Social Media

Why Most Small Businesses Shouldn’t Waste their Time with Pinterest

Brad Smith
May 8, 2012
Should small businesses use Pinterest for business?
Courtesy of ShardsOfBlue

“Journalists” drive me nuts.

If you want to understand someone’s motivation, then look at how they’re compensated.

Journalists are in the business of getting more pageviews. That’s how they get paid by advertisers.

The only metric traditional publishers care about online is pageviews. I’ve experienced this first-hand by working directly with a multi-million dollar media company.

So journalists specifically choose topics that will drive more visits and increase pageviews. And when a topic becomes “trendy” or “hot”, other journalists jump on and ride the wave.

You’ve probably seen this the past few months with Pinterest. It seems like you can’t go a day without reading another article on “how important it is” or “how you should be using it”.

But here’s the deal.

I don’t care about driving pageviews to make advertisers happy. That’s not how I make money.

I make money by providing results to help businesses grow. And if my advice isn’t good, then I don’t get paid.

So here’s some advice when it comes to Pinterest:

Don’t waste your time.

Here’s why.

Why You Shouldn’t Waste Time Pinning

All businesses have constraints.

And that’s especially true for your most valuable resources: time, money, and energy. If you had a large budget and staff, then I’d say “pin away”.

But chances are, you don’t.

That means you have to make trade-offs. You can’t invest in several different buckets. You have to choose wisely and prioritize which activities you’re going to invest your precious resources in.

Your time has an opportunity cost. So the marketing ROI of each activity you choose has to be worth it.

Here’s why most small businesses shouldn’t waste their time with Pinterest.

The Wrong Kind of Traffic

The only goal of Pinterest is to drive traffic back to your website or blog.

There’s no way to engage with others users in a substantial way, or deepen your relationship with existing customers. (I know they have little features to interact, but they’re not great.)

So the only business objective for using Pinterest is to drive more traffic and get new customers.

And therein lies the problem.

Traffic from Pinterest is the wrong kind of traffic.

Like StumbleUpon and others sources of “viral” traffic, it comes quickly and leaves quickly.

During the months of Jan 1 to Mar 28 this year, Copyblogger reported that their Pinterest traffic had a bounce rate of 91.7%!

For those unfamiliar, “bounce rate” means they spent less than 10 seconds on your site. Do you think anyone subscribed to their blog, or bought one of their products in 10 seconds?

I don’t care if Pinterest sends more referral traffic than Twitter, Facebook or anyone else. If 90+% of that traffic bounces, then it won’t lead to more, new customers (no matter how you analyze the data).

Now in fairness, the Copyblogger article goes on to share some great information on how to improve the bounce rate. So you should definitely check out that article and see their suggestions. But I’m not trying to be objective here. I’m trying to make a point. 🙂

This is the main reason people shouldn’t waste time with Pinterest. Because as a marketing channel who’s main purpose is to drive traffic to get new customers, it does a terrible job of it.

But here are two more supporting arguments.

Too Few Users

Based on some in-depth research (read: Googling), Pinterest has anywhere between 10 – 15 millions users. Sounds like a lot, right?

Now let’s compare that to a few other social networks.

  • Facebook: 850 million monthly active users
  • Twitter: 200+ million users
  • LinkedIn: 100+ million users
  • YouTube: 2 billion views per day
  • Google+: 90+ million users
  • Foursquare: 20 million registered users

Now I know Pinterest is relatively young. So it’s probably not done growing.

But if you want to make the growth argument, then you should take a look at YouTube, which is poised to blow up as internet-enabled TVs start hitting every single household. So if you’re debating on whether to jump on the Pinterest or YouTube bandwagon, I’d say the latter.

And YouTube integrates nicely with Google+, which (a) has more users than Pinterest, and (b) also improves your SEO.

Either way, when your goal is to acquire new users, then reach of that channel will always be important.

