Are you pinning yet?

You may be Tumbling, StumblingUpon, or DiggingIt, but are you Pinning? If not, you aren’t one of the cool kids on the Net. Yet. But pinning – the latest development in social media innovation, is coming on strong, with more and more users every day. If you are a social media animal, or a business owner or marketing professional who needs to build and maintain an online social media presence, you need to know about pinning.

What is Pinning?

Pinning is a way to share interesting internet content via a virtual pinboard. Each board has a personalized theme, and users “pin” links to the board. Each link is depicted by a photo or graphic from the link. Your friends can “re-pin” your links to their own sites, or to their own Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Pinning: A Virtual Bookmark

Pinning is a great way to showcase your individuality and spirit — with a very social-media twist. It’s all about you and what inspires or interests you, but the discovery that you can, in turn, inspire others makes for a gratifying social media experience. As with other social media platforms, such as Facebook, other users can, “like” your pins, comment on your pins, or re-pin your links onto their own virtual bulletin boards. It’s bookmarking turned visual. Michele Braungard, a freelance artist in Scotia, New York, compares it to “poring over a stack of magazines, another slight obsession of mine. There’s so much eye candy, inspiration, and cool ideas. And discovering that there are people out there with similar aesthetics to my own is pretty neat.”

Theresa Mirly from Marysville, Washington, agrees. “It’s relaxing. It’s a very positive experience with things you enjoy. And you can’t do anything wrong or upset anyone. You look at things, and you either pin them or you don’t.”

So what can a person DO on a pinning site? Just collect links?

You can use your pinboard for more than just collecting unrelated bits of interesting information. You can also use your pinboard to organize household projects, share items with friends, create wish lists and gift registries, provide vision and inspiration for a goal, and to keep yourself and other users up-to-date with the latest news or trends.

Among pinning’s popular applications: Planning a wedding. A bride-to-be might create a board for invitation ideas, a board for bridesmaid dress ideas, a board for possible venues, and so on. The groom and the wedding party can visit her pinboard, provide their input — and parents can provide a reality-check on what these ideas are going to cost — even if they’re far away.

Another application: Do-it-yourself projects and crafting. Mirly, a homeschooling mom, likes to collect family project ideas, and Braungard has created pinboards for theme party ideas and things she’d like to see when she takes her dream trip to Paris. Other folks create project pinboards for things like homebuilding and home improvement projects, car restoration, or other hobbies and interests.

Cooking! Recipe pinboards are very popular. Pinning lets users share recipes and cooking ideas. Boards are frequently organized around a common theme. For example, families with people with special dietary needs use pinboards to share heart-healthy recipes, recipes for diabetics, gluten-free recipes, Kosher and halal cooking ideas, vegetarian and vegan recipes, and alternative recipes for those with severe allergies. Finding others whose dietary needs match your own provides opportunities to connect with others and to add some variety to the menu selection at home.

What keeps pinners so engaged, logging in every day?

For Mirly, pinning is a method of stress relief. “I can get on for even a short period of time, and browse just what I am interested in. I don’t have to visit several different sites all over the internet to see recipes, projects, or organizational ideas, because it’s all in one place.”

Braungard appreciates the visual appeal of pinning. “Scrolling through pages of beautiful imagery is more enticing to me than reading about every little thing that everyone else is doing,” she says. “And you don’t get all the drama that sometimes comes with other social networks.”

An additional appeal is that there’s no pressure to “keep up,” which is a relief to those of us already overwhelmed with maintaining our presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so on. “If I don’t get on for a few days, I can jump right back in,” Mirly notes. “I don’t have the feeling that I have anything to catch up on. There’s no pressure, no feeling of being left behind.”

How are businesses taking advantage of this latest opportunity?

Smart business owners are integrating pinning into their content marketing strategies. They create attractive infographics or other information of value to attract pinners. These businesses thereby leverage a high level of social media engagement to get their brand message out to as many people as possible.

How can I maximize my pinning presence?

There are three keys to getting a high number of re-pins for your content:

  • Visual appeal
  • Keyword-rich descriptions
  • Originality.

The content that will garner the most re-pins, likes, comments, and followers is useful, value-added content that adheres to these three principles. Taking the time to ensure that your content meets all three criteria can help ensure that your pin is unique, relevant, and can be found in a search.

Tell me about pinning etiquette?

As a group, pinners have a tribal aversion to transparent self-promotion. In fact, self-promotion is listed as one of the top no-no’s on their Pin Etiquette page. However, many companies and brands have produced pages with pinboards that are quite popular, with followers numbering in the thousands. For example, Nordstrom’s page has dozens of boards whose pins are almost all its own products, and Whole Foods displays its products amongst many others, proclaiming “these are just a few of the things we love, and we love to share them with you.”

