The Rise of Pinterest

How Pinterest has emerged as a dominant communication tool
By Brittany Cooper & Jaclyn Tong

Pinterest is a pin-board style photo sharing website. Users browse through various collections for inspiration, re-pinning and following those with similar interests. As a relatively new site which took off in 2011, it has grown substantially to over ten million registered users. The rise of Pinterest comes at a time when social media and blogging is becoming increasingly present. Pinterest accommodates a new form of self-expression, encouraging users to communicate their values, interests and activities through their photo boards. Corporations are able to create business specific accounts which facilities a new form of digital marketing; firms can share their story and build a community of followers. Lululemon provides an example of how to successfully connect your brand and values to your consumers. Pinterest has the potential to revolutionize the information search of the decision-making process, opening up a new outlet for discovery while making this process enjoyable for consumers.


Pinterest is a pin-board style photo sharing website which people utilize to pin photos to various boards that they create, organizing theme-based image collections. You can use specific search words or browse through general categories to find objects of interest. Users can browse through other people’s boards for inspiration and follow those with similar interests. It is possible to re-pin other people’s photos to your own boards or create new pins yourself. Anyone can view the content of the site, however an account is required to create boards and re-pin images. Pinterest was first launched in March 2010 as a beta-version which was invitation only. The site did not take off until 2011, with the launch of an iPhone application in March 2011 generating higher than expected downloads. Thus, Pinterest is a relatively new site and it was only in August 2012 that it became open for anyone to join[i]. In October 2012, the site launched business accounts, with separate terms of service[ii]. Pinterest is used predominantly by females aged 25-54 years old, with females accounting for 79% of users, and with males accounting for only 21%[iii]. In June 2012, the site had over twenty million unique U.S. visitors and as of September 2012, Pinterest had over ten million registered users[iv].

External Trends/Market Factors
Pinterest is in line with the rise of social media and blogging. People today are becoming more accustomed to sharing content online, which Pinterest facilitates. Pinterest appeals to people’s emotions as it involves using visually appealing boards which draw people in. With the shift from mass to individualized consumption, Pinterest accommodates this by allowing for a new form of self-expression. Many existing social media sites focus on making people creators; with Twitter people become broadcasters and with Instagram they become photographers. People may feel strongly about a particular interest or have great taste but have not found a way to share this. Pinterest provides a way for people to communicate their values by creating boards which display their interests.

As corporations are now able to create business accounts, Pinterest can be used as another form of digital marketing. The goal of integrated marketing communications is to deliver the same message through a variety of media in order to have a synergistic impact on the target customer. Pinterest facilitates this as it acts as another form of media in which companies can tell their story and share their interests, sending a consistent message while further promoting their values. Businesses can use Pinterest to build a community by gaining followers, encouraging collaboration on group boards and receiving feedback. Businesses can gain consumer insights both by following the comments people leave on their pins and tracking how often an image is liked or re-pinned. They can also search to see what their followers typically re-pin and gain a sense of their customer’s interests, acquiring valuable consumer insights.

Pinterest also accommodates the increased access and speed of information which has become commonplace in today’s lifestyle. The site can be linked to smart phones and tablets allowing people to use Pinterest while they are on the go. In addition, this supports the growing trend of multi-screen watching such as people using the site on a tablet while simultaneously watching TV.

Complementary Tools
Pinterest complements several other tools of the marketing communication mix as it is linked with various other forms of social and digital media. Users can either sign in with Twitter, Facebook, or an e-mail account. Thus, individuals may link their Pinterest account with these other accounts to share what they are pinning with their friends. Pinterest accounts can also be linked to blogs and businesses can link the account to their company website, allowing visitors to access their Pinterest page from their website. Many websites also allow users to ‘pin’ products directly from their own company website. For example if you see a product you like at Lululemon online you can use the ‘pin it’ button to create a new pin to add to one of your boards.

Pinterest can serve as a virtual storefront for businesses and is often more effective at driving sales as a referral site than other social media sites; the average sale resulting from a Pinterest referral is $180 compared to $80 for Facebook and $70 for Twitter[v]. By participating in the Pinterest platform businesses can increase both traffic and sales on their own web page.

