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Pin It to Win It
Brands Discover Pinterest

by Sam McMillan

At first glance the Pin board at Whole Planet Foundation looks a lot like any other foodie’s board: plenty of recipes. But these are not just any recipes. According to Daniel Vidal, social media coor­dinator and digital marketer for Whole Planet Foundation, “As we travel the world visiting our partners and their microcredit clients we have the opportunity to enjoy great meals. So we ask our clients for recipes. Because we reach our Whole Foods customers through food, we are making an effort to pin more recipes.”

In addition to recipes, the Whole Planet Foundation board features projects, microcredit partners in the field, loan clients, videos, infographics, maps and inspirational posters. Vidal’s advice to brands that engage with Pinter­est is, in a word: Start. “It sounds obvious,” he says, “but you have to get on Pinterest, use it, figure out what works and be active. Get feedback from the community and adapt. To be successful, brands must provide content that’s interesting and engaging.”

Emily Caine, senior vice president for global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, leads social media initiatives for Panera Bread. Caine says success on Pinterest comes to those who remember, “It’s not about you, it’s about what you stand for.” For Panera Bread, a publicly-traded company that operates over 1,500 bakery cafes in 41 states, Pinterest was an ideal vehicle to help them communicate their brand essence of “a long story told over dinner.” Accord­ing to Caine, Pinterest is “a natural extension for Panera because it allows us to engage in a conversation in a warm environment.”

With its brand focused on elevating the everyday, Panera launched a Pinterest campaign centered on the theme of “Making Today Better.” The contest allowed Panera to scale quickly on Pinterest. Panera fans were invited to put up their own boards and pin at least ten images that showcased just how they made their day better. Panera Pinners posted pictures of yoga, walking the dog, and their community volunteer projects. The results were, according to Caine, “tremendous.” Several individual boards had more than 3,500 followers. As one Panera customer wrote: “I was expecting lots of food, but instead I found inspiration.”

Pinterest Gets Down To Brass Tacks
It’s clear from recent developments at Pinterest that the start-up is paying attention to the demands of brands. The launch of “secret” pin boards bodes well for the roll out of boards that can be used internally for editorial meetings, brand strategy and the creation of moodboards that design­ers can share with colleagues and clients. But the launch of makes Pinterest’s love affair with brands explicit. The site is a tutorial that explains how brands large and small can get on Pinterest and get it right the first time. Separate sections spotlight how to tell your brand story, connect with a community, drive traffic and specifi­cally how to make products discoverable.


Modern Kiddo, a blog devoted to the generation that came of age in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, doesn’t look backward when it comes to build­ing its brand. Leslie Dotson Van Every, who runs Modern Kiddo with co-founder Alix Tyler, says, “For a visually focused web­site like Modern Kiddo, Pinterest is one of our most influential social media platforms. It’s like a great bullhorn we can use to push out our images. Images go up on Pinterest and traffic comes in.”

Modern Kiddo was an early adopter. At the Altitude Design Con­fer­ence in Salt Lake City, Van Every saw Pinterest and thought, “This is kind of cool,” then got an alpha account. Her “Aha! Moment” came when Modern Kiddo posted a tutorial on how to use vintage sheets for craft projects. “Our traffic nearly doubled,” Van Every notes. “More than half of the traffic that day came from Pinterest.”

Van Every, now an old timer on Pinterest, has some sage advice on how brands can make their postings more pinnable. “Make sure the first image on your blog post includes a title that explains what the pin is all about. For example, when your blog posting includes an image that proclaims ‘10 great projects worthy of cutting your vintage sheets,’ Van Every explains, “the pinned image functions as a calling card for that post.”

Salesforce took a long look at Pinterest at the beginning of 2012 and, despite the site’s focus on lifestyle themes, decided the B2B company could use it to carve out a strong, vibrant presence. Accord­ing to Maria Ignatova, blog managing editor at, the social media team at Salesforce dismissed posting typical B2B product screenshots, demos and white papers, and instead focused on the overlap between lifestyle and work life at Salesforce.

“Our Pinterest channel ended up showcasing our company culture, love for San Francisco, and reflection of the latest tech trends and gadgets. We wanted to show what it’s like to work at Salesforce,” Ignatova explains. Piggyback­ing off a recent employee photoshoot focused on why employees loved working at Salesforce, Ignatova and her team posted the results to Pinterest. In rapid succession, the team expanded the theme to include a board offering a behind-the-scenes look at Salesforce offices, then took it up a notch to include a lighthearted look at Salesforce fashionistas.

On a more serious note, Salesforce used Pinterest to post boards that supplemented its annual user and developer conference in San Francisco. Six boards highlight past events, upcoming speakers, as well as guides to local restaurants and hotels. The board ‘Things to do in SF’ is about as good as any travel agency’s presentation. You can tell locals built it, since it includes the advice to dress in layers.

Pinterest’s ability to inspire, connect networks of people, and drive traffic to branded e-commerce sites creates huge opportunities. Venture capital has opened its spigots. A recent round of funding raised $100 million, a valuation that assumes the company is worth $1.5 billion. And some individual power-pinners are being paid by brands to pin products.

Pinterest is making its impact felt in visual design. Already look-alike pin-based sites have proliferated. Pinterest’s dead simple user interface along with an elegant aesthetic of tiled images against a pure white background is transforming website design, as brands are emulating the company’s look and feel. Along the way, Pinterest is speeding up the pace at which we consume media. The MTV generation had an attention span that lasted three minutes. Twitter whittled that down to 140 characters. Today, Pinterest has rendered information literally in the blink of an eye. Instead of “blink and you’ll miss it,” Pinterest’s watchword might well be, “Blink and you’ll get it.” As social media becomes increasingly visual, we are now “Getting our sound bites with visuals,” Emily Caine of Fleishman-Hillard says. And as the many pictures of cupcakes on Pinterest attest, those sound bites look good enough to eat. CA McMillan
Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at