Searching for a social CRM strategy, companies pin hopes on Pinterest

The popular content-sharing site could prove a boon to businesses looking to improve customer experience management, but some experts say it’s too soon to tell.

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It didn’t take long for businesses to recognize the potential value of social media sites Facebook and Twitter. Now another hugely popular site has piqued their interest: Pinterest.

The site invites users to organize and share the images they find when surfing the Web. Since it launched in 2010, traffic has grown by about 50% a month, making it the third-largest social network in the U.S., thanks to an audience that skews mostly female, according to Mashable’s recent study “13 ‘Pinteresting’ Facts About Pinterest Users.”

But the Pinterest experience -- people peruse the Web for photos of their favorite fashions, decorations and recipes, much like pulling magazine clippings, and “pin” them to the site -- is changing. Businesses are learning about benefits Pinterest can bring them, too, and are considering using it for social CRM as part of an overall customer experience management (CEM) strategy.

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“Pinterest’s heavy use of visuals seems to work best with businesses in the home decor, hobbies, crafts, food and fashion categories,” said Tim Peter, of Tim Peter & Associates in Long Valley, N.J., a company that uses the Web to help businesses grow. Any company looking to support its brand with visuals can use the site to promote its products or services, he said.

One key feature of Pinterest is the “re-pin” process in which users find images on fellow users’ boards and repost them on their own boards. Re-pinning credits the user who first pinned the image and maintains the source link -- regardless of how many times it is re-pinned. The option has opened up the opportunity for businesses to promote brand recognition and directly encourage people to buy products and services.

Using Pinterest for Social CRM

So Pinterest is the next big thing on the Web. But will it stay that way for businesses, and is it worth a company’s time to create an account? Opinions differ. According to Cyndie Shaffstall, specialist in search engine optimization and search media optimization for Spider Trainers in Lakewood, Colo., which optimizes professional Web visibility, it also depends on the type of company.

“Pinterest is a visual social network, and this means that companies that can present their products or services in a vibrant, engaging manner will derive the most benefit,” Shaffstall said. “With the right type of products and good photography, this site can provide you invaluable feedback on the viability of products you are vetting.”

Big brands, from Whole Foods Market and the Travel Channel to the popular site Etsy, where artists sell their work, and even Drake University are using Pinterest. Those seeing the most success are building deeper relationships with customers and using them to find new ones. And they are doing that by giving customers incentives to share brand content with their Pinterest followers, Peter added.

“Companies looking to get the most from Pinterest should post shareable content, ask consumers to share the brand’s content and provide incentives for customers to share content,” Peter said. If companies offer the Pin It button on their own websites, they can also allow their consumers to add items to their wish lists and eventually buy those items.

He points to home goods retailer Wayfair, based in Boston, as doing a particularly good job of highlighting brand experiences and merchandising its products.

“Wayfair is effectively extending the shopping experience across sales channels to continue engaging customers,” Peter said. The company’s “Share the Love Pinterest Contest,” which it launched on Facebook, awards $50 gift cards to several random customers as well as those who built the best pin boards. It not only engages customers but also encourages Wayfair’s existing 28,000 Facebook followers to tout the brand.

Is Pinterest Mature Enough for Social CRM?

There are a few things companies should consider before joining Pinterest: Copyright infringement is one of them.

“Ensure that anything you're pinning or re-pinning to your brand's boards [doesn’t] infringe someone else's copyright.” Peter said. “Brand marketers should tread lightly if they're unsure of the terms of use on content they're pinning.”

Peter also warns that some site architectures don’t easily allow you to pin content -- JavaScript image expansion code in particular can be a problem.

Others are more hesitant to conclude that Pinterest can offer businesses concrete CEM benefits -- yet, anyway.

“Forrester doesn’t advocate a platform lead strategy -- i.e., pinning for pinning’s sake -- and the service is still way too new to have a concrete role to play in a specific area like social CRM,” said Darika Ahrens, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. That doesn’t mean, however, that businesses with adequate time and budgets shouldn’t experiment with Pinterest, she said.

“Early rumors suggest Pinterest would be useful to brands looking to drive traffic to their website. What happens to that traffic when they hit your website -- do they bounce? Do they buy? It is yet to be quantified with any real data,” she said.

This was first published in July 2012
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