You’ve likely heard lots and lots about a newish social network called Pinterest in the last couple of weeks.

1935 Alfa Romeo 8C - Fabforgottennobility via The Fancy

Many bloggers are talking about it in the same giddy ways reserved for the last few next big things, but let me offer some relief. Pinterest is an interesting site with some real, immediate applications for online retailers and Etsy merchants, but the site itself offers little for most typical businesses and it’s certainly not the next big thing. (I wrote about it late last year if you want some information on Pinterest for Business)

I usually know that once small business owners start asking me about a strategy for using some new tool it’s time to speak up.

In fact, it’s the search for the next big thing that is hurting many businesses. You know what the next big thing for every business is? Find a way to clearly differentiate what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it from everyone else that says they are doing what you’re doing. That’s the next big thing. Pinterest then might actually be used as a tactic to support that, but never the other way around.

I think the thing that leads to so much confusion and frustration for business owners these days is that there’s an entire generation of online pundits (generation is about every three years in online punditness) that missed out when blogging tipped and that weren’t at SXSW in 2007 when Twitter raced on the scene, so by gosh they aren’t going to miss the next big thing and are willing to proclaim – “this changes everything” about any tool that gets a little white hot.

Here’s the thing. I kind of like Pinterest, I kind of like Foursquare, I kind of like Twitter and on and on, but the main thing I like about every new tool is what it can teach us once it develops buzz and users. So you see, I’m not opposed to anything other than people selling tools as strategy.

The great learning from playing with Pinterest and even exploring ways to use it to help support your objectives is that you get to witness how important visual stimulation and social sharing is in the  grand scheme of attracting interest. I’ve had the opportunity to study how some early Pinterest adopters use the tool and it’s a fascinating study in the behavior of online users.

Like the entire category of infographics has done, Pinterest has plenty to teach us about how to create interest on our own website, in our own presentations and in the stories we use to attract potential clients – that’s what makes Pinterest worthy of the investment in time and not some magic fairy dust promise of traffic and riches.

In fact, I would suggest you look into some other sites employing visual scanning and visual stimulation to actually make money. There may be greater learning to be had at sites like The Fancy, or Polyvore.

The big message in all of this though is clarity of purpose. Until you’re clear on your marketing strategy every new tactic will sound like the next big thing.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Pinterest will be useful to some brands, it could become essential for others and for some it will be totally irrelevant, but thats the same of every marcomms channel.

  • Great post, John. To be sure, Pinterest is all the rage. I agree, though, on the general point that using it as intended just helps you keep up with everyone else. As a commercial photographer, I took a look at it to see how it could (or even should) fit into my business.

    I ended up finding that their terms of service are pretty bad. They basically state that you must either a) own the content you submit or b) have a license to submit it. Who has a license to submit everything?

    I wrote up a post on it which you might find interesting:


    • Oh those pesky little TOS – who has time for all that fine print 🙂

  • Thanks for your opinion. I really appreciate an open word that goes beyond selling the next big thing. How much do you guess is the traffic on pinterest a bubble right now?  

  • John you’re really putting a damper on things here. The other day to show us how your short cut to success was just a lot of hard work over a long period of time. Now you’re telling us that the next biggest thing really isn’t. You mean I really can’t make big money on autopilot while relaxing on the beach? 🙂

    BTW I’m tempted to pin this post! 

    • No actually you can make money sitting on the beach, but you’ve got to build the beach first 🙂

      Oh, and sorry to be such a downer – I come back to a happy place soon.

  • Adi

    Quite.  People should treat every social network on its merits and decide what they’re going to offer on that network.  What benefit will users derive from interacting with them on there?

    Too many companies ignore this basic first step and plough into every new network that arrives on the scene, taking a ‘build it and pray’ approach that seldom ever works.

    • So true, but even then you can’t really assess the merits of any tactic without a strong strategy in place first.

  • John – this is why you are one of the best out there. THIS is the article I will be showing to my clients jumping on the bandwagon with no plan.

