Pinterest – Social Network or Search Engine?

For most marketers, we know the rules regarding what comprises a social media platform – except for, seemingly, the platforms themselves. Snapchat is not a social network, instead it categorises itself as a camera and communications platform.

Twitter, with their “It’s what’s happening” strapline, is more akin to a news channel rather than the traditional social network like Facebook. Even within the big dark blue world-leading conglomerate, Instagram is classed as a photo-sharing app. On the surface, while these distinctions may seem like meaningless synonyms all saying the same thing, they do exist to serve different purposes: where being ‘social’ is only one part of a much wider ecosystem.

This is where Pinterest comes in. In 2016, Pinterest’s CEO Ben Silberman said, “we’re not a social network”. He instead likes to refer to the platform as “A catalogue of ideas” and while that may seem conveniently vague, it is quite apt. Nowadays a more official description for Pinterest is a ‘visual discovery engine’. This description, however raises a big question: is it a social platform or more of a search tool with a visual element? Let the battle commence!

Purchase Intent – Search 1 Social 0

One thing that squarely places Pinterest on the side of a search platform is the purchase intent (or Pintent…sorry.) Intent is traditionally stronger at the lower end of the sales funnel, which is where search platforms usually reside. This is where brand awareness and consideration is stronger so users know what they are searching for. You certainly would not class other platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at this stage of the purchase process.

By contrast, 93% of active users of Pinterest (or ‘pinners’) said they use Pinterest to plan purchases and 87% said they have purchased a product because of Pinterest (and 72% of pinners use Pinterest to plan offline purchases.) This level of purchase intent is the Holy Grail for Facebook, however, Pinterest have this area perfectly cornered.

Pinterest, therefore, exists to help the product discovery process and, as a result, users are in that frame of mind when they load up the app. This is perfect for a brand as the average time spent on Pinterest per visit is 14.2 minutes and a massive 50% of users have made a purchase after seeing a Promoted Pin.

Image sharing – Search 1 Social 1

For those who are not familiar with the setup and proposition of Pinterest, images and content can be saved to virtual pin boards owned by the user or brand. This enables users to keep hold of the ideas that interest them the most for a later date. This makes the platform perfect for planning purchases as you can save the type of product that interests you the most.

This capability extends beyond simply ‘pinning’ an image to the board, however, as each pin found on Pinterest will link back to the website it was saved from so it isn’t just the image you are saving. In addition to this, users can share, comment, and send pins in the same way you would on any other social platform. In addition to this, you can leave reviews saying you ‘tried it’, which enables other users to see how good the product is before they purchase themselves. These are all features that would only exist on a social platform, as the name suggests, they are all social features that aid discussion and togetherness.

User Accounts, Homepage & Timeline feed – Search 1 Social 2

To start sharing, creating or advertising on Pinterest you need to set up your own account on the platform. Once accounts are created brands can then acquire followers in the same way they would on Facebook or Instagram.  This certainly is not something you need to do in order to advertising on search platforms like Google or Bing.

On Pinterest, brands can follow other people and, in the same way as Facebook, the more followers a brand has then the more exposure the pins will get. From an organic standpoint, Pinterest certainly built akin to a social platform. If you dig a bit deeper, the scales swing back in favour of social a bit more as the homepage and timeline feeds are very similar in theme and setup to the other major networks. Pinterest has what’s called a ‘Smart Feed’, which is a fancy term for an algorithm that chooses what appears in your feed based on what you have already interacted with (sound familiar?).

Product search – Search 2 Social 2

Across Pinterest, over 130 million visual searches happen every month, so much so that the search function is an integral part of the Pinterest proposition. As mentioned above, a huge proportion of the 200 million or so monthly users use the platform to plan purchases, however 97% of searches on Pinterest are non-branded. This provides a tremendous opportunity for brands to be present when users are searching for similar products.

Pinterest is unique across the digital marketing spectrum as its ability to generate demand is something few other companies can achieve. You could then feasibly treat Pinterest much like an extension of generic keyword campaigns across Google or Bing. Once a user has searched for a keyword or phrase, however, Pinterest will display all relevant pins in the search results, which a user can scroll through searching for inspiration.

Advertising Setup – Search 3 Social 3

The concept of advertising on Pinterest is not complicated, and actually reflects both paid search campaigns as well as paid social activity. In essence the advertiser picks an advert they would like to promote, chooses the audience that they want to show the promoted pin to, pay for the results and then, finally, track what is working using the analytics platform on the back end.

Of course, when you actually dive into the campaign builds it is never as simple as that. For a start audience targeting exists in a number of different facets, all geared to driving the best possible performance. Keyword targeting may seem the most obvious, as you can capture users based on what they are searching for and you can reach users at the point where they are perhaps the most likely to purchase.

You can then add in interest and audience targeting, similar to what you would expect on Facebook or Twitter. As a result, Pinterest’s advert platform is able to pick the best from both the search and social platforms and to really get the best from the platform you will need to use both the search and social elements in your campaigns.

Conclusion – It’s a Draw!

When it comes to it, Pinterest may not have the volume of either Facebook or Google, however it has carved a place in the market where it can cherry pick the best bits of both. Pinterest can exist as a brand awareness and consideration tool but also a performance driven platform at the same time. This is something that no channel has fully been able to master. As a result, Pinterest exists as a platform that can offer many brands from both a search and a social perspective, and should not be dismissed.