FEBRUARY 23, 2012 - In a digital age where huge portions of the global population are plugging into social media and online panels on a daily basis, market research can be fueled largely by just watching what consumers share with friends and family via the internet.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology research affiliate, Grant McCracken, writes for the Harvard Business Review that Pinterest is a rapidly growing newcomer on the social scene, but admits he struggled to understand what it has to offer researchers.
"This is a critical moment," he says, pointing to Pinterest's different format - images gathered in boxes on the screen - as something to be deciphered. "Do we stay and dig in? Or cut and run? The temptation is to cut and run because, well, what if we waste 20 minutes figuring out that this is nothing? What if we unwrap this package and there's nothing inside?"
He says it will be necessary to invest some time in the website to get an understanding of how it works and what, if any, insight and value can be derived from it. McCracken acknowledges that like any new technology, there are some inherent risks. If a company stubbornly refuses to try something unfamiliar, it may fall behind competitors, while using it comes with the threat of embarrassment or lost time.
Additionally, Pinterest and the other digital platforms that change the way we communicate with each other could be ushering in a new social order and more categories by which to sort the culture, McCracken says, citing extensive research by Clay Shirky.
Sites such as Pinterest enable consumers to express the nuances of these various categories in a clearer, more visual way. That capability, he argues, makes the website into "an observation platform from which to study a culture that becomes ever more liquid, responsive, crowd-sourced and generally speaking dynamic." Because of that, Pinterest could offer cultural observers a new means of listening for shifts and catching them early on in the cultural transformation.
The website also offers valuable marketing opportunities for retailers, as The Wall Street Journal reports. For example, Lands' End Canvas now includes a widget on its product pages that allows visitors to its website to share items they like on Pinterest. Crafts marketplace Etsy.com has taken it a step further by including product names and prices in the pictures that fans repost on the social media site, the newspaper notes.
However, the news outlet also reports that some of Pinterest's marketing deals with retailers have drawn criticism. The company engages in affiliate marketing - the same strategy that Amazon.com uses - by drawing a portion of the sales that result from links that retailers have posted on the site.
As WebProNews explains, Pinterest offers more value to some kinds of businesses than it does to others. Unlike other social networks, it does not create the same opportunity for brands to spread their message or verbally interact with consumers. Graphic-heavy companies, such as designers, architects or merchants that have already built up online catalogs, are better suited to use the site.
"No one comes here to shop," the source adds. "They come here to find things they like. Respectfully converting that sale is key."
While the brand-consumer connection may take a different form, it is still possible. By regularly pinning new items, building new categories and following other users' interests, companies will be able to build up traffic on their home websites.