    • Life is all about balance 🙂

      How have you been, haven’t heard from you in a while.

  • To be fair, I think this author really needs to back up his opinions with some data, since my research says plenty of sites are converting well and early from Pinterest.  Ask around, plenty of women are substituting time on FB for time on Pinterest.  My wife has bought at least a dozen clothing items from Pinterest click-throughs since joining in December.

    • George – I am well aware of some sites that are kicking butt via Pinterest, but my point is that it’s not a strategy, it’s a tactic that supports the obvious strategy of a women’s fashion retailer or any other business that sells visually stimulating products. The search for the next big thing is the antagonist, not Pinterest.

  • Thank you for saying it, John. Again, considering return on time spent… beyond the fact of being a beautiful, ad-free environment, I think many folks are enjoying gorgeous relief from all the text and noise, don’t you?

    • It’s just another piece of the puzzle, it ain’t manna

  • Jennifer Latham Richards

    Very well said, John.  There are lots of useful social media sites out there for businesses.  That doesn`t mean all businesses should be using all of these sites.  If it’s not reaching your target market, you’re spending time on something that may not necessarily achieve the goals you have set.  Love reading your posts, John.

    • Thanks Jennifer – I really think it comes down to priorities too – if you’re not blogging, do that first. If you’ve built a strong online foundation, then maybe Pinterest is an interesting new layer, but not without the foundation to build upon.

  • Steve

    It’s just another piece of the puzzle, it ain’t manna” , Well put! Have a great day John!

  • Strategy gives strength to choosing and using the right tools.  If you know who you are talking to and what your core message is to that people group, then it clarifies whether certain tools are useful or not. 

    With the obvious bent (for businesses) toward exclusively self-promoting their own stuff, businesses should intentionally focus most of their pins on what is visually attractive to their audience.  Pin stuff that engages your followers that they want to pin on their boards.  I think the amount of TIME that people spend on Pinterest is intriguing and if they are spending alot of that time around your brand, then I think it’s a good thing. 

    And for alot of business owners, you might be able to find willing volunteers of the marketing team to volunteer to pin for the business.  With a clear strategy, I think it’s something easy to do on a mobile device as well – and something that fits in an after-hours schedule (without feeling like work!)   

    Also, rather than a business creating a profile, it might be more important to nurture a “Pinterest interest” among your fans to create boards around your products.  A restaurant could pin pics of their own food, but how cool would it be for a grassroots effort among your fanbase to start pinning for you.  Just create visually exciting and pinnable pics on your website (with a “Permission to Pin” notification) and find a few champions who start the pinning on your behalf.  That’s brand ambassadorship in a creative way!

  • Good point. =) Thank you! 

  • I’ve seen a number of articles on Pinterest in the last few days and I have to say that I’m surprised this is even a debate.  Every service has some market segment that it can work for, but if your market is B2B or B2PeopleOlderThan20 I think it’s safe to say your customers have never even heard of Pinterest.

  • “Until you’re clear on your marketing strategy every new tactic will sound like the next big thing.” 

    Yes. Exactly.

    As more and more of my clients approach me about getting on the Pinterest bandwagon, I have to remind them that it’s a tool, not the holy grail, and like any social tool, you’ve got to have a strategy that works for your business before you jump in with both feet.

    Pinterest is useful for some of my clients (who are project-oriented retailers), and not really for others (at least, not at this stage in their business). And with Pinterest’s not-so-covert link swapping, it might not be as helpful as you think.

    My vote is to watch and participate socially, but like you, John, I don’t recommend it for every business. There’s too many other things that need to have focus first. And Pinterest, while fun and enjoyable, is designed to distract.

  • there’s no pinterest share button on this article?? anyway, yes, you are right John. A strategy is important. If you do not have a visibly appealing landing spot for your Pinterest traffic, it probably won’t do you a lot of good to send peeps there. However, if you do, or if you have a really unique product to sell, watch out! The traffic Pinterest is generating is amazing right now.

