Pinterest for Marketers: The Part You’re Not Understanding

Guest post by SHIFTer Dave Levy.

Let’s talk about marketers, people who use Pinterest, and how they all play together in the social media world. And, let’s use charts and numbers!

Wait, come back.

There are so many reasons to focus on Pinterest.  The growth of the network in the last year was pretty remarkable; it became a very visible part of a social marketer’s life. However, there is still a ton of confusion and disagreement among the PR, social and marketing community about whether or not it’s important. Check out this study that came out late last week and the split is apparent — 10 percent of marketers have already jumped into Pinterest for business purposes, 7 percent plan to do so, 17 percent aren’t sure…and 44 percent don’t have it in their plans.

The response indicates so many things — they are statistics, after all; we can get them to say what we want.  The part the response doesn’t indicate is why marketers aren’t thinking Pinterest as an option, and there are two distinct reasons:

1) They haven’t taken the time to get to know it, so the “no” answer was a way to avoid saying they don’t know how the network works.
2) They have strategically made a decision that it isn’t for their agency or their clients.

I would have also likely answered the question in the negative, but here’s where this gets fun, because I think my reason is different than the two scenarios. You see, I wouldn’t use Pinterest for business purposes because the best Pinterest strategy is the one that recognizes where it plays in the social media ecosystem. That is to say – if I want to include Pinterest in a social plan, the reason is much more likely that I want to influence Facebook, not the Pinterest ecosystem.

Warning: Charts start here.

While the growth in page views started about a month earlier than what I am about to discuss, it’s more interesting/important to track the growth of Pinterest’s unique users per month – it’s a better measure of registrants versus engagement. As touted across the social Web in February, Pinterest’s UVM shot up like a rocket in the beginning of 2012. Check out this visual from TechCrunch:


The trumpets were blowing for what was truly impressive growth. Pinterest was the fastest independent site ever to break 10 million unique visitors per month – just eight months from its launch in May 2011. Call it a hockey stick or hair dryer, Pinterest’s member numbers jumped up absurdly quickly, and it was that moment in late January, early February, when marketers saw something of a critical mass worth trying to influence.

The one thing that was irritating me to no end was that many stories were missing the important question: Where did the growth come from? Pinterest is a cool idea – as I like to describe it, it is the digital version of the scrapbook that, instead of living under your bed, lived in a social environment to crowdsource and recommend to friends. But there have been lots of social networks with legitimately cool ideas that didn’t grow like Pinterest did.

Something happened in January to give it a push, right? Here’s one theory that there is just enough evidence to make a legit case: Facebook’s introduction of Timeline apps.

The new style of applications integrated what you were doing somewhere off Facebook into a place people spent a plurality of their time when on Facebook – the News Feed. And among that first small class of apps that were given access to Facebook’s timeline? You guessed it, Pinterest. This single change was huge: it brought a small, niche network to the forefront of the Social Web. Of course registrations spiked, people wanted to see what was going on and why this Pinterest thing was on the Facebook home page all the time.

Here’s another chart which I think illustrates things more clearly — this one is from Google’s AdPlanner, which estimates traffic based on various Analytics access points along with a few other components. The spike in Q1 2012 is even more apparent here, especially when set against the early days in 2011.


That’s not the only part of the chart: look, it plateaus with almost the same directional change just months after the spike. Why? Because Pinterest as a service remained largely stagnant; it was still the same Pin and Share network and there weren’t any other major awareness drivers outside of tech and marketing circles.

You see, Pinterest growth eventually had to stop somewhere; it isn’t for every user on the Internet. Pinterest doesn’t have a lot of room for a drive-by audience – if you’re a member, you have to be active and Pin or interest fades. It makes it challenging for a broad marketing campaign within it since the audience is just far too demographically narrow, but that doesn’t mean it stops. Do you know where you can consume and view content from your friends who are active on Pinterest without having to go to Pinterest? Facebook.

So some Pinterest users, who are really active in their network, are in a position to influence the Facebook network (which, let’s be honest, is almost everyone on the Internet in the Free World). If you have a product or point that is perfect for the Pinterest demo, you can ask them to be ambassadors to the rest of the Social Web – as long as you look Pinterest beyond the Pinterest vacuum. It will help you reach everyone on Facebook. That’s not hyperbole. I actually, statistically, mean “everyone.”

How can I be sure? There is a formula that exists that says these things play nicely together. There are 950 million Facebook users, at least, with an average of 227 friends in their network; we also know there are some 20 million or so Pinterest visitors each month. If everyone visiting Pinterest is on Facebook that means about 1 in every 48 Facebook users has been to Pinterest this month. That means it is nearly statistically impossible to not have at least one friend using Pinterest; it’s the same probability math as the Birthday Problem, but with a ratio six times better.

