While it’s Twitter making headlines as it weighs a possible sale — or serves as the platform of choice for Donald Trump’s latest barb — it’s the still-growing Pinterest that’s gaining traction with users and fashion brands.
Pinterest is the smaller of the two, with 150 million monthly active users, compared with Twitter’s base of 313 million. But the digital scrapbook in this month pulled ahead in the U.S., where it has 70 million users as opposed to Twitter’s estimated 66 million.
The six-year-old Pinterest is expected to triple its revenue to $300 million this year and is being closely watched in anticipation of an initial public offering.
In large part, that’s because Pinterest has been able to successfully situate itself as a commercial platform, where Twitter’s reason for being has meandered, with its latest positioning hoping to transition its role as a “second screen” and digital town square to a first screen where users can watch and respond to live events.
Fashion is a core category among Pinterest users, with 8.3 million fashion Pins added daily. Brands have jumped on the chance to connect with potential new customers, including Gucci and Burberry to Kate Spade New York and Banana Republic, which are all particularly active on the platform.
Burberry in August turned to Pinterest to launch its Cat Lashes mascara, and Pinterest generated custom boards for users that featured Burberry Beauty content.
“Beauty is huge on Pinterest, and we wanted to bring that to life in an innovative way that had never been done on our platform. It’s taking in [user] beauty preferences and giving them a new way to look at the category through the lens of Burberry,” Radhika Prakash, creative and brand strategist at Pinterest, said at the launch.
Target’s e-commerce site has partnered with Pinterest to make recommendations based on items that are most popular on the platform, and the retailer has commissioned top Pinners to make collections.
Mary Beech, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Kate Spade New York, said Pinterest is the brand’s second-highest social traffic driver behind Facebook, and praised the platform’s distribution powers.
Pinterest perhaps has learned from the woes of Twitter, which is perceived by many as a confusing platform to navigate. It’s addressed that issue head-on, with special groups and teams specifically targeted to working with brands and advertisers.
The platform just introduced the Pin Collective, which connects businesses with the best Pinners — including publishers, production shops and independent creators — to work directly with brands to create content that drives business. Some of first creators out of the gate are Brit + Co, Tastemade and PureWow. This follows Pinterest’s Pin Factory, an in-house production studio that helps new advertisers learn the ropes. The company also has an in-house data team that goes on “shopalongs” to research how users use Pinterest in the shopping process and advises on what type of fashion photo is most likely to be saved, plus an in-house “Pinsights” team that gauges trends among Pinners.
Experts say that Pinterest is smart to embrace its function as a discovery, rather than engagement, platform. To that end, it is increasingly investing in updates that capitalize on a user’s specific intent to buy.
Pinterest’s defiant rejection of the “social media” label is all business.
Chief executive officer and cofounder Ben Silbermann, in quoting a Pinner, recently said “Pinterest is for yourself, not your selfies.
“Pinterest is more of a personal tool than a social one,” he said. “People don’t come to see what their friends are doing….Instead, they come to Pinterest to find ideas to try, figure out which ones they love and learn a little bit about themselves in the process.”
Thus, Pinterest doesn’t have to make a trade-off between monetization and user experience in the way that Twitter does because Pinterest delivers ads that are based on a user’s intentions to discover products and ideas, rather than serving them with disruptive ads with tangential or even unrelated content, said Forrester analyst Jessica Liu.
Pinterest only makes money through Promoted Pins, which are images or videos that advertisers pay to show up in searches, home feeds and category feeds.
The platform’s algorithm does not explicitly favor “homegrown” images over branded content, so not only does content from brands blend in, but it is typically something users might already be looking for. According to Pinterest, 75 percent of the content on the platform comes from brands. And this agnostic approach to content creators is an advantage for marketers, Liu said.
This focus is in contrast to what some perceive to be an ambiguous purpose of Twitter, and its more-challenging approach to monetization.
“Pinterest’s rapid growth indicates the strength of visual, image-based consumer content over Twitter’s format, which people continue to use as a means to consume and generate news. Pinterest is viewed as a personal commerce tool — with Buyable Pins that allow for proper targeting and partnerships with e-commerce technologies,” said Luis Sanz, who is cofounder of visual commerce platform Olapic. “Images and discovery are core to Pinterest’s DNA.”
Emarketer principal analyst Debra Williamson said Pinterest has always had strong ties to e-commerce. “When people use Pinterest, they are explicitly saying that they are interested in buying or doing something.” She mentioned examples such as planning a wedding or a vacation, or redecorating or looking for a dinner recipe. “That is why marketers and retailers have gravitated there — to reach consumers who are in-market.”
According to industry analyst Mary Meeker, 55 percent of people on Pinterest are there to shop, compared with 12 percent of people on social networks. And according to Millward Brown, 87 percent of Pinners have made a purchase after seeing a product they liked on the platform.
Pinterest users turn to the platform to discover new brand and products, or buy through Buyable Pins. There are more than 10 million buyable products on Pinterest from 25,000 merchants through five e-commerce platforms — IBM Commerce, Magento, Bigcommerce, Shopify and Demandware. These are not a form of advertising; retailers do not pay to list items for sale and Pinterest does not monetize sales from Buyable Pins.
According to Pinterest, the platform drives more retail e-commerce traffic than Instagram and Twitter, and after Facebook, is the second-largest “social media” driver of retail e-commerce traffic in North America. Pinterest accounts for 17 percent of social traffic to retail brand sites, while Twitter generates 5 percent, according to L2’s Social Platforms report.
While Pinterest is building out its potential, it still has room for improvement. Men, for example, are still underrepresented, although Pinterest reports that male Pinners have grown 70 percent compared to the year before.
Industry analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said the number of Buyable Pins is still modest, compared to the 75 billion or so Pins on the platform. It has recently made improvements to its shopping cart functionality and brand page offerings, but factors such as ratings, size charts and loyalty programs are still missing.
Other platforms have tried to nail the digital “buy button.” “E-commerce has never been a strong fit for Twitter. Although it has experimented with things like a buy button, it just doesn’t seem very likely that Twitter users will want to make a purchase there,” said eMarketer’s Williamson.
Twitter’s strength, meanwhile, lies in being a platform where users get news and information and discuss what is going on around them, Williamson said. “There is no other service like Twitter when it comes to that.” (When was the last time headlines blasted Donald Trump for pinning something controversial at 3 a.m.?)
Despite being a source for breaking news and global water-cooler chatter, Twitter has still suffered growing pains; as users have grown, so has the at-times confusing cacophony — and the need for monetization. In the past year, it has cooled its attempts at being a commerce engine in favor of emphasizing its usage as a news-gathering and video-watching service. Ceo Jack Dorsey is working to shift Twitter from the so-called “second screen,” in which users tweet and discuss developing topics, to become the primary screen, with live-streamed events such as political debates and sporting events.
“In contrast to Twitter, which hasn’t quite figured out what it is, Pinterest serves a clear purpose: letting users garner creative inspiration,” L2 researcher Elisabeth Rosen said. “They can also shop — illustrating why the platform is not only more advantageous for consumers but also for brands.”
That’s a notion Pinterest is banking on.