  • Thank you for this brief moment of sanity, John. 

  • I agree with Jamie, it is refreshing to read this brief moment of sanity.  All the talk about Pinterest can make a person feel they are really going to be left behind.  Thanks, John.

  • For the last some time, we came across lot of information regarding pinterest as it noise the visitors rate than google+, myspace and other internet websites. But there are some mixed response too on negative side of it.

  • John,

    For certain types of business especially, as you mentioned retailers or anyone with a visual product, I think that Pinterest may actually be the next big thing.

    But for Service businesses or Online businesses that don’t have a visual focus I completely agree.

    Thank you,

    Ryan H.

  • I actually saw a blog post yesterday where some self-styled marketing person proclaimed that in order to use Pinterest for your business, you had to market your products and services on it. She could have been talking about any social web service. It was like she had never even used Pinterest and no clue as to what one should do with it based on what’s unique about it.

  • Rob Alberti

    We have found that our images are being repinned and it has been a great new tool for our visual images to get out there for potential clients.  I am a fan of Pinterest.

  • jgucci

    Very interesting article and a great perspective into the other side of the coin.

    I think it’s also important to recognize what is currently happening and not what might or may never happen.

    Currently it is the fastest growing Social Network and gaining popularity by the second.  What that tells me is that there are people there and the type of people that create online trends and grow them into a way of life and habit.  So where these people interact online, I want to be.  Even if it disappeared tomorrow, I am going to live it up today and take advantage of it as the tool it is meant to be for my business.

    I still meet people that think Facebook will go away and do not want to get involved in it.  I say oh well, your choice but just to let you know Facebook has been feeding me business for several years.

    I can tell you as a fact that since I joined Pinterest on Monday and created a few Boards advertising my business, I have already received website traffic because of it.  Seems like proof enough that it’s a good tool for business.

    There is a cool info graphic below on some surprising stats of it’s growth.

  • It seems pinterest works best with promoting businesses that are, or pair with in some way, design-centric businesses. Home design, decorating, crafts, etc. work well. Pinterest is a highly visual social network, so you have to have something something to show. 

  • Well said. I’ve been a bit confused in the last few days with Pinterest popping up all over the blogosphere – I thought it was happy being used by crafters, fashionistas, artists, designers, and other related internet users. Apparently everyone now thinks they can use it…they just haven’t figured out how…

  • Great title, got me here in a jiffy!  I agree, I think no matter what, if you don’t have a clear plan you’re gonna fall flat.  I just read an article from HubSpot about how they got sneered at for posting their ebook pics on Pinterest.  They argued, what difference is an ebook from a hairstylist showing pics of hair do they’ve done?  I have to agree with them, because like they say, every social network has to monetize at some point.  Hosting millions of accounts, data, & paying programmers adds up quick.

  • thats preety nice and informative ..

  • Gregory James

    -50% of Pinterest users have children.
    -68% of users are women. 
    -the large majority of users are over 25 years old. 
    -28.1% of all users have annual incomes over $100,000

    Can these stats change? Of course. But will they?   

    I’m a college student, I have no desire to use the website at all. 

    I don’t see it becoming heavily used by younger (13-22 y/o) markets. To me, Pinterest is almost akin to Tumblr.

    My mother uses Pinterest. 

    It will be interesting to see how Pinterest will grow –and if the demographics of its users will change– over the coming year. 

  • “there’s an entire generation of online pundits (generation is about every three years in online punditness) that missed out when blogging tipped and that weren’t at SXSW in 2007 when Twitter raced on the scene, so by gosh they aren’t going to miss the next big thing”

    Could not agree more!  I often joke that “I was Twitter before Twitter was cool”; back in the early days (2006/2007) when it was just a bunch of bloggers and other early adopters.  I know see a rush for companies/brands to jump on anything and everything put in front of them, in an attempt to “not miss out on something”.  The problem I see is that many companies do not have a strategy for all of the tools they are using.  To add to that, it seems a deeper issue may be that they are confused by their mission, goals, objectives, strategy, and tactics.  

