What’s the ROI of Pinterest?

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PinROI

Well known social media experts like to slough off tough questions about return on investment (ROI) with flip phrases like, “What’s the ROI of your mom?” Now it’s time to turn the tables and ask social media experts, “What’s the ROI of Pinterest?”

For the past few weeks we have experienced a deluge of Pinterest hype across the social media sphere, marketing media, and the periodic mainstream news piece. Pinterest is touted as the next hot thing, and we see a ton of suggestions from “experts” on how to market using Pinterest.

What is rarely offered is demonstrative evidence of ROI. And shared case studies are often sandbox level successes that produce light outcomes like follower counts, but not actual financial results. Here are some examples:

  • The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton now has 350 followers on Pinterest, and has received roughly 100 visits from its Pins. Certainly some early signs of local engagement for a new social network, but what’s the outcome?
  • Yogurt company Chobani has 2,000 followers and is driving user engagement from Pinterest. OK, again, good top-of-the-funnel activity, not massive, but good for a core loyalist group. But what are the loyalists doing once they get to the Chobani site?
  • Probably the most likely to have real ROI occurring is online retailer Etsy with its 43,000 pinners. But the case study I saw featured discusses retail branding and empowering users to build shopping ideas, not sales, store click throughs, conversions or any other statistic close to ROI.

Let’s be honest here. Outside of driving traffic and Pinterest follower counts, most people don’t have any outcomes to offer. Pinterest is a huge experiment from the marketing perspective. Fewer people have real answers to the ROI question.

Marketing Profs just published a comprehensive post on Pinterest user engagement, and they noted how quality was suffering with the recent hype and onslaught of new users. One has to wonder if all the hype is good or bad for Pinterest. Almost all of the Pinterest posts and stories discuss user behavior and marketing ideas, not actual examples of how companies have made it work.

Pinterest has great potential. And marketers targeting the core demographics it serves have every reason to experiment and share ideas.

So let’s get real about this conversation. The space desperately needed something new to talk about. And now everyone has gone gaga in touting Pinterest as the greatest Shiny Object since the iPhone app.

But reality is not meeting the hype, not yet, at least. Experts who tout Pinterest as the second coming of Facebook need to answer the ROI question or damper the enthusiasm. Otherwise, we’ll be pinning burst bubbles in six months.

Additional Reading: The Inevitable Pinterest Post

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=654243757 Cara Weiser Posey

    Geoff, I think the best way to calculate ROI for Pinterest (at least for now) is to look at an online retailer. Have them calculate the cost to setting up and shooting special vignettes and stocking Pinterest full of valuable pictures and resources for users. Then, look at their referral traffic online from Pinterest and track conversions.  If they have their backend systems connected, you should be able to calculate how many sales and how much money was due to these conversions.

    We must have both been in a Pinterest frame of mind today. I just posted on how the Redesigned Flickr won’t take away from Pinterest. Again, to me it’s about business purpose and potential value.  And online retail is the space where I can most easily see a positive ROI if done well.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Funny, because I get this a lot as an amateur photographer… That Pinterest should be great. I participate on a lot of social networks, and I would rate Pinterest sixth in value for photos behind Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and G+.  Sixth for traffic, reshares and attention. Pinterest is not a photo site. It is a bookmarking site that uses visual assets to denote the bookmark. Not the same thing.

      • Caraposey

        I totally agree…that is not where I see the primary value at this time

  • Anonymous

    To hype or not to hype… that is the question

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    It’s like asking “What’s the ROI of public education” after your kid finally recited the alphabet without having a vowel movement.

    1) We’ll *know* when we know, which is way too soon right now.
    2) Your mileage may vary.
    3) A lot of kids are going to drop out before they walk the stage in a gown.

    The earliest adopters will stand to reap the greatest benefits, if only because three years from now their names will be tossed around as the first case study that comes to mind.

