Facebook’s much-loved acquisition Instagram, now with over one billion users, has been a boon to users, retailers and brands. The app’s initial role as a creative outlet has evolved into a tool whose prowess at customer acquisition is unmatched. While Facebook has labored to distance Instagram from the bad press surrounding its own brand image, Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have decided to unfriend Facebook after six years – and not so quietly. Their departure is yet another ding in Facebook’s armor and is a catalyst for skeptical chatter about the future of Instagram.
Do I Still Like Facebook?
The Facebook app is being deleted by an alarming number of Americans. According to a Pew Research Poll published in September, “54 percent of Facebook users have adjusted their privacy settings, 42 percent have taken a break from checking the platform for a week or more and 26 percent have deleted the app altogether.” While the disaffections and defections have not yet rubbed off on Instagram, consumers are scrutinizing their social media sources, putting Band-Aids over their laptop cameras and dreading the next hack. At the Code Commerce Conference 2018, Framebridge Founder and CEO Susan Tynan said, “As useful as Facebook is, and how good it is as a channel for targeting customers, we have shifted nearly 40 percent of our Facebook spend to other platforms.”
Pinterest Is Rapidly Gaining Ground
In the meantime, Pinterest, an alternative to the more dominant social platforms, has been quietly gaining audience share and increasing in value as a marketing tool. Andrew Lipsman, retail analyst at eMarketer, describes Pinterest in a recent New York Times article: ” The business case was simple and powerful: It was a shopping mall disguised as a mood board that held its users’ aspirations, unearthing pure and unfiltered commercial desire. You can draw a direct line from those interests to a commercial opportunity or retail category.” Pinterest now boasts 250 million active monthly users, a 75 percent annual increase with 77.4 million users in the United States alone. There are 1.5 million businesses currently advertising on Pinterest which combines a visual search engine with a social network to create a discover/save tool. Pinterest states: “61 percent of Pinners have made a purchase after seeing business content on Pinterest.”
The core of Pinterest’s advertising model is shoppable content. The Shop the Look feature allows users who discover specific items on the platform to purchase with a click, if they are for sale, and if not, to direct the user to similar items for sale within Pinterest. Pinterest Lens, which facilitates the Shop the Look feature, has seen a 140 percent increase in usage since 2017.
Instagram on the other hand, has not offered a dedicated shopping function. Vishal Shah, Instagram Director of Product Management was also interviewed at Code Commerce. When he was asked about Instagram’s shoppable functionality and a much-rumored shoppable Instagram app, Shah would only say that the company “would soon be testing a dedicated shopping function.” Instead, he emphasized the platform’s dominance in moving product “90 million people are clicking on products through shopping tags on Instagram.” Shoppable Instagram tags while useful, do not offer a robust search functionality — they direct the consumer to a sales point for that particular product. Rather than shoppable content, Instagram’s supremacy lies in its social media and omnichannel dominance. A recent Daily News article highlighted this dominance and spoke of the value of Instagram to high-end brick-and-mortar retail, detailing how associates are racking up sales by connecting with clients via Instagram. By contrast, Pinterest can drive immediate online sales and grow basket size through visual search oriented shoppable pins. Still, by design, not all pins instantly drive conversions and Pinterest is happy to, and may even prefer, playing the long game for both e-commerce and brick and mortar. A unique advantage of the platform is that pins are not ephemeral. Once selected, pins exist in a state of discoverability on boards and continue influence consumers as they consider their choices over time, be that for a wedding, vacation, home renovation project or a new winter coat. Pinterest’s demographic reach hits the retail sweet spot of millennials but extends from Gen Z through the Baby Boomers with meaningful integration.
Another advantage to Pinterest is the ability of marketers to target customers at different points of the purchase journey. In a recent episode of eMarketers’s Behind the Numbers podcast, Pinterest’s retail vertical lead Amy Verner described the platform’s unique position: “When I think about the brands and retailers that are doing really well on Pinterest, they are thinking about inspiring someone early and continuing that relationship. Pinterest often leads to a deeper exploration by the consumer and allows them to get smarter and savvier about what they are purchasing. We can reach consumers at different points in time and ultimately influence what they eventually buy.”
At the Decoded Future’s November 2018 Conference, Pinterest’s Head of Market Development Vikram Bhaskaran said, “Pinterest is not as invasive as other platforms. You don’t go there for social content, you go to get something done or to find what you are looking for. Helpful information is not competing with a baby video. Pinterest may not offer the dopamine hit found in other platforms, or what I call a high fructose media diet. Pinterest is interested in giving you the content you want, to get you offline, living your life.”
A recent article in the New York Times by Erin Griffith describes the platform, “Pinterest: The web’s last bastion of quaint innocence. Having de-emphasized its social media elements years ago, Pinterest aims to be a safe and happy place for inspiration, self-improvement and salted caramel cookie recipes. It also rejects Silicon Valley’s typical unicorn formula of moving fast, breaking things, chasing growth at all costs and bragging about every victory.” The company’s co-founder and chief executive Ben Silberman has bucked this Silicon Valley ethos and pushed back against venture capitalists pressuring the company to conform. His measured approach has led Pinterest to a valuation of $12.3 billion built on three billion virtual pin boards. The Times article underlines the contrast between Silberman and his high-tech cohort of Zuckerberg, Kalanick, and Dorsey, “He also doesn’t focus on Pinterest’s image in the business world. Instead, he dedicates an outsize amount of time to meeting with Pinterest users, going on six tours a year and holding weekly lunches at Pinterest’s offices.”
While consumers still enthusiastically flock to Instagram, our warm feelings toward Facebook and Twitter seem to have chilled, at least according to the data. Plus, the carbon footprint from the private jets ferrying our embattled social media executives back and forth across the country is growing. We are tiring of our tech leaders’ apology tours for a variety of ills from hacks and unauthorized data sharing to hate speech. Pinterest’s alternative rule book, particularly their commitment to understanding their community, offers insight into the increasing popularity of the platform. The platform’s consumer-centric approach provides an alternative, or at a minimum, a complement to a brand or retailer’s social portfolio. Pinterest not only has a lot to offer, it has nothing to apologize for.