “Smart Storage Solutions” and “We Love Baking.” It has 47,854 people who follow all of the brand’s boards and about 350,000 who follow individual boards. The laundry room board alone has just over 58,000 followers. Material from the Better Homes boards was “re-pinned” (another feature of the site) on other boards 448,022 times in January.

“To me, it’s an ideal platform for brands like ours that are really visually driven in many ways,” said Gayle Butler, the editor in chief of Better Homes and Gardens.

Pinterest may be considered the third- most popular social media platform after Twitter and Facebook, but it does not share much of its own information.

In response to a request for an interview, the company only allowed questions to be fielded by an external public relations firm. Nor does the company provide any user data to publishers or brands.

Pinterest does not have ads on the site, but publishers and brands can use the images to link to their own Web sites.

Kaelin Zawilinski, the digital editorial manager for Better Homes, says Pinterest has helped the magazine gain a new audience, especially with younger women. She said the profiles of many visitors and re-pinners “appear to be younger than our typical readers.”

Pinterest would not say how many users it has, but according to comScore, the site had 18.7 million unique visitors in March, compared with about 418,000 in May. Women account for 85 percent of total page views on the site, Mr. Lipsman said.

While the company would not answer questions about its strategy, it published a blog post in February advising brands on best practices. The post encouraged companies to pin from various sources and to create pin boards for different types of material.

Brides magazine, published by Condé Nast, has created 58 boards with topics like hair styles, fashion dresses, bouquets and wedding cakes. “It’s a great opportunity to push some of the images that are on our site across the Internet and to drive traffic back to the site,” said Lisa Harman Gooder, the digital content director for Brides. “We don’t view this as a walled garden anymore.” Ms. Harman Gooder noted that many of the photos on the board for Bridal Fashion Week had been taken with a cellphone and posted to the site with Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

A variety of other brands, including Gilt Home and L. L. Bean, are using the site. Even the National Pork Board is using Pinterest to share recipes, and yes, photos, of pork.

Blake Cahill of Banyan Branch, a digital media advertising agency that works with the Gilt Groupe and manages the company’s Gilt Home page, said pictures were replacing words when it comes to social media.

“Everyone is a voyeur,” Mr. Cahill said. “A beautiful dress or a pillow. Those are types of things that people like to share.”

Laurie Brooks, a spokeswoman for L. L. Bean, said the company had been experimenting with different boards on the site to see which ones users engaged with the most.

“When we enter a new space, we have to figure out if it’s right for the brand and if it’s right for our customers,” Ms. Brooks said. “We didn’t want it to be about selling. We wanted it to be about creating that brand awareness.” The company has boards dedicated to its catalog covers, camping scenes and photos of woodland creatures it has culled from its own site and from the Web.

Food and food-related brands are also popular on the site. “People eat with their eyes first,” said Cathy Lee Fredrickson, the online content manager for the National Pork Board. She said the board had “a really passionate and engaged community fan base.”

“People love bacon,” she said.

Another way that images make their way across the Web to Pinterest is through the “Pin It” button that is slowly making its way alongside the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter share buttons that live near most digital material.

“Pin It is elbowing its way into that mix,” Mr. Lipsman of comScore said. The Spanish language network Univision plans to add a “Pin It” button to its online material so users can pin articles and clips to their boards.

Despite their embrace of Pinterest, some brands expressed the hope that the company would be more forthcoming about user data, would upgrade the search tool and even allow some boards to be private.

As reported in The New York Times