Musings on online marketing for small businesses: Pinterest

I’ve done some online marketing consulting for small businesses over the past few years and after one rant too many on the topic, I’ve finally decided to level my written criticisms at each of the platforms that you’re “supposed” to be marketing your small business on. If you enjoy cultivating an unpaid presence on some of these media or have reason to believe you’re getting a good ROI for your paid presence, don’t let me stop you. But if you’re stressed about retaining a social media consultant or firm at some insane monthly price so they can be ~*~strategic~*~ for you, taking a few minutes to read my (free!) musings first probably can’t hurt. I’m no all-around expert, so please tell me if you disagree in the comments!

Pinterest is wildly popular as a place to collate and curate pretty things; its valuation may keep some folks up at night, but I’m certainly not one of them and you probably aren’t either, so this isn’t about making Pinterest more valuable to its investors. Unless you are a blogger or someone who sells goods or services online, I cannot come up with a reason that your small business needs to concern itself with a Pinterest presence until the developers up their game. Sure, it might be better to build a following now in the event that the app ends up being more useful to you later, but time is money and money today is worth more than money tomorrow. There are just so many things still lacking that could make Pinterest far more useful to consumers and businesses alike. Thankfully, they have recently added the ability to swipe between enlarged images, “Picked for you” pins, and the chronologically-sorted “Pins” record for any user is a step in the right direction. Here are 5 things I think are annoying about Pinterest in its current incarnation:

  1. I wish that Pinterest had whitelisting/subscription options similar to eBay’s “Follow this search.”

I love fashion, but so many brands treat Pinterest as a photo repository for their every commercial item. That’s useful, on the one hand, for pinners who curate their sartorial wish lists on Pinterest, but I don’t care to see every belt, shoe, and raincoat along with the evening dresses I like to drool over. My options now are for my feed to be inundated with unwanted pins if I follow the brand’s entire profile, or to frequently check back to follow new boards (by which time, they’re not usually worth following so much as sifting through). If I could establish preferences so that every time Vivienne Westwood adds a board with one of “collection,” “S/S,” “F/W,” “spring/summer,” “fall/winter,” “resort,” or “runway” in its title, I am notified of my automatic subscription, then I would neither have to remember to check for new Boards on an ongoing basis nor (depending on the naming conventions of the pinner, anyway) risk a deluge of images that don’t interest me. Unfollowing boards that have one or more of the words but don’t actually interest me would be easy to do either in response to a notification about the automatic following of said board (e.g. if it is titled “Men’s Collection Spring/Summer 2016”) or by looking at my feed.

As the owner of a boutique, you might have a customer like me who wants to see pictures of your dresses the moment they become available but doesn’t want to subscribe because she doesn’t want updates from your “Quotes by Couturiers” & etc. boards, for example. The option to auto-subscribe to boards could help here. On the other hand, if you own an online home décor shop, you might have clients who’d love to know about your selection of seasonal soy candles, but not at the risk of having to see every other pin on your impressive “Smells of Home” board, with its pictures of freshly baked bread. (Hey, maybe she’s on a gluten-free diet!) If Pinterest could go one step further and allow a customer to whitelist all pins of yours with relevant words or strings of words like “soy + candle,” she could increase her chances of seeing pins from you that might interest her without much temptation to break her diet. These pins could be stuck into the user’s feed chronologically, as per usual, or Pinterest could take a page from Facebook’s cynical playbook and use the opportunity to charge you to get your product in front of interested users.

  1. I wish that Pinterest could show me matching Pins from different sources.

Pinterest is a giant, shiny, collective violation of intellectual property law. Unless you’re that rare user who takes her own photos, you’re technically infringing on someone else’s copyright. Most “victims” don’t mind because it’s free advertising—but only if the link still directs pinners to the right source! Things pinned from Tumblr seem to be particularly problematic unless the micro-blogger in question is good about citing her sources.

Using Chrome on a computer, I can easily right click an image and tell the browser to Google search for similar images in order to hunt down the original source; if one can do that on a Moto phone, I’ve not yet figured it out. It would be nice to be able to find the source for pretty things whilst using the mobile version of the Pinterest app. As a user, it’s much easier to locate images you’ve previously pinned when they have terms attached other than “pretty,” or, my personal favorite, “.” As a business user, I imagine you’d like for people pinning your product or photograph to know it’s yours, no?

  1. I wish Pinterest would up its location data game.

What location data game, you ask? Exactly. They do tell business pinners about their fans’ locations, to be fair; however, as plain old me, I can’t find local vendors to follow by zip code within the app itself, and while searching for “Woodstock Illinois” might point me toward cool landmarks because of the text below the photos, it won’t help me preview businesses pinning from there that I might consider visiting. Looking on Pinterest for an event planning company with an aesthetic that fits your vision? Yeah, even if the company’s “About” tells you where they are, it’s news to me if you can use that information to limit your search by geography and I don’t think anyone adds their location information to every pin about their business.

As an app that I assume intends to make money eventually (???), I’d think they’d have considered the potential market for helping to drive traffic to brick and mortar businesses. After all, beyond the scope of your delivery radius, your gorgeous floral arrangements are creating business for other florists who aren’t necessarily paying someone to manage their Pinterest accounts.

  1. I wish users had the option of deciding whether to display to others the times at which we pin things, and I wish that I could always see that information for my own pins.

Okay, so I’m not sure this is useful for businesses, but I’ve been known to, for instance, absentmindedly pin my way through cooking downtime, only to forget what time I started boiling/baking/etc. the thing in question. But I could definitely tell you which was the first I pinned after the food started doing its thing! That said, no one needs to be able to check up on my waxing and waning motivation via Pinterest timestamps, thankyouverymuch. It would also be useful, as a non-business user, to know when the last pin had been added to a board so I’d know whether a board was “dead” or worth following. Again, users like me might not want that displayed, but businesses should!

  1. I WISH PINTEREST HAD SMALL-BUSINESS-FRIENDLIER ANALYTICS.

Yes, Pinterest has business accounts. Yes, they offer analytics to those users. You know who doesn’t qualify as a business user? Anyone with a store on eBay, anyone with a shop on Etsy, anyone with art for sale on Deviant Art, etc. Not everyone has their own website domain that they can verify, which is definitely not just a problem on Pinterest.

Ultimately, of course, the question is always whether a platform can help you achieve your goals. In the case of Pinterest, your Inspirational Quotes board might be wildly popular, but if your local yoga studio isn’t benefitting from the fandom of people elsewhere, and if you aren’t sure the pins improve the loyalty of your actual customers, you should only be curating content on Pinterest because you want to. Or, if your local yoga studio plans to start selling products or (somehow) services online, or has a blog that you hope will generate ad revenue, pin away! (For advice on strategy, check out this article, but be warned that the “Copyright” section–especially #38–is not the advice a lawyer would give you.)

Images are king on Pinterest in the eyes of pinners, so it will be interesting to see whether the company agrees. I hope to see Pinterest use advances in image analysis to collect meta-ish data on the shiny lifestyles we all wish we were living. (It’s not clear whether they are using images or keywords to select the “Picked for you” pins, but I’m guessing it’s the latter.) Learning about pinners who repinned an image of yours or followed at least one of your boards in a given month that they say “pretty” the most, followed by “beautiful,” “elegant,” and “dream” seems strictly less useful than learning that the most popular images among that same group are sunsets, dresses, shoes, and hats. Gauntlet thrown, Silbermann!

See also.

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