Pinterest surged into the spotlight earlier this year when it was revealed that it drives more web traffic than YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined. What's so compelling about a website that lets you make virtual bulletin boards of "pinned" images, observers wondered, and does this service now belong in the pantheon of must-use social tools like Facebook and Twitter? Perhaps most important, marketers are asking, is this something that will drive revenue?
Not long after the Pinterest spike, my employer, Emily Carr University, and research firm Vision Critical recruited 500 Pinterest users from the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia, to talk about their pinning habits.
The results: Pinterest users reported a surprisingly high correlation between pinning and subsequent purchasing: more than 1 in 5 Pinterest users has pinned an item that they later purchased. In the social world, this is a high conversion rate.
Surprisingly, the correlation between pinning and offline purchasing (16%) was stronger than the correlation between pinning and online purchasing (12%). (The overall number of people who have pinned and then purchased comes to 21%, because some purchased both ways.)
The people who are purchasing pin three times as many items (59) each month as non-purchasers (19). No wonder: the purchasers visit Pinterest almost three times as often, 27 times a month, compared to an average 10 for non-purchasers.
More than 60% of these purchasers joined Pinterest before January 2012, in other words, before the hype. This could be because they are more loyal early adopters or because those who've joined since haven't had as much time to convert their activity to buying. Probably, it's some combination of both. Click the image below for an infographic representation of the survey results.
It's hard to assess any causal relationship between pinning and purchasing. Are people buying because they pin, or pinning what they always intended to buy? Still, the implications for marketers are clear: Pinning, especially among loyal, active Pinterest users, is intimately intertwined with buying. Pinning is a signal that says, "I'm thinking of purchasing your product".
If you're already running a social media customer relations team, you're well positioned to respond. At a minimum, your team should be monitoring the Pinterest page that shows every item pinned from your site(s): http://pinterest.com/source/yoursite.com. Take a peek at what that page looks like for brand like Adidas or Michael's and you get an instant snapshot of the opportunities for moving customers from pinning to purchase.
Pinboard names also offer clues about how seriously your customers are considering a purchase: in general, anything with "lust" or "inspiration" in the title implies fantasy rather than purchase intent, while lists named for specific product categories ("red shoes") usually read like pre-purchase shortlists. Work from these clues to reach out to customers with product information or discounts and promotions. But, take care to avoid being intrusive or creepy: if Sarah posts your product to her "Birthday Wishlist" pinboard, it's not your job to look at her Facebook profile, find the name of her boyfriend, and let him know you're happy to help him get that perfect gift.
At a higher level, our research on Pinterest speaks to the necessity of asking some tough questions about any new social media platform, and taking a data-driven approach to finding the answers.
After all, there has been a Pinterest every year for the past decade. If you cringe like I do at the memory of joining Second Life, you know how hard it is to resist the siren song of the Cool New Social Web Thing. Investing some personal time in CNSWTs can help you get inside the heads of the customers who are spending time there, and to understanding the social media zeitgeist, but taking the leap from personal interest to brand investment requires a much higher threshold of confidence. To justify a real resource commitment (dollars, technology, time) a new platform has to demonstrate that it's moving the dial on one of your key metrics, whether it's your total revenue, your average cost of sale or production, or simply the number of applications you get in response to each job ad.
Knowing the relationship between platform and metrics isn't just a matter of proving ROI, but rather, crucial to aligning your strategy for a new social media platform with the strategy for that part of your business it can reasonably be expected to enhance. To achieve that kind of alignment, you have to go beyond the aggregated stats on visits and users that any trending platform produces to dazzle its potential business audience. You have to hear about the platform's impact from the users themselves.