March 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pinterest for beginners

Five strategies for online retailers to leverage the hottest social discovery site., a product of Cold Brew Labs Inc., is the biggest news in the white-hot area of social discovery, the process of web users sharing or curating information for other online consumers. Facebook's Like button, which lets a consumer surface favorite content and products in the newsfeed of friends, is the simplest example of social discovery.

There's a new wave of innovation in this area led by Pinterest.

Pinterest, which offers a mobile app as well as a web site, provides great opportunities for online retailers to build their brands and win new customers. It also offers an inexpensive way to obtain valuable consumer feedback.

Pinterest is built on a simple concept, saving images and videos you find across the Internet in groups called Boards. Images saved to Boards are called Pins, and the act of saving an image is called Pinning. Pinterest supplies a variety of browser extensions and mobile applications that facilitate Board creation and Pinning. Pinterest leverages the Facebook log-in system to encourage consumers to share what they Pin via Facebook.

This simple formula has resulted in Pinterest becoming wildly popular, growing from a prototype site in March 2010 to 12 million unique users as of January 2012, according to comScore Inc. ComScore also notes that Pinterest has been the fastest site to go from 0 to 10 million users.

Creating content with Pinterest is simple. While on a web site, you simply click a "Pin this" button on your browser, or you can upload an image if you prefer. Figure 1 provides an example of someone Pinning an item using a browser extension.

In Figure 1, an Under Armour sweatshirt is Pinned to the ÔProducts I love' Board. The Pinner has entered a price, which tells Pinterest to automatically put the price band on the image. By default Pinterest shares this Pin to all of the Pinners' Facebook friends, creating a viral effect.

This tight integration with Facebook is a key reason Pinterest is growing so fast. Pinterest leverages the existing Facebook friend network, or social graph, to pull more Pinners into Pinterest. As your friends see your Pinning activity scroll by their newsfeeds, they are drawn into Pinterest.

But the most important aspect of Pinterest is the social discovery. All of the Pins and Boards created on Pinterest are available for everyone on the Internet to see, and the fun begins!

Social discovery

Pinterest gives you several ways to serendipitously discover content that others have found interesting. Figure 2 highlights the Pinterest user interface for discovery. In every section of Pinterest, the Pins/Boards are displayed in a simple columnar "dynamic gallery" that puts the focus on the content and has little to no clutter.

There are several ways consumers can discover new products and ideas using Pinterest. They can search for items of interest, click on an Everything option that gives them a real-time feed of what's being Pinned, see the most popular items as shown in Figure 2, and follow individual Pinners. Someone looking for a gift can specify a price range and see all Pinned items within that range.

Consumers have come up with many ways to use and have fun with Pinterest. They create wish lists by Pinning items that they like. Foodies use Pinterest to share food ideas and recipes. It is common to find brides-to-be frantically Pinning items for their wedding or other special days.

Pinterest and e-commerce

All these activities can lead directly to online shopping. In fact, at least half of the content and activity on Pinterest is product-related. Fashion/apparel is the biggest category, but you also find a lot of activity around sporting goods, electronics and home and garden.

Pinterest has created the perfect recipe to draw online retailers: Combine 12 million actively engaged consumers who are mostly discussing products with an open community that welcomes new curators and tastemakers, stir together and you have a new e-commerce channel!

For now, Pinterest is not charging retailers anything. Pinterest's growth is supported by $37 million that Cold Brew Labs has received in venture capital from investors including Bessemer Venture Partners and Andreesen Horowitz.

In fact, retailers are starting to embrace Pinterest. Here are five strategies you can implement quickly to leverage Pinterest and drive incremental sales.

Strategy 1: Research what's already going on

Most likely there is already quite a bit of activity around your products and brands on Pinterest. It's easy to see what's happening because every Pin remembers its source and Pinterest has a handy search mechanism for finding all of the Pins from one source.

For example, let's say you run the web site, You simply go to this URL to see all of the Pins that have come from your site: Figure 3 shows the results.

From here you can research how your products are resonating with the Pinterest audience and research questions such as:

  • What types of Boards are people Pinning my items to?
  • Who are my heaviest Pinners?
  • What are Pinners saying about my products?
  • What are my most-Pinned products?
  • Are the price bands showing up for my products?

You can also research your competitors' offerings.

Strategy 2: Create a Pinterest presence

Pinterest has strict rules around promotion that you should read (under "About/Pin Etiquette"). Once you understand the rules, you can get started on Pinterest. While there's not a ton of opportunities for branding, you can have a big impact through engaging the community.

Some retailers are already involved in Pinterest. Figure 4 highlights some of the top ones and their Pinterest metrics.

Its focus on handcrafted items makes Etsy wildly popular with the Pinterest community. Kate Spade, at No. 2, is a great case study that offers lessons to other retailers.

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