    Second verse, same as the first…

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      I wouldn’t liken it to an education. It’s media, not a human person’s development path. Also as @LIndaSherman pointed out, PInterest has been around for more than two months, more than 18 months actually.

      So, here’s the thing, Ike. Outcomes are built in before a program starts, not after. That’s my issue with the conversation.  It’s the same fruitless approach to social media that @twitter-14624492:disqus and @paulfabretti:disqus are referring to, as well. Experimentation with a new site is great, but let’s make this a marketing conversation, not a shiny object Pop Science piece.

      • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

        My analogy was more figurative than literal. (and I’m in total agreement with you and Liz…)

        It’s simply too early to tell, because there are literally dozens of interesting implementations that we haven’t considered yet — much less estimated the time spent producing and curating for them.

        As to my last comment (which might have been too flippant in tone), I’m merely recognizing that the “early adopters” who get known for being “First on Pinterest!” will get additional bump and mileage out of that designation. Others who follow the same path will not — and as such their value earned shouldn’t be considered the benchmark for those who come later.

        The experimenters are seeding some interesting things, to see where the consistent pulse is. Only then will you get a true outcome-focused implementation that ties to moving real needles.

  • Anonymous

    In reality Geoff, very few people have determined the ROI of Facebook yet!

  • http://www.facebook.com/davevandewalle Dave Van de Walle

    Separately, a well-known social media person – one who has gone on record with a “ROI of your Mom” response – just did the equivalent of posting a photo of him/herself in front of a Ferrari, saying “how’s this for ROI of social media?” AH, crap on a cracker.

    To your point…this is why I love the small, lean enterprise. If I’m the guy selling forklifts in Minnesota (I know him, he’s cool), I am certainly asking myself the question “what are the objectives?” And I’m doing this before asking the boss if we should be wasting time there.

    Good stuff.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      I would like to know who that fellow is. Ironic that personal earnings for an expert are oft used as justification, but we need to see outcomes for businesses, not book deals, speaking gigs and consultancies.

      • http://www.47project.com Rich Harris

        Good post Geoff.

        Wait…..No book deals, speaking gigs and consultancies? Then why are we all here? :-) #DouchebaggeryFTW

        • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

          So glad my next book is not on social media!

          • http://www.47project.com Rich Harris

            Tee hee.

          • http://www.facebook.com/davevandewalle Dave Van de Walle

            Social Media Books, while pretty, usually sell about 11 copies.

          • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

            You must have gotten the January sales report for Welcome to the Fifth Estate.

          • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

            It would have sold better if the name didn’t suck so bad.

          • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

            Or if the author had decided to invest in self-promotion…

  • http://twitter.com/lizscherer Liz Scherer

    I’m still waiting to see the true ROI from most SM campaigns or sites. It’s an addition to a strategy, not an end all to be all. Frankly, I’d be happy if folks stopped trying to dilute Pinterest. I’d also be happy if everyone just calmed the f down everytime something new comes along. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/anniemal Annie Heckenberger

    What are the legal implications of someone pinning an image they don’t own to a collaborative Brand board? According to Pinterest TOS, they aren’t liable. I’m assuming that means the brand is liable. I worry a bit about IP with pinterest. It’s exciting, but it needs to be carefully navigated by Brands.  

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      It certainly does raise a lot of copyright and intellectual property issues.  I bet Pinterest was glad that SOPA flopped.

    • Toby Bloomberg

      Anne — while I’m having fun experimenting and I see several benefits for a couple of clients, I’ve become more and more hesitant. The hard questions re: Pinterest’s rules and the copyright issues haven’t been addressed to my comfort level. If anyone has brought a client on would you share how you approached the legal concerns? Wondering if it becomes a “brand focused’ platform where the images posted are only those owned by the brand and of course, those company doesn’t mind being ‘ownership shared.’

  • http://mizzinformation.blogspot.com Maggie McGary

    All I know is that I loved Pinterest for a few weeks there until every marketer and their brother started going crazy about it–it’s totally ruined for me now because I feel like a duck on a pond when I use it, just waiting to be marketed to.

