Most brand conversations about reaching consumers on social media start with Facebook and Twitter, and stop after those two. But there's another fast-growing platform brands should consider -- Pinterest. With its simple and visual-driven interface, the platform has grown its active users by 111% in the past six months.
With all that growth, brands naturally want to be part of Pinterest, to reach those who use the platform as a mirror that reflects their aesthetic sensibilities and interests as they evolve. Pinterest is experimenting with products that help marketers tap into its audience, while racing against other social platforms, including the Facebook-owned Instagram. 2015 will be the year to see if Pinterest can develop into a must-have for brand marketers.
The future of advertising on Pinterest
For its part, Instagram has already begun selling ads directly within users' streams, mimicking the same photo content that users post on the platform. Pinterest has been slower in rolling out ad products, beginning with its self-serve promoted pins. Still relatively narrow in capabilities compared with other social ad products, and not available to all advertisers just yet, promoted pins offer a limited advertising solution, with room for development. Retailers have been the primary users, placing ads in relevant searches with some degree of targeting.
Deeper targeting will make Pinterest a big player and potentially catapult the platform onto the same stage as Twitter and Facebook. Those two platforms offer a great deal of value in terms of both scale and data. Pinterest's growth shows it can deliver the former, but the latter is still in question as advertisers wait for a robust API that opens up targeting and ad management possibilities. Currently, advertisers have access to category targeting (search), home-feed targeting, as well as targeting by gender, location, language and device.
It's in these areas -- targeting and data -- that Pinterest has a big advantage over other social platforms, including Instagram. Because Instagram follows the somewhat traditional social-network interaction model of "share, tag, like, follow," ad executions are largely straightforward -- they have to fit within the existing content structure.
Pinterest, on the other hand, offers the potential for nuanced insight into its users' interests. Wedding boards are extremely popular and present great opportunities for advertisers to target based on the level of detail. On Facebook, advertisers know when a user gets engaged. On Instagram, they know that there was a wedding. On Pinterest, advertisers theoretically know what's going on with the wedding plans, what inspires the couple and what kinds of themes are emerging.
Accessing those aspirations relies on tapping into the data, and as we've seen with Facebook and Twitter, the best way to innovate is with an ecosystem of partners, integrated via an advertising API that provides advertisers with strategy, targeting and management options.
As I said, Pinterest provides a look at the interests of an evolving consumer. These windows are limited and are ripe for one-to-one marketing messages, not blasts from brands seeking scale and exposure. Understanding and leveraging these windows may take some time. Still, with its active audience, solving this riddle makes Pinterest's value to brands more a question of "when" rather than "if."
How brands can use Pinterest right now
While we wait for Pinterest to fully step into the spotlight, brands -- from retail to fashion, CPGs to small local businesses -- can still leverage some useful tools on the platform, and should do so in 2015.
Pinterest offers great value for free focus-group oriented brand testing, providing insight into both the behavior of online "window shoppers" and market demand for new products. A new and comprehensive analytics feature highlights the numerical performance of individual pins and boards and displays key demographic data of users that interact with those pins. Meanwhile, data on country, language, metro area, gender, and interests of individual users is available.
Certain brands are already finding that Pinterest serves them in ways that other social platforms do not, inspiring deep interaction, providing a unique look into consumers, and leading to referrals outside of the platform. As Pinterest continues its rapid growth, brands should look forward to Pinterest opening up its data and evolving into a unique and effective force in social marketing.