Demographic Mismatch

The key to using social media as business development is to focus on the right audience. So you don’t need a huge reach. If it matches your target customer, then you should see good conversions.

So if you don’t have the same reach on Pinterest (because of too few users at this time), then you need to make sure the audience is right.

And that’s where it gets interesting.

TechCrunch reported that “over 97% of Pinterest’s Facebook fans are women”. Because we don’t know official figures, let’s assume that means that the overwhelming majority of Pinterest users are in fact, women (which should be of no surprise to anyone).

And according to this infographic, we can learn some more about Pinterest:

  • 68.2% female
  • 66.8% between the ages of 18-44
  • 50% of users have kids

So basically (generalizing), Pinterest is full of young moms. Which is great, if your target market is young moms.

But what if you sell car parts? Or how about software? Or games? Or golf equipment? Or anything else that doesn’t match that target market?

Then you won’t convert any, and 90% of your traffic will bounce.

And then you’re back at the beginning. It’s like that traffic never came in the first place. Except for your wasted time, energy and effort.

The Bottom Line

We all know that you can slice and dice statistics to prove any point you have. And a lot of my argument is generalizations, so anyone can disagree with me.

But I’m simply trying to make a point, and use data to paint a picture for you.

When you have tight resource constraints (time, money, energy), then you need to choose carefully, and invest in things that work.

If I were you, I would invest in:

If you’ve done all those, then great – experiment with Pinterest. But I know most small businesses are falling short in these areas.

So if you have to choose between one of these and Pinterest, then choose the proven, successful ways of driving business.

And please, don’t make strategic online marketing decisions based on what’s popular or in the news.

29 thoughts on “Why Most Small Businesses Shouldn’t Waste their Time with Pinterest

  1. Great read (and not just because you share my opinion on this subject)! Thank you for the reality check.

  2. Great stuff Brad. I have to admit that when I first heard about it, late of course, I was intrigued and it looked like it might be fun. I didn’t go that route for three reasons. One, I knew it would be time consuming. Two, I wondered about the copyright issues (which started to be introduced around the time I learned about it). And three, I couldn’t figure out how it could work as a business strategy for anything I did. If I were an artist or photographer maybe, but as a consultant… nope.

    Good looking out; you captured the details just right.

    1. Thanks Mitch, appreciate your comment. The copyright issue will be a really interesting one to watch. Like you said, for some people it might work great. But many businesses should steer clear at this time and prioritize other things.

  3. Thanks for the post Brad. It’s great. You saved me some time and wondering about Pinterest. I had thought about checking them out, but now I won’t have to waste my time.

    1. Thanks Lorna! It’s perfectly OK to sign up and try out these new services when they get big. But don’t spend your marketing time/budget on them until you have everything else in order!

  4. Brad,
    I really appreciate your views, however, I think Pinterest carries the same amount of interaction Instagram provides and appeals to the teens-25 demographic which can prove beneficial to certain markets. Especially when it comes to apparel and most consumers engage in impulse purchases. I think what businesses seek out of this service is to appeal to the trend, digital diversity, and branding. Now I wouldn’t say cater your entire marketing plan to Pinterest, but it helps in the overall scheme of things.

    1. Hi Kareem, thanks for your comment. I agree with your points, and for certain businesses it may be a good fit (especially apparel).

      But for the majority, I don’t think Pinterest (or Instagram even) provide a good enough marketing platform that would make it a priority over Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, etc.

  5. Hey Brad,

    I’m really late to the party this week. Heck of a week! Thank you for this post. I think, beyond Pinterest, you raise the really important issue of traffic quality as it relates to traffic source.

    I’m left with a few questions:
    1. Are there some types of businesses for whom Pinterest traffic is awesome?

    2. For each kind of traffic source (organic, Facebook, AdWords, etc.), what types of businesses most benefit from it?

    These are more rhetorical questions than ones that actually need to be answered, but I find them fascinating nonetheless.

