Using Pinterest to engage employees from the C-suite to the sales floor

By Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, Elizabeth@tribeinc.com

Retailers are flocking to the visually enticing Pinterest site to engage with consumers. But the site can also be a powerful driver to engage employees.

Why is Pinterest suddenly such a big deal? For one thing, it’s exploding with growth. In September of last year, they had less than 2 million users. Now, it has 20 million users or more.

The visual nature of the site is a natural for retailers with product to show. It’s also a completely fresh approach to social networking. 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 they 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 to Nordstrom, are reporting more traffic to their websites from Pinterest than any other referral source.

There are numerous ways the site can be used to build engagement among employees, not just to connect sales people from store to store, but also between those at corporate with employees in the field.

The brands that will most easily be able to do this are the ones with a strong affinity between employees and customers, so that both groups are made up of people with similar interests. Some examples would be a women’s apparel brand that markets to young professionals with employees who also tend to be young professionally minded women; or a triathlon chain staffed largely by tri-sport enthusiasts; or a pet supply company that employs animal lovers.

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 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 with each of the examples above:

Women’s apparel
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 prizeor discount.

The themed board for July 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 perfect white peony in a clear glass vase or a long stretch of sandy beach on Prettiest Pale Neutrals. That’s even better, because it makes the boards more than just a way to hawk your products; they become more akin to third-party endorsements, which are powerful influencers for potential customers.

This Pinterest program is a great way for the C-level people 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 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 folks 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.

Outdoor goods
This is a great example of the sort of niche passion that can be fueled on Pinterest. As in the example above, an internal communications campaign promotes the program, showcases results and recognizes those who use Pinterest best.

Some possibilities for boards would include not just equipment (“Best Wetsuits for Ocean Swims” and “Dream Bikes for Ironman Races”) but also training tips (“Favorite Locations for Long Runs” and “Best Post-Training Snacks”) and cities in which upcoming races are to be held (“Best Post-Race Waffles” and “Photos of Biggest Hills on Course”). Because each image pinned includes space for written notes, employees can rave about special features of a bike or a running shoe, give the recipe for their homemade power shake or describe where in the course that monster hill appears.

Again, this program makes employees celebrity mentors for their customers, builds bonds between employees across locations and rank (from the C-suite down and back up again) and engages employees by building their personal involvement in the sport and the business.

Pet supplies
There are plenty of potential themes for boards here. Product-focused boards (“Best Dog Toys for Heavy Chewers” and “Aquarium Problem Solvers”) but also some that showcase employee pets (“Dog & Owner Lookalikes” and “Best Dog Halloween Costumes”). There could even be “How To” boards, such as “Outdoor Turtle Ponds” with employees photos and instructions for ponds they’ve built at home.

Once again, the idea is to make the employees subject-matter experts and to promote sharing between peers in different stores and between field employees and corporate. The result is more highly engaged employees, with the potential by-product of consumer engagement.

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 the Amazon Top 1000 Bestseller “How to Run Your Business Like a Girl; Successful Strategies from Entrepreneurial Women Who Made It Happen.” She blogs at Goodcompanyblog.com and can be reached at Elizabeth@tribeinc.com.