Pinterest and Facebook: A Foreseeable Rivalry for Retailers?

young man is being laughed about by young woman in front of black backgroundThere are so many social media networks online that you’d think that you’ve seen them all.  Google Plus created a major disruption when it was introduced last year.  And now here comes Pinterest.  After reading my recent post on Getting Started with Pinterest, you should already know that it is a “virtual pin board” where you can place photos and classify them according to the things that catch your curiosity as well as  share these “pins” with your friends.  Picture yourself compiling your thoughts on a digital album and showing them to people who like the same things you like, and that gives you the best feel for what Pinterest’s appeal is.

With a concept that more or less reminds you of a more category-focused Tumblr, you’d think it wouldn’t catch on quickly.  It actually didn’t, as its rise to fame was slow but sure, starting from its humble beginnings in Thanksgiving of 2009.  But once it began to pick up steam, its active user base grew so fast that it went from from less than a million monthly unique visitors in May of 2011, according to comScore, to more than 6 million uniques worldwide in November of the same year.  By December of 2011, it became part of Hitwise’s top 10 social media sites.

The amazing thing is that Pinterest is still in open beta, and registration is only possible if you send an email request, or if you get invited by an existing user.  Furthermore, some have told me that even after receiving an email invite, there is a separate waiting list and that potential users have to wait as long as two weeks to become a user.

While Facebook undoubtedly still remains the King of the social media scene, its growth has seemingly slowed.  According to Mashable, even business page following from July to December of 2011 has grown only 25% from the previous year’s numbers.  In the meantime, Pinterest has driven more retail traffic than the social media sites LinkedIn, Youtube and even Google+ in January of this year, and that businesses such as Etsy and Nordstrom have been creating strategies to utilize it.

Even Forbes recently said, “Just as retailers are losing faith in Facebook as platform for e-commerce, it seems, they’re warming up to Pinterest.”

So why are retailers now focusing more attention on rushing to be on Pinterest while some retailers are closing shop on Facebook?  The answer lies in the difference between the two platforms: Facebook is more social-based while Pinterest is interest-based.  Facebook has tried to make a play on interest-based recommendations by offering you what your friends like and assuming that you’ll like them as well.  Although it’s a good system, assumptions can only go so far.  Moreover, only 1% of Facebook users interact with brands.  This is most probably because people go on Facebook to socialize, not shop.  Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst from Forrester Research, said it most eloquently:

[Being on Facebook is]…like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.

Let’s look at another issue that retailers have to deal with: EdgeRank.  We’ve known for sometime, based on 3rd party research, that Facebook Fan Page updates only reach 17% of their fans.  But perhaps it was Facebook’s official announcement that only 16% of personal posts reach the news feeds of their friends that drove the message home for some that Facebook is, in essence, placing a black-box filter on your company’s communication with your fans, and people that have opted-in to your messages but won’t see them unless they happen to be one of the 16% users – or go out of their way to check out your Wall.

Pinterest, of course, is a different story – and has no such thing as an EdgeRank.

You go on Pinterest not to see how your cousin is doing; you look for things you like regardless of who posts them.  This, and its visually-engaging lay-out, makes it more conducive to convincing people to want to buy the things that they see.  Currently, 80% of Pinterest users are women who are 25 to 44 years old, a prime demographic for many marketers.  Lastly, what makes Pinterest fun is that even if brands are on the platform, they aren’t blatantly selling you products as it’s against the platform’s policy.  It keeps Pinterst true to its original objective.  In fact, the only “noise” on Pinterest are not conversations but a plethora of silent images.

What does this mean for Facebook?  If it wants to own social commerce, it has to make its system friendlier for retailers. Albeit some criticisms, the new Timeline feature has the potential to become a good step towards strategically using visuals for marketing, as long as it is implemented in an ideal way (only time will tell…) and privacy issues are resolved.  Its recent integration with eBay also helps.  One thing that Facebook has to work on, though, is its mobile site and apps.  A reason why Pinterest can become a better “social media mall” for retailers is that its layout plays nicely with mobile devices.  Among other things, Facebook has to listen to user complaints regarding their smartphone and tablet apps and do something about the glitches that we have all undoubtedly experienced.

For entrepreneurs and marketers who are curious as to which platform to use, it wouldn’t be too much to say that it’s good to be on both, as each has its own strengths.  If you want to personally engage your users and do customer service, Facebook (and Twitter, for that matter) is the best choice.  On the other hand, if you want to make consumers want your products and services, Pinterest is the way to go.  As for social commerce, time will tell, but Pinterest seems to be a natural platform for it while Facebook still seems to have its challenges in being successful at it despite having a leadership position in all things social.

Given time for development and improvement, do you see Pinterest rivaling Facebook for our attention in the near future?

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