    1. Hey Martin, nice to see you!

      1. Companies that sell visual products/services, and going after the above-mentioned demographic. For example, companies serving the Wedding Industry would be perfect.

      2. That’s a long answer! I’ll try to sum it up here – and maybe write a post on it later.

      – Organic SEO: Every business
      – AdWords (& other CPC advertising): Businesses with high-margin products/services
      – Social: All depends on business & target customers. For example, Facebook is good for almost everyone except tech/early adopters, who would rather be on Twitter. LinkedIn is great for B2B. Etc. Etc.

      Hope that helps!

  6. You’re right, Brad. There is no doubt about it that Pinterest is the media darling of 2012 as the reporters search for the next Facebook or Groupon.

    Pinterest is particularly useful for small businesses such as photographers (as you mentioned above), travel companies, apparel shops, fashion designers and any other visually-driven businesses. These are the same companies that don’t see as much benefit from powerful social networks such as LinkedIn, which we are HUGE proponents of on our small business site, Firmology.

    To think that a mom and pop tire shop, manufacturing company or law firm would benefit from using the platform is a big stretch. They’re far better off investing time in creating blog content, email newsletter content and networking on professional network like LinkedIn.

    Changing topics. Just discovered your blog on Alltop. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like you’re a fan of Social Triggers (clean homepage, no RSS feed (annoying, but I’ll deal), strong call-to-action for your email list ). Looks good! Love Derek’s blog and tips.

    Best, Philip

    1. Thanks for your comments Philip – it definitely looks like we’re on the same page!

      And yes, there is a some design influence. 🙂 I’m a fan of the minimalist approach… although I’m planning some updates in the near future.

      I’ll let you in on a secret – my RSS feed is:

      I’m a big fan of email because I’m a consultant, and it gives me more subscriber control & data for leads (rather than regular RSS).

  7. Thanks for the great article. I keep going back and forth on whether to use Pinterest or not, but your article gave me some good insights. I will concentrate my efforts in other areas (Facebook, YouTube, Google+) and if I have time down the road I’ll check out Pinterest.

  8. Hi Brad,

    I only came across your site this morning and have read numerous articles, all of which are very well written.

    I haven’t as yet ventured into Pinterest as I feel that for the time being my efforts are best spent on other Social Media platforms as the audience is not necessarily in my sights.

    I do think that Pinterest has it’s place and as people have mentioned, it’s great for certain niches like weddings, cakes, florists etc.

    Nice article and I’ll be sure to follow in the future.


    1. Thank you Michael, appreciate it! Like you said, Pinterest may be a great option for some people. But most are better served by focusing more on the bigger social networks that will have more impact for them personally. The biggest problem we all face is limited resources. So in this case when you try to add Pinterest to the mix, that means you have to sacrifice something else, and I don’t think that’s right for most people.

  9. I was about to write something similar for the luxury space Brad and glad I caught this. We’ve been doing a lot of Pinterest/TheFancy marketing for clients and the ROI is pretty much the worst out of everything we’re pushing.

    If it doesn’t strengthen/deepen your relationship with clients what’s the point?

    1. Hi Ryan, thanks for sharing your experience! And I totally agree. I also like to point out the lost opportunity cost – so while people are chasing the latest shiny tactic like Pinterest, they’re underinvesting in their blog content, email marketing, SEO, and CRO (which all provide a much higher ROI).

  10. I really enjoyed this article because it cuts through the noise. Yes all the cool kids are on Pinterest *right now* but that doesn’t mean it’s relevant to your average small business. The technology is out there for anyone to start a podcast as well, but frankly most people aren’t interested in a radio show created by my barber. Nor is “pinning” carburetors likely to produce any new customers for an auto mechanic. Again, well written article.

  11. Great Article!
    Most of the businesses jumps to the latest hot marketing website to get traffic but most of them are wasting there.
    Honestly speaking, i was one of them sometime ago! 😛

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *