Does your business really need Pinterest?

This article is written by content strategist and writer Justine Webse*, and was first published on her own business blog You can read more of her articles, and sign-up for her updates, there. 

I’m sharing it on my blog as I think it makes a great case for why businesses need to think about social media more carefully, and it addresses one of my ‘pet hates’: businesses — large and small — seemingly jumping on every social media platform for the sake of it, instead of asking ‘why are we on here?’ and ‘where is our audience?’.

Is Pinterest essential to your social strategy?

Having a Pinterest account as part of your social content sharing strategy seems like a no brainer. In fact, headlines such as this make it very tough to defend your reasons not to invest in it. It’s a bit like saying “don’t have a Facebook account” —most people wonder why on earth you would say something so crazy given it’s a free service with millions (or billions) of users.

What’s at issue here is not Pinterest’s ability to drive referral traffic to your site, it’s whether it can do that for your specific business. And more importantly, it’s whether it can do that in a way that makes the investment of time and money in managing the channel worthwhile.

How does Pinterest work?

Pinterest is an astonishingly simple platform. You simply create a ‘board’ (or many), which is a themed web page under which you will collect ‘pins’. Your pins are images collected from any web page, which you store as a thumbnail on your ‘board’. Essentially, your boards become collages of images you like on the web. Simple.

You can follow people, but the main purpose of Pinterest is to ‘repin’ (or copy/repost) content. In fact, around 80% of the content on Pinterest is ‘repinned’, which means it is not original content at all, but copied from other ‘pinners’.

Importantly, no matter how many times your pin is ‘repinned’, it will retain its original URL.

It’s about content sharing, not social networking

For these reasons, I would argue that Pinterest is not a social network, it’s a content-sharing platform. This is because the central goal of Pinterest is not to make connections with people, but to connect with ideas, imagery and (increasingly) product. Businesses can collect ‘followers’ but their focus is to gain repins —to encourage Pinners to share their URL-linked image or article as widely as possible.

This makes it fundamentally different to Facebook, Twitter etc. and it’s also why Pinterest deserves its own strategy to make the most of its specific features and limitations. Simply reposting your existing content here is unlikely to be enough to increase sales/brand awareness.

Who uses Pinterest?

It’s difficult to know just how reliable many of the user statistics on Pinterest really are, however, the ones that we have suggest that it’s a channel currently dominated by women (upwards of 75% of users are female). As this infographicand this article show, around half of users have children and they tend to have average to below average incomes and most do not have a university degree.

Armed with this information, my summation of Pinterest is that it is window-shopping and tyre-kicking at its best. It allows users to collect a wishlist of items, (destinations, recipes, gifts etc) and perhaps even purchase some of them. Clearly, the demographic of users strongly skews the types of content that rise to the ‘top’ and get repinned most often.

It’s true that Pinterest can be a powerful brand awareness platform for big names in the right industries, but the army of repinners have a specific demographic that you need to remain mindful of.


  1. Pinterest is a huge social network, you have to be on it! Yes, Pinterest has a massive (and growing) user base, but the goal is not primarily to develop a huge following, it’s to gain ‘repins’. Business users must keep this at the forefront of their minds when developing a Pinterest-specific strategy. How visually appealing is your content? How will you create cut-through? How many repins are you going to achieve from the right people and what value will they deliver you?
  2. Pinterest is easy to use and low investment: Yes, it’s an astonishingly simple platform with very few features. But this also means that it’s low investment for users too. Significant loyalty and engagement is perhaps harder to achieve on Pinterest because it is so simple and repining requires such little effort. Simply having someone ‘like’ your picture and repin it won’t mean much unless it’s the right person and there’s a call to action associated with the URL it links to. I would argue that you need a Pinterest-specific strategy to make the channel really work for you, so it may not be quite as ‘low investment’ as you first think.
  3. It’s not just for retail brands, everyone can use it: This statement is not entirely false, but you do need to consider how you will measure the worth of your repins, follows and favourites. Retail brands have the advantage of being able to pin images with URL addresses direct to their sales pages/online shops. This has clear, measurable value but unless your repin is of an image, idea, article or post that will drive the right people to the right page in your website (and that has the right call-to-action on it), what is the repin really worth? If it’s just brand awareness you’re after, how will you measure that?
  4. You don’t even need to create your own content on Pinterest: Sure, you can just pin existing content if you want to. However, every pin keeps its original URL, so if you only repin other people’s content, the associated URL will always drive them away to that person’s/business’s site. What’s that going to do for you? If your goals are to simply engage with people through the site, that’s fine, but you’ll need to integrate this will strategies for higher-touch social networks such as Facebook, your own blog and/or Twitter etc too.

None of this necessarily means that Pinterest isn’t a good platform for your business. And yes, I would argue that you’d be crazy not to have a Pinterest presence if you are in retail, design, food, fashion or photography —or indeed any service or product business that lends itself to visual communication, as this list from Time Tech points out. However, you should think carefully about your strategy for Pinterest and whether you’re ready to invest in original content for this channel. Ask yourself:

Is my target audience spending time on Pinterest to find my products/services? If they’re not, could I convince them to?
Do my products/services lend themselves to visual communication?
Do I have the time to create Pinterest-specific content?

*I have had freelance employment with Justine’s current, and previous, businesses.

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