Pinterest: A Powerful Tool to Engage Consumers and Store Associates

By Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Editor’s note: Launched in March 2010, Pinterest now ranks as the third most-visited social-networking site in the United States, according to a recent report by Experian Marketing Services. Pinterest, which lets its users “pin” photos and information onto virtual boards, ranks behind only Facebook and Twitter in terms of total visitors, according to the report. It also skews heavily female — about 60% of users are women.

Retailers are flocking to the visually enticing Pinterest site to engage with consumers. Why is Pinterest suddenly such a big deal? For one thing, it’s exploding with growth. In September 2011, the site had less than 2 million users. Now, it has 20 million users or more.

The visual nature of Pinterest is a natural for retailers with product to show. By creating a collection of images on boards with themes like “Crafts I Can Do,” “Products I Love,” “Dream Wedding” and “Chocolate Desserts,” users promote the things that inspire and intrigue them.

Where do users find these images? Occasionally from their own photos, but more often they find things on another website or “re-pin” images other users have pinned to their own boards. This means some early-adopter retailers, from Michaels Stores to Nordstrom, are reporting more traffic to their websites from Pinterest than any other referral source.

But the site can also be a powerful driver to engage employees. There are numerous ways it can be used to build engagement among employees, not just to connect salespeople from store to store, but also between those at corporate with employees in the field.

One caveat is that the brand must have a high comfort level with transparency between employees and customers. People love to buy from people they know, and Pinterest allows your employees to become real people — ambassadors — to your potential customers. But it’s also a public site, with no way currently to keep any board private or restricted to only certain users.

Here’s how an employee engagement initiative on Pinterest might work:

Start with a focused campaign of internal communications to encourage employees to create their own Pinterest boards, pinning company products. You might “gamify” it by suggesting a different theme each month with the best boards winning a prize or discount.

The themed board for July, for example, might be “Best Ways To Show Off Your Tan,” with employees pinning the brand’s new short shorts, strappy sandals and halter dresses. August might be “Prettiest Pale Neutrals,” with employees creating boards of their favorite clothing in white, cream and camel.

Of course, these boards might also include other images not available at the store, like a long stretch of sandy beach on “Prettiest Pale Neutrals.” This makes the boards more than just a way to hawk your products. Instead, they become more akin to third-party endorsements, which are powerful influencers for potential customers.

This Pinterest program is a great way for c-level associates to build relationships with the rank and file, by humanizing themselves and letting employees get to know them a little. A sales associate in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, might feel a new connection to the CEO when she discovers that they pinned the same pale lemon chiffon scarf. Next, she might re-pin the CEO’s image of a perfect neutral pump. Or the national sales manager might follow the boards of a number of sales associates and give them a thrill when she re-pins the puffy jacket from an associate’s “Prettiest Ways To Stay Warm” board.

At the same time, employees gain celebrity-like status with customers on Pinterest. Some could even gain a significant following of customers who admire their tasteful selections. There’s also a gamification aspect there, in recognition of those employees who attract the most followers.

Using existing internal communications vehicles, from the intranet to the company magazine, the best employee boards can be spotlighted, both to acknowledge the creator and build enthusiasm within the employee population. Further, it’s a cross-promotion that will convert more people to Pinterest, which has the potential to influence more folks — exponentially — than your existing channels.

Eventually, this program creates a great deal of visibility for your products, brings your employees closer — regardless of geography or job title — and builds highly engaged brand ambassadors.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is president and CEO of Tribe, an internal communications agency that works with national and global clients. She is the author of several books, including “How to Run Your Business Like a Girl: Successful Strategies from Entrepreneurial Women Who Made It Happen.”