Thursday, December 6, 2012

The False Promise of Pinterest for Financial Services

A year or so ago, as Pinterest started to garner media attention and a mass audience, a host of agencies and consultants that focus on the financial services industry launched a wave of blog posts and presentation decks to champion the power of this new image-sharing platform for banks, insurance firms, credit card companies and credit unions. A year or so later, those optimistic predictions have been largely unrealized. While Pinterest is proving successful for retailhome goodsmedia, style and other categories, it is not proving to be the "next big thing" for financial services.

Clearly, Pinterest has had a great 2012--Nielsen tells us that traffic to Pinterest has increased over 1,000% this year--but traffic and demographics alone do not make a social network useful for business. Marketers must consider consumer behaviors and expectations on the platform. The failure to do so undermined many of the concepts bloggers were so eager to promote to financial services brands. For example, many suggested a bank could start a "wish list" board for photos of items people can save for, and another common idea was to start Pinterest boards that match customers' interests, such as golf or travel. The uselessness of these ideas is obvious to anyone who has spent a few minutes on Pinterest--people share photos of the things they cannot afford and the places they want to travel without any assistance from their financial services providers. Consumers simply do not need their bank or insurance company to help them do on Pinterest what Pinterest exists for in the first place!

Financial services firms have done an outstanding effort of testing the new platform but seen very little by way of evident results. This is not a criticism of Pinterest--no single social network or tool needs to (or should) fit every brand and industry--but perhaps this is a criticism of a marketing machine that pushes every new thing, regardless of the sense or strategy. Now that we can look at 2012 in the rear view mirror, it is easy to see there are few, if any, case studies that demonstrate Pinterest is a match for the goals of financial services brands.

If you know of great case studies I have missed, please share, but my recent survey of bank, credit card and insurance brands on Pinterest came up very dry:

Citi Jobs for Recruiting:  Recruiting is considered a potential use case for Pinterest, but it is not evident how photos and videos of people in conference rooms and cubicles really help. Citi had eight boards dedicated to their efforts in the community and careers, but it had only 32 followers and, interestingly, from the time I researched this blog post to the time I published it, the Citi Jobs Pinterest board has disappeared. Did Citi find the board was more costly to maintain and monitor than it was worth for the results?

American on Pinterest
American Express for Brand:  AmEx is a true social media leader in the financial services industry. It has blazed trails on Facebook, where the brand has earned 2.7 million likes and has more than 100,000 monthly active users of its Amex Sync Facebook app. If I had to guess the financial services brand that would make Pinterest work, it would be AmEx, but it has a mere 313 followers and a single like. Even terrific visual content such as this infographic on the importance of small business to our economy has earned just three repins and one like. The same image posted to the American Express OPEN Facebook page garnered 75 likes and 22 shares. In a sign of just how bad Pinterest engagement is for this interesting content, American Express had more success posting the infographic to Google+, where this same image earned one share and eight +1s.

PerkStreet Financial for Driving Traffic:  PerkStreet has been experimenting with various Pinterest strategies and has shared its middling results in an interesting deck posted to SlideShare. The brand attempted contests and found them difficult to run, although they did generate interest on Pinterest. (Whether interest in Pinterest pins equates into business is another question altogether, of course.) The company also attempted collaboration boards--encouraging people to post "stuff I didn't buy"--and found it was difficult to get participation. In the end, it seems the most successful thing PerkStreet did with Pinterest was to post more images to its blog and allow easy pinning to Pinterest boards; Pinterest became the fifth highest driver of traffic to its site. Despite these efforts, their board only has 304 followers.

USAA for BrandAt my former employer, we began experimenting with Pinterest in the past year. Given the community served by the organization, the goal on Pinterest was to share evocative images that conveyed the spirit and commitment of the military. Despite posting excellent shots into boards such as the U.S. Coast Guard Birthday and U.S. Army Birthday, the account only has 407 followers. Few of USAA's 155 pins have been repinned more than a handful of times, and almost none has earned more than a couple of likes. Compare this to one recent photo that USAA posted to its Facebook page of a child greeting his mother returning from deployment --12,702 likes, 2,318 shares and 178 comments. I am pleased to see USAA continue to experiment, but it is evident the association gets far more bang for its buck on Facebook than on Pinterest.

