Hardly a month goes by without news of yet another niche social network creating a diversion from Facebook and Twitter. But what potential do they really offer to brands? Trevor Clawson finds out.
Last month, Honda launched a page and campaign on Pinterest. The up-and-coming social media site works like a virtual pinboard, where users share images and videos with friends and followers. Honda's activity, which it has dubbed 'Pintermission', promoted its CR-V model and included a dollars 500 incentive for users to get out and visit some of the places they were 'pinning' about. Retailer Target also created a Pinterest page to promote its fashion lines and has pinned more than 50 images so far across four boards.
These are just some examples of how brands are tapping into a new wave of social media networks. Instagram, the highly addictive photo-sharing app for iPhone, has been a hit with users and attracted a successful dollars 1bn bid from Facebook last month (see interview, page 5). It plans to use Instagram's products to enhance its own photo-sharing offer. Smaller still but gaining ground is Path. This time the metaphor is a journal - designed as a mobile app, the network allows friends to share thoughts and images as they travel with their smartphones.
For those who feel that creating a journal is a bit too much like hard work, there is the opportunity to get competitive with Draw Something, an online game.
Many of these social network newcomers may be less than two years old, but they have grown their user base at a phenomenal rate. Draw Something has around 14m users and, according to figures published by Experian Hitwise, the popularity of Pinterest has exploded in the past year. In March the site welcomed 5m visitors in the UK, compared with just 50,000 a year earlier. Globally it has just under 11m users.
Of course, all these user numbers are dwarfed by the daily traffic recorded by Facebook and Twitter, but as Heather Healy, head of social media at digital agency Sticky Eyes points out, niche operators can provide real opportunities for brands to engage directly with consumers She cites the example of Pinterest. 'We work with a US-based fashion retailer that also has operations in the UK. In the US, Pinterest is the single largest driver of traffic to its site. In terms of encouraging product sales, Pinterest is more effective than Facebook or Twitter,' she says.
Pinterest is essentially a visual channel - part of its appeal in Facebook's eyes. Users share videos and pictures on Facebook but the emphasis to date has been very much on conversation. On Pinterest, users (including brands) are pinning images and videos. As such it is a very product-friendly space.
It was this visual factor that attracted holiday company Unique Home Stays to the platform. A marketer of luxury and unique holiday accommodation, imagery is a big part of our sell, and a site such as Pinterest, which allows eye-catching images to become viral, is great for us,' says marketing officer Rhianna Morton.
She adds: 'In the short time that we've been using the site, we've found that our images have been shared, repinned and, thankfully, credited time and time again, reaching a far wider audience than traditional platforms would.'
Pinterest's audience is currently dominated by women, a demographic that has made it particularly attractive to fashion and lifestyle brands. However, that is not to say that other sectors can't get in on the act, as shown by Honda's activity. And earlier this year, Printed.com - an online printing service - ran a competition asking customers to come up with designs for Faberge eggs.
'We chose Pinterest because it had been getting a lot of publicity and it seemed like an ideal platform to enable our design community to post their ideas,' says Alex Harrington-Griffin, partner manager at Printed.com. …