Pinterest: poised to change the way we search?

Like many social networking sites, it’s not hard to lose hours at a time on the ever-popular Pinterest. This “social scrapbooking service” is where users go to browse ideas for a project or interest, hand-picked by people with interests similar to their own. Just about anything can be Pinned, organized into Pin boards and shared. Cofounders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp started this soon-to-be social giant in March of 2010.  Although still in its early years, according to a recent Forbes article, Pinterest already sports a $5 billion valuation and a revenue model that puts Facebook and Twitter to shame. Many analysts and observers believe that “it’s only a matter of time before Pinterest blows past Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social pack.” By the end of 2014, Pinterest was anticipated to have more than 40 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Selling the Future?

The Forbes article states it quite plainly: If Facebook is selling the past and Twitter the present, Pinterest is offering the future. And the future is where marketers want to live. Pinterest represents a unique proposition to marketers, a new medium that has never existed before. One difference is temporal: Facebook “is about your connections, your past events, your memories. “[Pinterest] is about what you aspire to do, what you want to do down the line,” says cofounder Ben Silbermann.

“There’s intent around a pin,” Joanne Bradford, Pinterest’s head of partnerships believes. “It says, ‘I’m organizing this into a place in my life,’ like when people tear out a page of a magazine.” Unlike Facebook, where ads are unwanted interruptions, Pinterest users are very much in the mode and mindset of planning how to spend their money. And that is why they have chosen to enter into this virtual world. They are given the opportunity to see all of the possibilities—some they may not have even thought about yet. As cofounder Even Sharp articulates, “[Pinterest] exposes people to possibilities they never would have known existed.”

The appeal for marketers.

Promoted Pins are Pinterest’s primary answer to advertising. Still considered an emerging ad medium, a Promoted Pin is essentially a paid placement on Pinterest. When setting these up, advertisers can enter keywords, refine their audience by location, device, gender and language. They can specify a maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid, and give their campaign a specified daily budget and duration. Payment only occurs based on clicks, much like how Facebook operates with their advertising. Advertisers can monitor and adjust their campaign as it runs. Promoted Pins can currently be placed within 32 different categories such as “Animals,” “Food & Drink,” “Health & Fitness,” “Travel” and so on.

For advertisers who have already invested in a presence on Pinterest, Promoted Pins can help them draw additional attention to a certain pin, product feature, event, promotion, or article. Promoted Pins may also help advertisers gain new exposure beyond their current website audience. Other use cases might include seasonal content or time-sensitive material. According to the same Forbes article marketers are increasingly intrigued by the idea of being able to locate consumers at that “delicate moment when browsing becomes shopping.”

Will Pinterest surpass more established online advertising options?

If Pinterest is going to take over the future, it will have to knock off more than Facebook and Twitter. Don’t count out another daunting incumbent, Google, also in the business of gathering signals of intent and selling them to marketers. Google’s paid search reportedly drives roughly two-thirds of the company’s $55 billion in annual revenues. However, Pinterest supporters might argue that traditional search is only useful if you already know what you’re looking for, while Pinterest helps you find your own future. Silbermann expresses the imminent opportunity quite well: “How do we do for discovery what Google did for search? How do we show you the things you’re going to love even if you didn’t know what you were looking for? We think if we answer that question, all the other parts of the business will follow.”

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