    That said, professionally I do think it’s too soon to tell how valuable Pinterest will be to brands–and also that the ROI will likely be about more than just the pinning part. For instance, Pinterest is the 3rd biggest source of traffic to the org blog I manage…but that’s people sharing our content on their own, not our activity on Pinterest. They’re sharing/repinning it a lot more than they’re acting on any of the content that we post and that interest has not led to a rash of people following our boards. So does an org that doesn’t have a lot of images on its site invest a bunch of time and money in a site redesign, or even just in adding images, to try to enable that kind of traffic? Will it even matter? Honestly, my feeling is that the more crowded and spammy it gets, the less effective it will be…but who knows, I also was hoping Facebook would be out of business by now ;)

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Great questions and insights, Maggie.  I would ask, too, doesn’t it make sense to get more visual anyway given the current trend towards tactile and mobile media?  Everything is touch and less wordy.  Makes sense to get more visual.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    It could be useful for a web designer to upload images of a website built using custom CSS (various stages of the build) and the images drive back to a sign up page for a custom CSS learner video course the designer is selling.

    That’s just an example, there are many more. But until people start using it smartly, we won’t really know. And then they’ll have to share the results, obviously. ;)

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      I am sure there are a lot of uses we haven’t thought of.  Experimentation will yield that.  But, as you say, we aren’t using it smartly, or the hype is being used to drive old models into a new visual interface, and I am not sure that is accurate or right. Instead we get hyperbole.

      • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

        Although I hear hyperbole is good for selling $47 webinars… ;-)

  • Mike McGrath

    In the three examples you mentioned, the first two are in the first phase of building a following. 2000 is nice but it doesn’t move the needle in terms of clickthroughs to stores (some value) or buying a product (real value).

    Etsy is a different case. With that many pinners they are well beyond critical mass. Etsy store owners should see incremental Etsy Shop traffic gain. Or they just might be drawn in by the birds of a feather phenomenon. Hard to say.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Agreed. But I am sure Etsy is cleaning it up.  Apparently 3% of all pins on the site are Etsy. We just don’t have access to the #s.  What’s bad about the current conversation is that we are not asking these questions on sales, and we need to add them to the mix.

  • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

    I LOVE PINTEREST!

    I actually have a small case study to discuss. I have a friend who sells high-end Italian shirts for men and women. Last week, I was chatting with her and I said, “Oh let’s try something!”

    I quickly created a clothes board on my Pinterest page and I pinned some shoes, a coat, and three of her shirts. 

    And then we waited.

    Within the first hour, Pinterest became the number three traffic source to her newly launched ecommerce site.

    By the fourth hour, the visits from Pinterest were converting to sales at a rate of 30 percent higher than any other traffic source.

    And that was just a quick test. It took me less than five minutes to pin the images and then we just kept Google analytics open and hit refresh every hour or so.

    I’m doing a test with Spin Sucks, as well. Night before last, I created a Spin Sucks board and pinned only the posts from Monday and Tuesday. By yesterday afternoon, it was already our #28 traffic source, the people who are coming from Pinterest are spending more than six minutes on the site, and the bounce rate is less than six percent (5.78).

    It’s not something to run out and add to your marketing budget. But it is something you should test. It takes no time and it’s interesting to watch and see what happens.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Word. (or not)

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Nothing wrong with experimentation. This is the right spirit, IMO. Pinterest is 18th on my referral list, and 5th on the social networks referring in to the site, but that’s not a lot of views. Not something to invest in yet. For me.

    • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ davinabrewer

      But was that b/c of Pinterest, or her brand, or dare I say, yours? You probably have greater following in this new, small pond. IDK I just wonder what the GA would say if you were removed from the equation and they did their own pinning.

      • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

        You flatter me, but I don’t think it’s me. I have only 400 followers on that board, which means a very small percentage saw the pins. But people who are not following me repinned the images and then other repinned them and so on. 

        • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ davinabrewer

          Hmm.. experimenting is probably called for since I can’t seem to place this, if it’s bookmarking or more like Tumblr or something else. Time to kick some tires I guess.

          • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

            I don’t think they know what they are, either. It’s definitely worth some exploration. 

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ davinabrewer

    Still haven’t tried it for this reason; whenever I read about it, Pinterest seems Shiny but that’s about it – and I’m not sure how that’ll help me or clients. As with almost any next new thang – no matter how tempting the bandwagon – I’m watching and waiting. FWIW.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

       I wouldn’t not experiment if the right demographic (a.k.a. your customer) is on there.

      • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ davinabrewer

        Which has been why I’m such a holdout on this, so many other networks.. the right audience just isn’t there. Yet.

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  • http://twitter.com/olinjoseph Olin Graczyk

    Hey Geoff - 

    I just found your article this afternoon, and it couldn’t be more timely. Just last night I gave a shot in demonstrating Pinterest value (not ROI) for some of our CPG clients. May be worth a read:http://bit.ly/xnwNfJ 

    Please, let me know your thoughts! 

    Olin

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

       I am always glad to see someone try to deliver value.  I always think that value goes back to business outcomes.  I am not seeing outcomes in your formula, so for me as a whole, Repin Value seems like a phantom metric.

      • Crader Distributing

        Just curious Geoff, to make sure we are on the same page. How would you define a “business outcome.” The research sourced within this article was completely around outcomes.

        If you don’t think it is, in actuality, an “outcome” because we can’t attribute it with 100% confidence… well, then why do companies spend so much on TV & Radio media spend?

        • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

           They spend money to achieve an outcome like sales, or increased brand loyalty or public perception. But web traffic is not a business outcome.  It is not conversion, it does not even necessarily mean a positive brand impression. It could be a bounce. Repins are even less likely to convert.  I just don’t see it, sorry.

          • Crader Distributing

            So then the research conducted by reputable companies like comscore and dunhumby is completely erroneous and a waste of funds? Or, do you simply choose to ignore research that doesn’t pertain to you?

            Let me water this down for you Geoff. If you had a lemonade stand, when you were a kid, and hung flyers on the telephone poles every morning… you could never track ROI.

            But, If one day another kid showed up and offered to poll the neighborhood for flyer awareness at a rate of 5.00, would you take it?

            And If the research revealed that 65% of the neighborhood read pole flyers when they walk every morning and were inclined to buy 2 more cups than the average customer… would you ignore this?

            Or would you try to understand the ROI?

            Only fools are skeptics of statistically sound research.

          • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

            Assuming that Pinterest is acting like a brand referral engine without doing the hard research, including quantifying the sales impact is a mistake you can make. Spare me the moralizations.

          • http://twitter.com/olinjoseph Olin Graczyk

            I couldn’t disagree

  • http://termpaper-blog.com/ term paper

    I’m agree that it is like asking “What’s the ROI of public education” after your kid
    finally recited the alphabet without having a vowel movement.

  • Amy Sandoval

    I’m a photographer and have been on pinterest for well over a year. I’ve had three solid client leads (two led to them hiring me) in the past two months that came as a direct result of my being on pinterest. They saw my boards, which capture what inspire me, and they had a similar vision and contacted me about photographing their sessions (one wedding, one maternity, etc.).

    What I love is that when they contact me, we already have a shared idea of what we appreciate since they contacted me based on my pins and their similar ideas. Although I’ve pinned a few of my own photos to pinterest, the contact comes not from my photos directly being there but from my collections of pins. So there’s definitely business potential for me as a photog.

    Also using it in my business on daily basis – starting boards for current clients, sharing boards with wedding clients so they can keep me updated on their decore, etc. and using it on my iPad with many shoots to help guide clients on how to pose, achieve a certain look, etc. The ability to show them something vs just describe it is fantastic.

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