Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

How Pinterest Challenges Our Social Media Thinking

If you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. So it’s not surprising that some people struggle to fit Pinterest into their sales and marketing strategy. Here are a few ideas.

First, stop trying to fit every new technology into a singular use pattern. As social networks grow in number, by narrowing in scope, you will need a different use-strategy to make them work. Niche marketing requires niche thinking. In fact, the worst abuses of social media come from trying to make them do the work that other technologies were meant to do.

For a moment, consider email marketing. Most people still treat it as an alternative to postal-mail marketing. Whereas we once mailed flyers, letters and catalogues to clients, most email marketing looks not much different than a printed piece of paper. Thus, we waste the medium and our customers’ gracious allocation of a few seconds to us, rather than using the logic of email – which can do so much more work than a piece of paper – to communicate our value proposition.

The same holds for the egregious abuse of social media as an advertising tool. Every time you invite someone to an event they couldn’t possibly attend, or promote your products incessantly on your wall, you alienate rather than cultivate an audience of potential customers. Nobody goes to a cocktail party to carry away your brochures in their pockets; neither do they join Facebook to wade through a litany of your inventory and discounts.

Which brings us to Pinterest, one of the latest niche social networks built around users collecting and sharing their favorite pictures of anything they love. Some specialty networks are dedicated by interest type: politics or cooking or travel. Others focus on the mode of communication, the most famous being Twitter’s limitation of 140 characters. For every new network, a specific strategy needs to be developed. Pinterest’s is perhaps more challenging than others, because it’s primary mode of communication is visual, rather than textual. Engaging others in pictures is particularly hard for some people to do.

Even after years of explosive growth over at YouTube, most people aren’t really good at communicating visually. To some degree, the technology – cameras, video cameras, editing, and so on – require specialty skills of an order higher than handwriting or typing. So it’s understandable that only a narrow band of producers at YouTube reach serious levels of effectiveness. For Pinterest, communicating through the lens of a camera (mostly still photos, although it can organize videos) introduces both technical and strategic challenges.

Because most people haven’t really talked to each other in pictures since elementary school!

Yet Pinterest offers a very unique opportunity by making photos the basis of user interaction. Rather than trying to come up with the right number of limited words to Tweet, or a reasonably pithy status update on Facebook, one photo really is worth a thousand words on Pinterest. And a series of photos, arranged into an album or “board”, might be able to tell an entire story.

And storytelling is the key to leveraging Pinterest.

Telling stories in pictures is older than words, in fact. Consider the Lascaux cave drawings or Egyptian hieroglyphics: picture-storytelling was deeply ingrained in our species, long before Mona Lisa hit the canvas. Pinterest makes it easy for more people to become such storytellers, because nearly everybody has a camera attached to their phone these days; and better equipped cameras are cheap and ubiquitous. All that’s needed is a story-line.

Pinterest asks us to have a story-line in mind when we’re posting. Whether it’s the story of our vacation, or the story of our dreams, or the story of our products that we might want people to buy. Story-telling is critical to effectively using Pinterest, even if that story is captured by only a single photo.

The good news is that story telling is endlessly creative. No matter what you sell, helping people imagine themselves using, enjoying and valuing it is best told in stories. That’s what television commercials do, but magazines do it in pictures just as nicely. If we use the space wisely.

For example, if you’re a real estate broker, the story telling you might use Pinterest for isn’t about your houses for sale. Sure, there’s a story for each one, but few people are going to browse Pinterest for the story of a two-sinked-bathroom. However, they might browse the story of other valuable home ownership issues: the story of the local high school, the story of the town square at each holiday, the story of the beautiful parks in the town, and so on. The story of people’s lives and dreams made possible through their homes can be told in a pictoral format. That’s what local buyers will find compelling; and maybe even international ones, too.

Storytelling works for any industry, really. If you sell luxury fragrances, you could create picture boards telling the story of the interesting people who wear a designer, or the places they go wearing them. You can create a series of photos that tell the emotional story of the designers, or ordinary people whose lives are improved by wearing their fragrances. If you’re a moving van company, you can tell the story of people’s moving experiences, the excitement and joys of moving, the road trips their belongings take across the country, and the before-and-after progress of unpacking. Whatever you sell, your story can be told in pictures with Pinterest.

But that’s not all.

Pinterest, after all, is a social network. So your stories become portable, sharable, referable. Even individual parts of a story – a single unique picture – might end up re-pinned on any variety of other boards, like “places I want to go someday” or “my dream home” or “my favorite brands”. Just as people often only repeat part of your story when retelling it to another person, even passing along a portion of your photo album might pique someone’s interest, create a connection, attract their attention: and develop a new customer.

Whether or not Pinterest fits your marketing strategy depends less upon the network itself than your creativity in developing a plan to leverage it. Is every picture on Pinterest a unique and compelling story? Of course not, but neither is every tweet or like or share on any of the other sites. Still, there are plenty of success stories in Twitter, Facebook and even email marketing: yet they are rarely the same for all channels. Pinterest challenges us once again to think about communicating differently to each other. Like any new tool, you’ll need to practice, experiment, and have stamina before you see success. But if the cavemen of Lascaux could send their messages 17,000 years into the future, it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to weave a decent story into next week using a camera, some creativity and Pinterest.

  • Great advice and points Mathew!  We have the same perspective in how we see using the many online tools available to us and I appreciate how you communicated it.