Capital One for Promotion: Cap One offers a Pinterest Board focused on its Venture rewards program. It has almost twice as many pins as it has followers--406 pins, 217 followers and 38 likes. Just five percent of these pins have had any repins. It is not possible to tell if these images are proving successful at driving traffic to the Cap One site or interest in Cap One services, but there is no reason to think this is providing any benefits of significant scale.

At best, Pinterest seems an adjunct to the other visual marketing programs that financial services brands are already running rather than the hub of these sorts of programs. Given the modest results to date, the best thing brands in financial services can do is to be sure to implement sharing mechanisms on their sites so that consumers who care to share on Pinterest can easily do so.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges to financial services firms on Pinterest is not the lack of results but the need to manage Pinterest programs in a compliant fashion. Whereas platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are more mature and have APIs that permit the management and archiving through Social Media Management Systems (SMMS) such as Socialware, Sprinklr and Buddy Media, Pinterest still lacks such an API. That creates challenges for financial services firms who are required to archive, monitor and moderate based on the regulations from FINRA, SEC and others.

Pinterest may eventually come of age in the financial services space, but it is difficult for me to see how its core purpose and interactivity will benefit financial services brands in any way with significant scope.  I'd welcome your input if you disagree or can offer good examples of financial services brands succeeding on Pinterest.


Joe said...

I agree that Pinterest doesn't have the most natural overlap with Financial Services. I think the biggest challenge is the content that resonates in Pinterest tends to be around an inspirational or "happy" nature. FS brand promises are generally of a more practical nature. Security, protection, etc. And when FS brands try to play in inspiration like quotes, design, and graphic displays, it isn't tied to their value proposition. They end up competing with content from more natural players in that field like Dwell or Martha Stewart, etc. Sorry for the self promote, but I ran into this as to take a new approach to develop Pinterest strategies.

But it will be interesting to see some creative mind eventually find an approach for FS that plays well in the space. It's just a matter of time with so many good minds in the FS social space.

Augie Ray said...

I'm not so sure "it's only a matter of time." Remember when SecondLife was hot and every brand rushed in? Pinterest reminds me of that. For some brands and industries, Pinterest may wor, for others it may simply not offer benefits, no matter how many "good minds" try to make it work. Time will tell.

Joe said...

I'm a bit more bullish that Pinterest will remain a player. They're early on and will have to evolve the options for brands. Especially brands outside just fashion/design oriented. But, yes, time will tell.

Unknown said...

I feel in the grand scheme of things, Pinterest is still nothing more than a curation platform, with little if any highly competitive advantages over many other such pic-driven platforms were it not for ease of use. And the metrics are lacking (PinReach is a-ok but a little raw). We use it on my team at Autodesk as a way for people to quickly identify error screenshots (we attach them to corresponding solutions) but I have a hard time gauging popularity truth be told :)

Terry said...

Many messages are going visual - just look at the overwhelming number of images in Facebook pages for insurers. Images attract interaction. I think it is early days for Pinterest but my prediction is that it will pick up as Facebook becomes less attractive for brands as their posts start getting blocked out on news feeds. You cannot argue with the numbers for Facebook today but give Pinterest a year.

Augie Ray said...

Terry, time will tell. I think you're wrong about the future of Pinterest--it will be an important social channel for some people and some brands, but not all. Not all people and brands think visually. That's why Facebook, with its ability to be the right tool for sharing every media, will be a much more appealing social network.

I'm also not certain, BTW, that Facebook or Twitter won't eat Pinterest's lunch by offering better tools for visual sharing. Twitter has already made several improvements for image sharing in the past two years, and Facebook is experimenting with Pinterest-like collections. Feel free to tell me "I told you so" two years from now, but I don't see Pinterest becoming the same sort of social network for all brands and all people that Twitter and Facebook are today.