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Points of Pinterest

August 2012, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Stephanie Forshee

 

It only took a few short years for Pinterest to claim the title as the third most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter. Its appeal is simple: Users post "pins," or images, of their dream home, car or personal styles, and followers can click on those images to access the site where those items can be purchased. It’s the latter that drew the interest of Joe Ciaccia.

Joe Ciaccia discovered Pinterest while searching for home decorating ideas. That experience led the social media and web manager to open up an account on the social network for his Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Bay Ridge Toyota.
Joe Ciaccia discovered Pinterest while searching for home decorating ideas. That experience led the social media and web manager to open up an account on the social network for his Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Bay Ridge Toyota.

The social media and web manager for New York’s Bay Ridge Toyota and Toyota of Manhattan discovered the power of Pinterest when he was looking for decorating ideas for his new home. He simply clicked on the site’s "home décor" category to find his muse, clicked on the pins he liked and bought every piece of furniture and decoration he saw.

"That’s when I thought: I could use this for the dealership," he says. "If I can create this kind of thing with cars, people can see pictures of the newest Camry and it might have the same effect."

Since that revelation four months ago, Ciaccia has collected nearly 500 followers for Bay Ridge’s Pinterest page by sharing humorous, inspirational and visually appealing pins. Those images have also been re-pinned, "Liked" and commented on by hundreds of users. Ciaccia’s next step is to link the pins to his website, where customers will be able to click through to find lease prices or lead-generation forms.

Steve Rayman Chevrolet has also taken to the nearly three-year-old social network. With more than 150 followers, Ray Whitlow, social media director at the metro Atlanta-based store, is following the same strategy that drew 43,000 likes to his dealership’s Facebook page and 4,200-plus followers to its Google+ account.

<p>Steve Rayman Chevrolet’s Ray Whitlow has seen many of his pins showing up on Google Images searches. One way companies can make their brands visible is by strategically placing keywords within Pinterest content, and by using hashtags — keywords following the

"Our sales have increased a good bit. A lot of it we attribute to social media," says Whitlow, adding that the dealership is rolling more than 300 vehicles per month since hopping onto social media last year. "Before then, we were nowhere near where we’re at right now in sales."

Ciaccia and Whitlow don’t know when their work on Pinterest will pay off, but they have faith that it eventually will. And with behavioral commerce company SteelHouse reporting that 59 percent of users of the photo-based social network having purchased an item they saw vs. 33 percent for Facebook, that payoff might be bigger than they imagined. Until that time, they’ll continue to use the social platform as a customer-retention tool and try not to overwhelm users with sales pitches.

Buying Into Pinterest

Pinterest was founded on Thanksgiving 2009 after co-founders Evan Sharp, Paul Sciarra and CEO Ben Silbermann launched the first pinboards, or photo albums, by inviting about 100 friends via e-mail. Despite the site’s virtual overnight success, the founders have shied away from media interviews, choosing instead to let their social network grow with little fanfare and free of advertisements.

The very first pinners were close friends of Pinterest co-founders Evan Sharp (left), Ben Silbermann (right) and Paul Sciarra (not pictured).
The very first pinners were close friends of Pinterest co-founders Evan Sharp (left), Ben Silbermann (right) and Paul Sciarra (not pictured).

The site has experimented with affiliate links in the past, but discontinued the practice after being criticized for not disclosing what it was allowing marketers to do. The company continues to search for a better way to allow marketers to use the site, but a spokesperson for Pinterest would not divulge any upcoming plans for advertising.

"Our focus right now is not on monetizing, but we have tried a few things out to better understand how people use the service," the spokesperson told F&I and Showroom magazine. "We want to be a profitable company, but we want to make sure whatever model we eventually use works with customers. We haven’t decided on one way to do it."

Ciaccia says his dealership plans to advertise on the site. He predicts that Pinterest will adopt an advertising model similar to Facebook’s sponsored ads. "You’ll post a picture and a little star will show up in the corner and it’ll say ‘promoted.’ That way it’s in your news feed, but it’ll say ‘promoted’ and it’ll stay up there for a while," he says.

Whatever model Pinterest employs, Ciaccia looks forward to accessing geo-targeting features if and when they’re available. "Now you can’t guarantee your followers are in your area," he says. "A lot of them aren’t within capability, but, at the same time, the more followers you have, you’re increasing your chances that someone in New York will see it."

Whitlow doesn’t believe in paid advertising on social media, and he’s not a fan of geo-targeting. He says it limits his store’s marketing reach. "We’ve had at least two instances where people found out about us on social media and flew down from Chicago. They didn’t feel comfortable buying from their local dealer," says Whitlow, whose store attracts customers from as far as Alabama, Arizona and the Carolinas. "So that’s why we don’t ignore anybody at all."

Wooing the Ladies

What has marketers excited about Pinterest is the fact that it has attracted, in big numbers, the demographic that, according to Girlpower Marketing, makes or influences 85 percent of purchasing decisions: women. Today, 60 percent of Pinterest’s 13 million users are female, according to Experian Digital Marketing. That holds true for Bay Ridge Toyota, where Ciaccia reports that 65 percent of the store’s Pinterest followers are women.

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