Stop Ignoring Pinterest and Instagram

April 4, 2017 • 8 min read
Dustin Renwick

If you’re stuck on Facebook, you’re missing out on two important sales tools: Pinterest and Instagram.

Friends first, money second. Now that many people have the power of the social networks at their fingertips — or their voice commands — the monetization of these spaces has begun. The information age is progressing toward price tags.

Contextual commerce is the idea of meeting the customer where they’re spending time, and today that often means social networks like Pinterest and Instagram. In particular, visual social media offers ripe opportunities for selling.

“To enable shopping right through the platforms is almost a no brainer,” says Carrie Swing, a social media strategist in San Francisco.

Although large consumer brands have earned honors for Instagram and Pinterest promotions and storytelling, small business owners can use these popular platforms to the same effect.

Swing works with small businesses, and she says she often encounters frustration at the idea of additional work — another box to check on an small business owner’s already-long list. Yet Swing says small business owners also express the desire to reach new audiences and act on customer feedback, particularly from younger generations.

“They’ve heard social media is the way to do it,” Swing says. “If younger people are saying, ‘what do you mean you’re not on that?’ I think people feel they might be missing out on opportunities.”

The numbers bolster that feeling. Although still smaller than Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram combine for 750 million active users each month. Visual social media has started to shape the shopping experience, whether you’re a new business owner looking for more discovery outlets, or an established owner who wants to add another revenue stream.

“It’s offering different options to business owners,” Swing says. “I love that I see smaller companies able to break into places that were much harder to get into.”

If you want to add your business to either Pinterest or Instagram, or simply pick up tips on better practices, check out business-specific sites for Instagram and Pinterest.

Two small businesses have pinned and posted their work in ways that yielded significant positive outcomes for their bottom lines. Paul Kruger makes furniture from reclaimed wood at his Brooklyn company, Fallen Industry. Kelli Bielema plans events with a flair through her Seattle company, Shindig Events.

Here’s their take on visual social media sales.

Pinterest: A ripple effect


“I would say it’s maybe 10 percent or less word of mouth, and 90 percent or more is all just finding me online,” Kruger says of his handmade woodwork. The business started when he pulled wood fragments from the Hudson River on a walk. Working with his hands helped him process personal problems, and as a bonus, the projects brought in a little money.

Kruger tossed a website online, contacted a few blogs to spread the word about his new venture, and headed to Facebook because that’s where his friends were spending time online.

Then his website analytics showed thousands of hits per month.

“I thought it was a mistake,” he says.

The traffic didn’t originate from the most popular social networking site, but from his forgotten pins of a custom desk and a conference table.

“Pinterest has been more powerful than I knew,” he says.

“With Facebook, you post and it goes away. It’s in your feed, and it’s gone. With Pinterest there’s a ripple effect. The two pieces had gone viral and picked up a lot of steam. Each time someone repins it, every one of their follower sees it.”

Kruger later spent a few hundred dollars on a promoted pin of his work, which he says performed well.

“Now when I have a new piece, one of the first things I do is post it to Pinterest.”

The social network also works as a translation tool. Customers can initiate the conversation with Kruger in ways that better capture their tastes and directions for one of his custom-made pieces. They simply send him a Pinterest board.

That kind of interaction fuels much of Bielema’s event planning business, but she often starts with secret boards to keep ideas quiet until she reveals them after the party concludes.

“That’s how a lot of ideas are conveyed and at least generating the conversation around, ‘Oh we like this color palette’ or ‘People would love food served in these little paper boats.’ We use a lot of them as idea inspiration boards with clients.”

From food to floral arrangements to fashion accessories, Bielema catalogs details she can share for future events.

”I’m an information hoarder,” she says. “I’ve got a million things saved on Pinterest.”

Bielema also adds her clients to the secret boards so they can pin their inspiration, and Bielema and her team can use the comments section. For example, if a client pins a red couch they want to use at their event, Bielema can leave a comment telling the client that her team already has one in the storeroom.

After a successful event, the company posts themed boards to show other potential customers.

Instagram: A visual history


Pinterest, though it has fewer users than Instagram, retains a decided advantage with shoppers. The social network has created an environment with less friction between the user and the checkout lane, and it continues to expand with new features that make buying a pinned item from large brands even easier.

As Kruger pointed out, Instagram relies on a feed. This means content has a shorter life than the same post on a search-based platform like Pinterest, where his two viral pins continue to pop up years after their original date.

However, Instagram is working to leverage its much larger user base and develop a shopping experience that capitalizes on the immediacy of the platform.

Bielema, the Pinterest hoarder, says she switches to Instagram during the events themselves.

“It’s a really good tool for us to show our work, often times while it’s happening.”

Small businesses can take advantage of that in-the-moment use, especially with Instagram’s new album feature. And even though those posts disappear from followers’ feeds, they remain a catalog on the profile page of a small business.

Bielema compares Instagram to a yearbook and says that potential clients evaluate her business based on the visual history of her profile.

“They’ll look at our Instagram and see what our vibe is. That’s been a huge asset for us. It definitely helps with our brand identity.”

A classic metric for this kind of engagement: followers.

Kruger has used his Instagram posts to build a base, primarily through popular hashtags.

“Instagram was very easy to get new followers because of the hashtags,” he says.

The platform limits posts to 30 hashtags, and some research suggests more is more. Posts that maxed out on hashtags received three times as many likes.

Even committing to one post per week on Pinterest and Instagram with appropriate tags can help a small business generate a consistent visual message in the long-term. As these two owners have shown, that investment can pay off in meaningful ways.

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