Newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane is credited with saying, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words,” way back in 1911. We can only imagine what Brisbane would say today as the use of pictures has extended beyond the printed page to the Internet where, most recently, visually-oriented social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Vine are taking the world by storm.
Pinterest has become one of the most popular of the visually-focused platforms. The site was launched in 2010 as “a tool for collecting and organizing the things that inspire you.” Since then its users have found a wide range of unique ways to use the site, from planning weddings and clipping recipes to gathering ideas for vacations and home remodeling projects.
It wasn’t long before savvy businesses saw opportunity to get into the mix and leverage the demand for visual information — and the sharing of that information. It’s a natural fit for certain types of organizations: clothing retailers, for instance.
But, perhaps surprisingly, even some business-to-business (B2B) companies have found that they can create and engage an audience through this visually-oriented tool. GE and Constant Contact are two examples of B2B companies in this space, both building large, strong and loyal followings on this platform. Constant Contact is primarily directed toward small, independent businesses, a particularly good niche on Pinterest.
Even some local companies have found Pinterest to provide value.
For instance, Christina Thrun, development and marketing director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin, says, “We use Pinterest a lot with our organization. Our target audience for most of it is our clients — Bigs and Littles — and we share activity and craft ideas and other things that Bigs and Littles can do together.”
This year, Thrun is also using Pinterest to help promote the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake event by sharing items related to its theme — classic television shows.
Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire is also using Pinterest, in combination with other online activities, to drive awareness and engagement, says Jeremy Jensen, electronic communications manager for Mayo Clinic Health System. “We’ve been multi-purposing Facebook images that carry a small bit of branding and then placing them on Twitter — which is increasing our Twitter engagement — and Pinterest,” he says.
Multi-purposing content, whether text or graphics, is important to effectively manage the volume of activity that social media involvement can create, says Jensen. It’s also important, he says, to have a solid strategy in place, to monitor results around that strategy and to make adjustments as necessary. Experimentation is good, but not every tool will work for every organization.
Still, he emphasizes, don’t dismiss tools that may not immediately seem entirely relevant. Pinterest is a good example of this, he says. “When we first started talking about it, I had to convince a lot of people,” says Jensen. Many viewed it as a tool for shopping, finding things for the house and other personal endeavors. But as he spent more time on the site he noticed that it wasn’t just about retail and began to believe that there might be “a wellness niche” there.
Looking at the demographics of the Pinterest audience, he also realized that it was a key target audience for the health care system. “Sure, we can’t talk about hairstyles, but we can show you what to do with your health — we can give you the best exercise, we can give you recipes.” And that’s how involvement with the site began. It’s worked. Mayo Clinic Health System now has 14 boards and 772 followers.
His advice for others interested in exploring more visually-oriented social media channels (and, in fact, these days all social media is becoming more visual): content is king, but graphics must attract attention for that content to reach the target audience. “Even if you have great graphics, what are you saying? Don’t be just about the flashy graphic, have some substance behind it as well,” he recommends.
Ultimately, the key to effectiveness is connecting with your audience. Going where your audience is going with compelling content — written and visual — is what will lead to success, regardless of the social media tools you use.