Here are a few ideas that businesses can use to create pins that have added value to their customers or to increase user traffic to their site, thereby increasing brand awareness and loyalty:

  1. Put a face to the company. Pin photos of your employees at work, at play, performing community service; whatever helps convey the image and style that the business cultivates.
  2. Highlight customers. Pin photos of your product or service in use by your customers or clients; let them tell the story of how it changed their life!
  3. Test new products or ideas. Conduct market research by posting a new product or concept and gauging the reaction.
  4. Promote a lifestyle, not a product. Showcase the lifestyle your customers enjoy while using your products. For example, if your product is a line of gourmet teas, pin photos of quaint English tea parties or Southern plantations, or other images that evoke whatever lifestyle best fits your image.
  5. Host a contest. Without infringing on the pin site’s guidelines, there are many ways to hold a contest for the customers who engage with you online. Ask your customers to create a pinboard of photos of them using your product, and then send you a link. Choose winners at random, or let your followers vote on a winner.
  6. Engaging! Get out there and do some commenting, re-pinning, and liking amongst your followers.
  7. Add a Pin It button to your product pages. Pinterest.com offers graphics for this, making it very easy for their users to pin your products to their boards.
  8. Leverage your existing networks. It is okay to send a “shout out” through your existing networks to let everyone know your company is pinning now. Additionally, make sure to use the sharing tools provided by the pinning site. For example, Pinterest.com offers the option of notifying your Facebook timeline or Twitter account about your new pin, or other pins that you like or comment on. Using these tools is a much easier, less obtrusive, and far more consistent way to get the news out that your company is now actively pinning. Make sure to add your pinning site to the social media section of your company e-newsletters, employee email signatures, and your website.
  9. Be consistent. Don’t just build some boards and be done. Keep pushing yourself to find new themes for new pinboards, so your content is never stale, and customers always have a reason to come back. Work out a simple system to accomplish a certain number of pins, re-pins, comments, likes, and new boards every week. Maintain a presence, which helps your brand build and maintain “top of mind awareness.” Spread throughout the week, your pinning efforts don’t need to add up to much work per day, especially if you’re organized with your time.

Where do I find pinning sites?

The big player in the pinning craze is Pinterest.com. So big, in fact, that it grew from nearly non-existent in mid-2011 to logging over 7.5 million unique users in December 2011 (Commodore Media Metrix, January 2012). According to Experian Hitwise, which measures the most popular websites based on total visits, weekly visits to Pinterest.com grew 170% in just the first three weeks of 2012. A January 2012 report from Shareaholic cites Pinterest as the #5 source of website referrals – referring more traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube combined.

All of those numbers mean that whether popularity is measured by how many users a website has, how many times they visit, or how often a user moves (“refers”) from there to a commercial site… Pinterest.com is definitely popular. The fact that a user must be “invited” to use Pinterest.com by another user – or by requesting an invite from the site itself, which takes days – makes these statistics all the more stunning.

Yet Pinterest.com isn’t the only pinning site out there. Several other similar sites exist; smaller than Pinterest.com, but easier to get into. It’s easier to gain followers on a newer or smaller site, because there are fewer “power users” with hundreds of thousands of followers. On the other hand, it’s also less likely that your personal friends and connections will be pinning on those sites.

Pinspire.com is an unabashed clone of Pinterest.com, right down to the layout, color scheme, and scripted font of the logo. Created to serve the European market, Pinspire.com is gaining traction.

Minglewing.com also has several layout elements in common with Pinterest.com, but has a broader range of focus in its categories, including some with a political bent. Its pins have more text and lean more toward text-based articles.

Piccsy.com appears to place a greater emphasis on photos within its layouts. Following Pinterest.com’s lead, it is also an invitation-only site.

Weheartit.com goes for a more feminine approach, with a pink color scheme and basic tags instead of categories. The top tags include “pretty”, “cute”, and “fashion”.

FFFFOUND.com looks like someone’s Tumblr account in beta format. With an all-white background and various sizes of Times New Roman font, it has nowhere near the polish of the other sites and does not invite the user to delve deeper.

LikedBy.com has an appealing layout that is similar to Pinterest.com but simpler. Its purple logo and heart icon give it a softer, more soothing feel. The simpler layout allows for more pins to be displayed at once, but the lack of categories with which to filter them feels a little too disorganized and a little overwhelming.

Storify.com asks its users to “create engaging social stories”. Its featured topics are more focused on current events; several newspapers, television news programs, and news websites use Storify.com.

Pearltrees.com employs the concept of pinning but the visual is more like a tree, with themes grouped onto a branch instead of a pinboard. In lieu of a photo, each pin is presented as a circle, or pearl, on the branch. When you find a pearl of wisdom that appeals to you, you pick it, thereby cultivating your own pearl trees. The visual concept is less “magazine” and more “mind map,” so the pins’ topics more often include text-based articles such as white papers.

Who Pins?

Demographically, about 75% of Pinterest.com users are women. Pinspire.com, Piccsy.com, and Weheartit.com also skew heavily female, while Storify.com, FFFFOUND.com, and Pearltrees.com all have a predominantly male following, according to Google Ad Planner.

Note: All of these sites have some adult content – most often in the form of adult humor and language. Some of the more “artistic” photographs may feature some nudity.

Will pinning replace Facebook as the social media king?

The rate at which Pinterest.com is growing can’t be ignored, but will it eventually replace Facebook as the #1 social networking site? Too early to tell. For all its faults, including clunky layouts and privacy issues, Facebook is an online home for millions. It’s where friends and family can be found at almost any time, day or night. This can sometimes be so intensely personal that we need to take a break – just like from our “real life” home. That’s where Pinterest.com comes in. The Internet has plenty of room for weekend escapes.