Pinterest users live and influence almost everyone within the ultimate social graph, even with a fraction of the member base, thanks to the Facebook Timeline app. That’s why it’s impossible to miss Pinterest, even without using it.

From a marketing standpoint, then, the magic recipe is promoting something that Pinterest users will find interesting and share — with an end game of making sure that Facebook consumers can access and be influenced by that content.

Basically, this is like the social media version of Inception. We have to go deeper.

Posted on: August 29, 2012 at 9:28 am By Todd Defren
18 Responses to “Pinterest for Marketers: The Part You’re Not Understanding”


  • Alex mcclure says:

    Pinterst is a great way for marketers to reach their target audience. For one, it is very easy to reach your target audience. If you are a technology brand, you simply post your product on a technology board. Second, when you click on a pin it takes you to the website the pin originated from. Marketers can pin products and then bring the Pinterest user to their website. I think one way that marketing could improve on Pinterest is if they introduced sponsored pins. That way, marketers would have more insurance that their post was being seen.

  • Olivia says:

    While according to these figures only 10 percent of marketers are using Pinterest, these markets often seem to be of a very similar variety. Though Pinterest may not have aimed for a certain audience, they have attracted a certain clientele and a very specific market is able to target in on this audience. From what I have seem, many lifestyle, fashion and creative arts brands have done well in making their mark on Pinterest. Though it is not terribly expensive for brands to use Pinterest (mostly just the cost of man power to manage their account), it is hard to even justify because there is not a solid model on ROI. Brands have started to use more links and track if traffic is coming from Pinterest, but until there is a great spike in these numbers, I do not see other brands jumping on the band wagon.

  • Taylor M says:

    I found this interesting to read because I still don’t think of Pinterest as a large social media platform. When it comes to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and even Instagram, I feel like companies are finding their way to the social media aspects that hold the most weight. Even now, people are communicating with Twitter hashtags after watching commercials or responding to a large-scale event. As much as Pinterest is trying to make a name for itself with marking strategies and appealing to the public, I feel like the users are primarily female from what I know and Pinterest hasn’t achieved the familiarity of a Google+ or Instagram. Maybe if people become more engaged with it, the app will make a difference in PR and with marketing, as well. I feel like older generations are already frustrated learning the in’s and out’s of Facebook and Twitter, whereas the 90′s and 2000′s generations are growing up with social media as a second nature.

  • Great article! I think that understanding and utilizing Pinterest is especially important when targeting the youth and young adult age demographic. These people are socially driven and active in most social networks (especially Pinterest). The real challenge for companies will be leveraging Pinterest in a interesting and authentic way that will catch the attention of users and encourage sharing. Its a great platform to get creative and interact with consumers!

    Susan Visscher

  • Pinterest is a great tool in social media marketing, and encourages engagement and sharing through a wide variety of users:

  • Jamie says:

    I have seen a raise in the pinterest popularity. Pinterest is a great way to use social media as a marketing resource. Thanks for sharing.

  • jack says:

    with your experience and analysis, which better for promote our product/service between pinterest,facebook and twitter?

  • Jason Keath says:

    So then, Facebook is the only option for social marketing? Since all other social network users are on Facebook?

    • Todd Defren says:

      I think the point is that FB is where most of the users are, thus most of the action. But obviously not exclusively, c’mon. ;)

      • Jason Keath says:

        Pinterest has plenty of value, independent of Facebook. There is more shopping intent on Pinterest. That can be a very valuable trait. And it has nothing to do with Facebook.

    • Dave Levy says:

      Kind of – it’s just that there are other ways to leverage getting into Facebook, and niche networks that plug in can be a means to the end.

  • Carl Ruzycki says:

    So what does the report actually tell you. 17% are testing the Kool-aid and the other 83%, the smart ones, are sitting back and waiting for the 17% to spend their dollars to do the research and generate the metrics to prove whether Pinterest will become another Groupon or an Apple. I just don’t understand the WHY for Pinterest? I am asking for insight from the Pinterest users or Pinterest management to me why they do what they are doing?

  • Steve says:

    Nice post!

    All of which means three questions for marketers:

    1. Exact WHO can you target on Pinterest that you can offer value to?

    2. Exactly WHAT type of content do they value?

    3. And HOW can you tie all this up with your overall (content) marketing strategy so it yields real results?

    Which, as you say, means we have to go deeper.

    Looking forward! ;)

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