Pinterest affects the information search of the purchase decision-making process. The site has opened up a new outlet for the search process and made the external information search easy and enjoyable. It also addresses the self-discrepancy theory as Pinterest allows individuals to explore their ideal self – the kind of person they wish to be – as people often create boards of their dream wedding or dream home for example. This type of use reflects materialistic consumption as people use Pinterest to gain ideas of what products would benefit them, leading to higher likelihood of that person acquiring more products. However, Pinterest may also be used for conscientious consumerism as those using the site are often focused on their personal health and well-being which can be seen through people’s boards supporting healthy, responsible living. As Pinterest both diverse and personalized to each individual consumer, businesses are able to attract varying target audiences.

Risks and Barriers for Adoption

There are risks and barriers for companies to adopt Pinterest as a source of communication. Logistically, any person can view a company’s boards on Pinterest, however if a person wants to re-pin or like a company’s uploaded image, they will need to create an account themselves. While an account is free, this takes time for the consumer to sign up and learn how to use the website. Pinterest also requires consumers to have a device that has access to the Internet or data, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Depending on what consumer a company is trying to target, it may not be feasible for their consumers to have access to this (such as seniors or young children). From a marketing standpoint, there is the risk that Companies will misuse Pinterest to only upload images of their products, which should only be done on a Company website. Companies should not only pin their products and brand logos, but also pin inspiring images that complement a company’s brand image and values[vi]. Another risk companies face is copyright infringement. When a business starts a Pinterest account, they should be careful what images they re-pin from the public because it could lead to a copyright infringement lawsuit and monetary penalties. The likelihood of a lawsuit is much higher for a business than for average consumers because businesses are using their Pinterest for commercial use, are sharing their images with more people, and also have more financial resources[vii].

Real-world Example: Lululemon

Lululemon has successfully used Pinterest to connect their brand and values of a healthy lifestyle with their consumers. Lululemon is a company that has an ideal fit for using Pinterest since it is a lifestyle brand and evokes conscientious consumerism, promoting personal health and well-being. Generally, people use Pinterest to gain inspiration for how they can become their ideal self, whether it is their ideal self for friendships, relationships, lifestyles. For those who want to lead a healthy lifestyle, they can use Lululemon’s Pinterest to gain inspiration of the kind of person they wish to be and what hopes, goals and desires they hold. Lululemon uses its Pinterest board to address the self-discrepancy theory and ‘ideal self’ thinkers by connecting their products to these values, through having boards for different aspects of how they define a healthy lifestyle.  Their boards include yoga and running related activities, inspirational quotes, and healthy meal ideas.

Lululemon’s Pinterest page addresses the Cognition – Affect – Behaviour hierarchy of effects. Customers will first view their pin boards and be aware of the Lululemon brand and the lifestyle it promotes through its product images as well as inspirational quotes and images of healthy meals. This will then make customers have a positive valence towards Lululemon, given they want to lead a healthy lifestyle, and make a person feel good about buying a Lululemon product. Finally, this will lead to a customer first deciding whether to re-pin a Lululemon image or not, and secondly whether to buy a Lululemon product or not. Given that they have a positive reaction to Lululemon, this will more likely reinforce an individuals desire to support the brand.

Lululemon uses Pinterest to provide a consistent message to their customers, in conjunction with their company website, Facebook page and Tweets. Evidently, their Pinterest page has over 1.6 million followers, while their Facebook page has 789,066 likes and they have 406,068 followers on Twitter[viii]. The benefits of using Pinterest as opposed to other social media platforms is that it offers a lot more flexibility in terms of what Lululemon can post because they have so many different pin boards representing various aspects of the brand. They also increase brand awareness and loyalty through their Pinterest page, because Pinterest can be accessed by the public and allows customers to get to know the personality of Lululemon beyond their products. This also allows for a high level of involvement, since customers have access to so much information on Lululemon and can re-pin this information, acting as free word-of-mouth advertising for a business. With the rise in social media and access to information online, it is important that even if people cannot come into Lululemon stores, they still feel connected to the brand and understand what it stands for.


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