Post Blog: What next for social media?


Consultant Keith Hector talks to Post Online about the potential of the latest social media trend - Pinterest.

I recently attended a conference on social media. Although I half expected that my attendance would be of a virtual nature I did in fact need to make a physical appearance at Olympia. I signed up to attend as I was curious to learn more about the impact of social media on the business world.

Although I’m no dinosaur, I must profess to initially finding Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn a bit like opening the box on my Sinclair Spectrum for the first time in 1982 - all sparkly, new, exciting, and everyone was talking about it. You know you want to play with it, but you don’t know how to get the best out of it.

So I was particularly keen to see how social media was helping businesses to secure new clients and hold on to existing accounts. I found myself at the conference in an environment that had a real buzz and dynamism about it. Among the most memorable quotes was techspeak, explaining concepts such as ‘unity engagement platforms’, ‘video crowdsourcing’ and ‘conversational market technology’.

I had a particularly mentally taxing discussion with a ‘crowd engineering expert’ about ‘building the social grid’, and I think I knew less about what that was at the end of the conversation than I did before it started. One thing did sink in, that social media is now solidly embedded in the strategic marketing approaches of forward looking brands and companies.

These approaches work because they use the most simple premise – get your point across to your customer in the manner and space that they are active. Just like taking a cow to market; if you leave it in the shed no-one will want to swap it for magic beans.

So Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are all massive and well established. If you want to know how to use them as effective marketing tools the other revelation to me at the conference was that the next big thing is already here - Pinterest.

Pinterest is an online bulletin board to post images of things that interest people, and to share them with the world. It’s a simple concept that has caught the imagination of the public, and in turn that of the marketing machines of major organisations across the globe.

The rub from a commercial perspective is that each image ‘pinned’ has the potential to be linked back to the source of that content, such as a commercial website. Pinterest works particularly well in enhancing the brand value and reputation with products that consumers may find visually attractive.

Simply being on Pinterest can bring some associated ‘coolness’ to these brands, but the real payback comes from demonstrating their latest lines and enhancing their customers' desire to buy.

UK brands are recognising this and are already dipping their toe in the Pinterest water. According to Shareaholic, Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined. Some 3.6% find themselves on a commercial website as a result of clicking an image on Pinterest. There are some challenges.

It has been suggested, probably accurately, that the American userbase of Pinterest is 85% female. So much for equality! But the global userbase has grown from scratch to 12 million people, in just two years.

And it is still growing, almost exponentially. Another downside is that Pinterest’s content is not very well organised or prioritised, so you are more likely to stumble upon brands rather than be directed towards them.

So what use could Pinterest be to businesses selling insurance in the UK market? I’d argue that you need to see through the pictures of fashionable new shoes and see the potential.

As you would expect, Pinterest works well for companies with great images, so if you are sat in the marketing team of a major brand which has established images of small furry eastern European mammals, 70s rockstars, or dogs that impersonate WW2 leaders, then you could find that ‘pinning’ those images on Pinterest could increase traffic to your websites.

Putting an image of the front of your new policy wording on Pinterest probably isn’t going to float anyone’s boat – even if it is for marine cover. More positively I saw an image of a UK broker’s brand on Pinterest that had been pinned by the company that designed it for them.

Clicking on the image took me to the designer’s site. If the broker had a link on that site, or even posted the image themselves, is it wildly optimistic to expect that some new enquiries could be generated from such a simple activity?

If you are a regional broker this probably won’t add up to an awful lot for you, unless you have a ‘pin up’ chief executive with a great image to post. Come on Paul Moors, stand up and be counted.

Pinterest is still developing and, in view of that, my new friends at the conference suggested that it is still low down on the list of priorities for most commercial marketing teams.

And, despite its relevance to retail brands, a quick scan of GAP’s Pinterest board shows that they have less than 5000 followers. But before we all dismiss this out of hand, have a look at what happens if you type in ‘life insurance’ into the Pinterest search box.

Click any of the images, some of which will result in a link through to a multitude of insurer and broker websites. Could the UK market capitalise on these approaches? Ultimately, your customers will decide whether it works for them or not.

Keith Hector is an independent consultant.

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