    I have  noticed a pattern with companies that come to me for assistance; they create accounts/profiles on a number of platforms and then want to know why they are not getting leads from them.  I am constantly reminding people that they need to evaluate which tools are right for their type of business and if their/how their clients/prospects will respond (sounds basic, I know).  In addition it seems users/companies have to be reminded of the “social” part of social media.  The idea is to engage clients/prospects in a two way dialogue that builds relationships. 

  • Laura

    Great info! We get this all the time with businesses that call us. Focus on what works where you fit and then work it!

  • I normally love everything that you write, John, but I have to respectfully disagree here.  I feel that anyone that understands the Pinterest model, especially small businesses, has the ability to harness its power.

    You state that it’s just for “online retailers and Etsy merchants, but the site itself offers little for most typical businesses.”  

    When I first started toying with Pinterest, I would have agreed. But trying to use Pinterest for what it really is, a glorified visual bookmarking site, I realized the problem.  It actually lies in the heart of web design.

    I have tried to pin some sites and ran into the dreaded “no large images found” error message.  The truth is that these images exist, but they are buried in HTML or Javascript tags as backgrounds which the application ignores.  Proper blog posts with a large image, on the other hand, do quite well.  There is no reason a well coded product or services page couldn’t do the same.  Hiding an image with -9999 display locations could potentially do wonders.
    Living in the Silicon Valley, it’s certainly gained the attention of many, going so far as being considered the most talked about social media network (i.e. no longe Facebook).  Do I think that it will sustain this buzz?  Probably not.  Do I care?  Not yet.Like one of your readers commented below, this is a great article to show clients that just want every bell and whistle because they think having a presence will work.  But it’s all in how you use it.For me, Pinterest is still personal in nature.  I do share my company blog posts, but they are mixed with other related industry items (including competitors) on a board titled “Wedding Resources Worth Checking Out.”  I also have boards for both of my master’s degree programs, one for Internet Marketing and one for Educational Technology.  Several others are the more personal ones, where I keep silly pictures and amazing artwork.  

    I also have a board about cancer, started because of my mother’s recent relapse with leukemia.  This has connected me with many people going through the same thing, as well as other resources to help find a marrow donor match.You have certainly made a point that it’s not for everyone, but doing your research and understanding both sides of the service will be the only way to benefit.  You need to understand how and what people pin, and you need to understand how the content on your own site can or cannot be pinned.  Having a regular social media calendar (similar to a blog post calendar) will help.

    • I don’t think we disagree at all really Jason – I was merely pointing out that now is not the time to drop your just started blog and run to Pinterest to save your business.

      Unless and until you have a firm foundational strategy and you are doing the things that serve that strategy the next new tool is simply a distraction

      • Kate

        Well good that you tried to save yourself .. I think if that is what you meant you should re write your post.  Pinterest is growing so fast and you should not be afraid of it anyway that is what I took away from it.  It is hard work keeping up with the new stuff so why not dog it….

        • I don’t really know if I can address your comment because I can’t really figure out what you were getting at – but know this, I’m a long time Pinterest user, I have thousands of followers on Pinterest and I’ve written several previous posts telling people how to use it as long ago as last year, but what this post was about was trying to quell some of the hype that always surrounds the new hot thing.

          Build the foundation of your marketing business before rushing off to some new thing, whatever it is!

  • Andrew Nattan

    I agree completely John. Seems that we’re on the same songsheet to the point where I also published my thoughts on Pinterest on February 29th!

  • Very interesting, especially with all the buzz about Pinterest lately. Pinterest might be “the next big thing” for some fields (remodeling, design,landscaping, etc.) but I’m not sure it’s optimal for a business like ours. “Pintresthas plenty to teach us about how to create interest on our own website…”Any more details on this?

  • Well I like Pinterest, I just do not think it can help at all with marketing. Can anyone send me a link for a guide? I currently work at home selling import export goods and it has been very profitable for me so far!

  • This article is truly important.