If you haven't heard, Pinterest is all the rage.
The statistics, depending on what you've read, are staggering. For example, the site received nearly 11 million total visits during the week ending December 17, 2011 and over 420 million pageviews in the United States in the month of October. That's a 2,000 percent increase since June. That's all well and good, but what does it mean for small businesses? It means that as always, a certain number of them will be able to capitalize and take advantage of its features, while others shouldn't bother even looking into it, because it will be a colossal waste of time. It all depends on what business we're talking about and what assets said business has to share.
Ultimately, it's a big collage board for the Internet. It allows people to "pin" images (and video, but good luck competing with YouTube) of things they like and want to share with others. These can be anything from funny pictures, professional images, food, places, or the all important "gifts." If you see an image online, you can "pin it," categorize it and Pinterest automatically matches back to the site that it was pulled from. From there anyone can repin something, like it or comment on it. The "gifts" angle is where this can pay huge dividends for small (and really all) businesses. There is a gifts tab, sorted by price (and based on the people you're following) that is searchable at the top of the Pinterest home page. All it takes is a double click on a gift image and voila, you're transported back to the site of origin for potential purchase. In some ways, Pinterest is another search engine you can be listed on, but consumers decide what is popular, rather than arbitrary algorithms.
How a small business can capitalize
Pinterest has learned from Twitter and Facebook by incorporating an easy way for businesses to drive images and traffic to its site. A very simple to install "Pin it" button makes it easy for someone browsing your website to quickly add something to their Pinterest page. For example, if you're a wedding dress maker and a bride to be likes what she sees on your site, she can easily pin an image that goes back to her page and gets filed under a certain category, such as "gifts" or "things I like." From there, everyone else can see it, and the chances of it getting shared increase. People can also click on it and be directed back to your site.
As an example, small business owner Beth Quinn, a self taught jewelry and mixed media artist, has seen success in using Pinterest, typically seeing traffic of 10 – 15,000 hits per day to her site. Specifically, one of her charm necklaces recently received 1,500 repins and 400 likes, causing traffic to spike to 70,000 and orders for the necklace to spike. Another Pinterest pin resulted in sales of 300 units of one necklace design in the fall.
Why it won't work for all small businesses
Like every other social network, there is a tremendous amount of clutter being shared. The trick is getting content to be shared quickly and frequently, thus increasing the chances of someone acting on it. The first step is assessing whether or not you have the type of website that can handle e-commerce. If you can't immediately convert sales on a website, then it probably doesn't make sense to bother with Pinterest. While sharing content can be effective, if there isn't a "impulse buy" tied to it, you likely won't see the return on the effort. However, if your site is optimized for e-commerce and you do have images of things to purchase, by all means install the Pinterest application and encourage browsers to share. Essentially it's an excuse to bookmark something for later purchase, which everyone loves to do, but with the option to show friends in the process. Service industries will have a harder time making use of Pinterest, at least in the short term, mostly because imagery and content is more difficult to come by for those businesses, let alone act on.
At the very least, Pinterest is worth checking out. Hit the site, poke around and see what it's all about. Like every social networking site, it never hurts to have a familiarity with it and how it works. Whether or not it will drive traffic or revenue is another story and a decision best left to each individual business. But my early read is that unless you have the content and the ability to convert a sale quickly online, pass on investing time and effort in it for now.
Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email email@example.com.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.