Pinterest is comprised entirely of static images, making it a slam-dunk destination for businesses pitching products that lend themselves well to photos. But companies that sell services such as financial, insurance or utility companies can also find marketing success on Pinterest. They just have to think a little more creativity, but it's worth the effort. Pinterest is the fourth-largest social network and is projected to have 50.7 million users in 2016 (almost half of them millennials), according to eMarketer.
Here are five ways any company can create engaging Pinterest boards.
1. Think creatively about your pins and boards
Companies with physical products already have beautiful photos showing off their merchandise. But brands with intangible products or services need to be creative about how they can create a presence on Pinterest. These companies need to think about information that would be important to communicate with both customers and prospects. Rather than despair over a lack of product images, you need to create high-quality, well-designed images that cover topics that are relevant to your business, along with well-thought-out captions. For example, an infographic with appealing images, fonts and colors can be just as popular with Pinterest users as a photo of a pair of shoes or a handbag.
[Related: Why your business needs a Pinterest presence]
One company doing that is Bank of America. The company created its Better Money Habits Pinterest boards with images featuring tips on easy ways to save money, how to build a healthy credit score or how to plan for buying a home, for example. Aside from original content, the company also repins related content such as a wedding budgeting article from wedding website Stylemepretty.com or an article from Huffington Post on how to budget for having a baby. Since launching its boards last October, 30 percent of the bank's social traffic has come from Pinterest.
Another company, Petplan Insurance, a pet insurance company, has various Pinterest boards that link to external websites as well as its company website for homemade pet food recipes, pet health tips and cute pet photos, for example. Because of Pinterest, Petplan has seen 592 percent more visits to its website since last year.
Co-founder and CEO of Petplan, Natasha Ashton, says through Pinterest, Petplan wants to promote itself as a pet company, not just an insurance company. "If we can visually engage pet parents and connect with them, then we think they would be more open to hearing our marketing messages around pet insurance."
2. Partner with prominent pinners, cross-promote and plan content
Many people use Pinterest to browse or pin images from other websites, but most likely they won't type your company name into the search bar. Rather they will discover your pins through other users or websites. A good way to get your pins in front of the right people is to partner with prominent pinners that your target audience follows or would want to follow. Then get that pinner to repin or post pins on behalf of your company that involve your brand's subject matter. Also, engage with other users that repin or comment on your content by commenting back or following them.
Within your own team, plan out which content you'll pin and when. In other words, come up with an editorial calendar so you can plan when it's time to post holiday-related pins or pins related to news that involves your industry. Also, make sure to cross promote your Pinterest content on other social media sites where your company has a presence. For example, if you have a large following on Twitter, tweet out links to new pins that you post.
3. Avoid obvious marketing, logos and advertisements
Another way to get people interested in your Pinterest content is to avoid coming across as a blatant advertisement. If you do include your logo, make sure it's on your original images and that it's subtle. "Slapping a logo and tagline on a pin detracts from the purpose of social media, which is to have an organic user generated look and feel," says Jay Wilson, research director, social marketing at Gartner.
It's also OK to link back to a variety of websites, repin images from other accounts and even post original content without an obvious mention of your company. "You're fostering a community and a mix of branded content and other content," Wilson says. "You don't always need to link back to your own website."
4. Focus on awareness, not ROI
Social media ROI is still an area that many businesses are trying to figure out and efforts towards Pinterest are no exception. Right now, companies can test ROI on Pinterest with promoted pins, which are paid spots on Pinterest where you can target certain groups of people and have your pins appear in certain places.
Wilson says part of the ROI of Pinterest is the shelf-life of the content. Compared to Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest content sticks around a lot longer; he estimates that the half-life of a Pinterest pin is three to four months, compared with eight minutes for a tweet. "You can get a lot of longevity out of visual content as it travels and is repined and shared," he says. "You're getting a lot of bang for your buck as long as you're doing it well."
Chris Smith, enterprise social media executive at Bank of America, says the bank's efforts on Pinterest are worth it when they see users starting their own financial-focused boards after seeing one of their pins. "The idea that our pin is the first one onto a new board around getting control over finances is gratifying," he says. "It's like, wow, this is making a difference."
5. Look at overall social marketing strategy
Lastly, if Pinterest is not a fit for your company, don't force it or just scale down the amount of resources that you're dedicating towards it. Some social networks are a better fit for certain companies more than others, so find what matches up with your company and how you want to market your products and services.
"The first step is to take a step back. Make sure you're social marketing strategy is driving towards real and clear business objectives and once you settle that, determine how a network like Pinterest may play a role in driving objectives," Wilson says. "If you can't define that, then maybe it isn't the best thing to do."