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Show Me the Money: The Value of Pinterest as a Social Commerce Platform for Your Business

The digital world is rewriting the rules of commerce faster than ever. This is a good thing, as brands are forced to implement and utilize social tools to keep customer attention and loyalty. In 2013, mobile commerce saw explosive growth, as advertisers began taking a more targeted approach to social media and increasingly embraced omnichannel practices.

When it comes to engaging with consumers, pictures always speak louder than words, something I alluded to in last week's piece on Instagram. Fashion has tapped user-generated content to further branding efforts, to much success. However, the focus is now shifting to closing the sale, and for that, brands are turning to another mobile, image-driven social platform: Pinterest

Self-described as "a tool for collecting and organizing the things that inspire you," Pinterest is all about discovery and sharing. Just like Instagram encourages the sharing of beautiful people, places, things, and moments, Pinterest encourages an aspirational culture, focused on sharing images and objects that speak to its users. And although it has a reputation for being "just" a scrapbooking site for women, this undermines Pinterest's real value. Even though it isn't technically an e-commerce site, Pinterest has evolved into a major sales driver for online retailers, generating more tangible business value than any other social network. 

Thus far, fashion and beauty brands have been the earliest (and arguably, most successful) adopters of the social media platform. Demographics play a huge role in this. According to a Pew Research Center report published in late December, 1/3 of online US women use Pinterest, a 25% increase from an earlier study, as do 8% of online US men, a 3% increase. The majority of these users fall in the coveted 18-49 age group, are college educated and in a high income bracket -- a retailer's dream.

Also, Pinterest's focus on visuals and products make it a natural partner for the fashion industry. Beautiful products translate well on the gridded timeline, and the boards feature makes the creation -- or rather, curation -- of trend reports, fan pages, and wish lists incredibly easy. Thus, the idealized lifestyle perpetuated in fashionable print publications seems more attainable online, via the Pinterest platform, because the user can personalize their experience: what to pin and where to pin it, while also communicating why it inspires them. 

As a result, the brands who have invested in integrating Pinterest into their social media strategy have seen a huge pay-off. Last year, 74% of consumers relied on social media to guide their purchases, and in the second quarter of 2013, Pinterest accounted for 23% of global social-mediated sales, a huge change from the previous year's 2%. 

In the UK, Pinterest overtook Facebook in revenue per visit; it's expected to do the same in the US this year, if it hasn't already: AddShoppers reports that pins drove more revenue to e-commerce stores than any other social share. A single Pin's valuation falls between 78 and 87 cents; as a result, 62% of brands placed the "Pin It" button on their websites' product pages, where it's the most-clicked of all the social media buttons.

But developing a Pinterest page can be beneficial for any business, not just those related to fashion and traditional e-commerce. 

Because Pinterest is so much more than a social network, it has created a shift in the way that consumers find "stuff" that they care about. The magic is in the discovery process: Pinterest is best at helping consumers discover the products, companies, places, and people that they didn't previously know existed, or that they wanted. It connects people through shared interests, whether that may be intricately detailed couture ballgowns, innovative urban architecture or brilliantly witty package design. There's great opportunity here for businesses of all sizes, in all industries, to gain exposure to a customer base with enormous purchasing power, who are actively looking to spend.

Pinterest's visual nature allows for rapid intake and segmentation of information, which means that consumers can quickly discover, collect, investigate, and then purchase products and services, both on their desktops and mobile devices. Pinterest is also a great way to further communicate a company's values and culture, like ExactTarget's, for example. Infographics, quotes, employee profiles, event photos and more all do well on Pinterest's visual grid and help to connect to consumers in an environment that doesn't scream "sell, sell, sell!"

Additionally, a single Pin can create lasting value. Pins can be discovered for months, or even years, after they are created, so when a Pin is popular, its repeated discovery means that it - and the brand behind it - is something worth buying. The longevity of a Pin means that a single Pin can drive exposure and sales for a much longer period of time than posting on any other social channel. 

So if you don't have a Pinterest page for your business, what's holding you back? There's so much more to Pinterest than "easy" DIYs and overly photoshopped vacation locales, especially since the platform now allows you to embed YouTube videos and supports animated GIFs. Take the time to develop and share beautiful visual content and engage your community, because regardless of whether you're B2B or B2C, Pinterest is arguably the smartest, easiest investment you can make in social media right now.

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